What's up with the 'D'?

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Florida made its national championship run last season on the strength of its defense. It’s already apparent that the Gators will have to win with offense this season.

The defense has some troubling holes. Perhaps the biggest is right in the middle (and right where it counts the most), where the play of the defensive tackles was more than a little shaky in UF’s season-opening victory against Western Kentucky.

This is the one position where the young defense has some age and experience with senior Clint McMillan and fourth-year junior Javier Estopinan. McMillan and Estopinan are hard-working guys and great team players, but in their first starts Saturday they seemed to have little impact. The big thing is they provided no push up the middle, leaving the Gators with zero inside pass rush. When that happens, it’s easy for opposing offenses to focus on
slowing down the outside rush of Derrick Harvey.

On last year’s defense, Ray McDonald, Steven Harris and Joe Cohen were a big-time presence in the middle and created all kinds of sack possibilities for Harvey and NFL first-round draft pick Jarvis Moss.

Because of their experience and strong work ethic, Estopinan and McMillan are going to play a key role on the defensive front this season. But their playing time may lessen over the next few weeks as the Gators try to see if some of the young tackles can wreak some havoc in the middle. True freshman Torrey Davis looks like the kind of tackle the Gators are looking for, but it’s going to take time for him to develop. Brandon Antwine and Terron
Sanders also should see some more snaps.

The real wild card here is redshirt freshman Lawrence Marsh, who was held out of the opener for disciplinarian reasons and will be back this week. Marsh has a chance to evolve into UF’s best tackle with time and should provide some immediate help.

It’s obvious that if true freshman John Brown had been ruled eligible by the NCAA Clearing House back in August, he would be a major factor at tackle. But he remains in limbo and the longer this process takes, the less likely he’ll be playing (or even in school) this fall.

Another potential problem area that was exposed in the opener was cornerback, where true sophomore Wondy Pierre-Louis’ play was spotty and inconsistent. UF is hoping Markihe Anderson can return this week from a sprained knee. He has been UF’s best cornerback since last spring and should provide a little more stability in the secondary. Jacques Rickerson also is ready to play at corner after sitting out the opener for disciplinary
reasons.

There were some positives in the opener. The linebackers, especially Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe, look like they’re going to be playmakers and their play should improve with each game. Also on the up-side, Harvey had a big game and looks like he’s going to be a dominant player this season.

This is a young defense and there are going to be plenty of growing pains over the course of the season. But this group should get better as it gains experience.

Of course, there must be huge improvement from week one to week three. Tennessee is coming to The Swamp in two weeks and senior quarterback Erik Ainge will be looking to pick apart the young secondary.

The Gators may have to do what California did last Saturday night ” outscore the Volunteers with a big-time offensive performance.