Numbers game: Filling UF’s 2012 defense

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On Tuesday, we took a look at where Florida could look on the offensive side of the ball in the 2012 recruiting class.

Today, we’ll tackle defense.

Will Muschamp — with some help from Urban Meyer — signed one of the top defensive back classes in the country in February, but whiffed on the front seven. Most of that could be attributed to the coaching change, but this was one area where Florida was expected to do well.

With more time, Florida’s new coaches should be able to recruit quite well on the defensive side.

Defensive tackle (2-3)
Finding a force inside will be key in this class for the Gators. After being in the running for a handful of interior linemen, Florida failed to sign a defensive tackle in its 2011 class. Things should be a little different this time around. Florida’s new staff will have much more time with prospects, and the NFL experience on the coaching staff should be pretty appetizing to prospects. With the commitment of Venice defensive tackle Omari Phillips, the Gators have a verbal from one of the most athletic linemen in the state, maybe in the country. Florida likely will return just three interior linemen after this upcoming season, so the Gators could sign one or two more in this class.

Here are some guys to keep an eye on:

Jafar Mann, 6-foot-3, 286 pounds (Stone Mountain, Ga., Stephenson) — After visiting during one of Florida’s Junior Days and watching teammate RB Mike Davis commit to the Gators, Mann came awfully close to ending his recruitment. However, Mann wants to check out a bunch of other schools, and he’s starting to get a lot of attention these days. While Florida is his leader, Mann has racked up double-digit offers and will check out a few schools between now and the fall. He should return to Gainesville in April.

Pedro Sibiea, 6-3, 251 (Homestead, Fla.) — As of now, Florida is the only school to offer Sibiea, and the Gators hold the early lead for his services. He was close to committing but didn’t pull the trigger during a visit to Florida in February. Other schools should start showing more interest when he goes through spring evaluations and camps this summer. He could also play defensive end. One school to keep an eye on here is Miami. An offer from the Hurricanes could change everything.

Jonathan Taylor, 6-4, 315 (Millen, Ga., Jenkins County) — He might be the top defensive tackle in the southeast and he’ll have his pick of schools on National Signing Day. He’s got a slew of verbal offers, but only a few lucky schools will get a visit from Taylor. He currently doesn’t have any leaders. One thing that could get interesting with his recruitment is that his best friend and teammate, defensive end James Deloach, is seriously considering attending the same school as Taylor. Most schools they are both looking at have offered both.

Quinteze Williams, 6-4, 295 (Tyrone, Ga., Sandy Creek) — After visiting on a Florida Junior Day last month, Williams came away pretty impressed with the new coaching staff. Though many felt Georgia might have the early edge, Florida, Tennessee and Auburn have all made his early short list. He’s still a ways away from making any sort of real list, let alone a commitment. His recruitment could be one of the more interesting ones to watch because he seems to come out with a new leader with every visit.

Earl Moore, 6-2, 250 (Tampa, Fla., Hillsborough) — Moore doesn’t have a ton of early offers, but a couple of big schools have shown interest. Florida, Florida State and USC have all offered, while most of the SEC schools are in regular communication with him. Florida State is Moore’s favorite, but he could get around to seeing a few other schools in the near future. The longer he holds off, the better it is for other schools.

Jonathan Bullard, 6-4, 255 (Shelby, N.C., Crest) — Even though he’s in North Carolina, Bullard has shown a lot of interest in Florida, which has offered him. Though he hasn’t visited Gainesville, Florida is certainly a school he’s considering. Tennessee, who has also offered Bullard, is a school making a big move for him. Visiting Florida will go a long way for the Gators, but schools like South Carolina, Clemson and North Carolina are in the thick of it for Bullard.

Defensive end (3)
Florida grabbed two defensive ends — Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook — in its 2011 class, but was looking to pull in more. William Green will be the only graduating defensive end next year, but that will only leave six or seven ends, depending on where Ronald Powell plays. Moving to a 3-4 could be pretty attractive to some ends out there, and there are a ton for Florida to pick from this year. Again, the NFL coaching experience is a major plus, and Florida’s coaches should do a much better job at this position this time around.

Names to look out for:

Jarontay Jones, 6-3, 245 (Stone Mountain, Ga., Stephenson) — He’s another Stephenson, Ga., prospect with the Gators on his mind. After visiting with his teammates in January, he came away with Florida as his leader. He talked about being close to committing, but he held off because he wants to check out his options. Well, a week later, after visiting Auburn, Jones said the Tigers were tied at the top for Florida. Now, he’s looking at every school pursuing him. SEC schools are all over him and he’s starting to get attention from schools outside the South. Jones will be one of the top defensive end prospects in the South this fall.

Jelani Hamilton, 6-5, 245 (Fort Lauderdale, Fla., St. Thomas Aquinas) — Hamilton will have tons of options this year, and every school in Florida is coming after him hard. Georgia recently offered and more SEC schools should follow suit. He’s even getting interest from Texas and Rutgers. The Gators are in the picture, but Florida State and Miami have come on very strong. There is thought he might want to stay close to home, which should make this an exciting battle among the Big Three.

Jordan Jenkins, 6-3, 245 (Hamilton, Ga., Harris County) — He could be one of the most athletic defensive prospects in the southeast. He looked like a freak at Friday Night Lights last year and his video is equally as impressive. Jenkins has become a hot commodity, and he recently came out with a top-six list of schools. Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Tennessee made the cut. His recruitment should be fun to watch. He’s set to visit Florida later this month.

Dante Fowler, 6-3, 239 (St. Petersburg, Fla., Lakewood) — Yes, he’s committed to Florida State, but he’s made it clear that he’s still open when it comes to schools. He’s checked out South Florida and has said he’s very interested in Florida. The more open he remains, the more the heat will be on him, and with his athleticism, schools are going to be recruiting him until National Signing Day. Florida could be one of the schools Fowler visits this spring. LSU recently got into the mix by offering Fowler.

Tyriq McCord, 6-3, 215 (Tampa, Fla., Jefferson) — McCord has offers from a few top schools, including Florida, USC, Miami and Notre Dame. Even Dan McCarney over at North Texas has offered McCord, whom he knew during his time on Florida’s staff. He’s been to Florida, USF and Georgia for visits in the past, but hasn’t been around much this spring. He doesn’t haven’t any leaders right now, but things should change once he actually gets to take some visits this summer. He’s concentrating on academics this spring. With his size, McCord could move to outside linebacker in college.

Linebacker (3)
Florida was in the running to sign three of the top linebackers in the country last year, but Meyer’s resignation crushed that dream. Instead, Florida signed just one linebacker in Middletown, Conn., Xavier’s Graham Stewart. Stewart possesses great speed for the position, but he looks a little undersized. Florida does return a slew of linebackers, but this was a troublesome area for the Gator defense last year and only Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic and Powell return with much experience. It’s still unknown if Powell will stay at linebacker. Getting a few more bodies in this class is key for depth down the road. Muschamp already has one secured in Largo, Fla., Pinellas Park’s Jeremi Powell, who needs to gain weight, but as a two-way player he has solid athleticism and speed.

Names to look out for:

Deaysean Rippy, 6-0, 202 (McKees Rocks, Pa., Sto Rox) — Rippy might be from the northeast, but he has interest in leaving the area. He visited Florida last year for camp and really liked what he saw and heard from the former coaching staff. Even with a new crew in Gainesville, Rippy still has Florida as one of his top schools, along with Pittsburgh and Ohio State. New staffs at Pitt and Florida haven’t deterred him at all. His offer list stretches from coast to coast, but he has his mind on the SEC. He’ll try to make it down to Florida to see the Gators, and Ohio State could get a visit as well. Both should get officials this fall. He’ll graduate early as well, so expect a mid-season decision.

Raphael Kirby, 6-2, 218 (Stone Mountain, Ga., Stephenson) — Florida got the momentum going for Kirby. After the Gators offered, other schools started showering him with attention. Florida is his early leader, and like the rest of the Stephenson four who were impressed on their Junior Day visit to UF, he wants to make a return trip to Gainesville this spring. Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina have all offered, and he’s looking to check out LSU in the near future. Things could move rather quickly for him, as he plans to make his decision before his senior season starts.

Noor Davis, 6-4, 225 (The Villages, Fla.) — Davis is starting to get more attention from big-time programs. Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and Nebraska are just some of the schools that have offered. On film, Davis is a terror off the edge. He’s got a great burst off the line and seems to get into the backfield with ease because he’s just too fast for tackles to react. He’ll visit Florida this month for a practice and will be on hand for the Orange & Blue spring game in April.

Markuss Eligwe, 6-2, 215 (Stone Mountain, Ga.) — He’s from a different school in Stone Mountain, but he also has a lot of interest in Florida. The Gators are near the top of his list right now, but so is Florida State. It’s still very early for him, but those two schools are really sticking out. Georgia will get his attention and so will South Carolina. A few schools to watch out for here are Virginia Tech and Boston College. Eligwe wants to take his visits, so this one should take some time.

Kwon Alexander, 6-2, 212 (Oxford, Ala.) — Alexander could end up being one of the top linebacker prospects in the nation this fall. He plays inside and has great instincts to match his tremendous speed. Most southern schools have dumped offers into his lap, including Florida. While it’s early, Auburn and Alabama might have quite the battle on their hands. That doesn’t mean other schools are out of it, but those are the two schools really showing him the most love right now. This one will come down to signing day and tons of schools will be all over him from now until then.

James Burgess Jr., 6-0, 200 (Homestead, Fla.) — His dad played at Miami, but the Hurricanes will have some competition from around the southeast. Florida has offered, and word is the Gators could have a slight lead for Burgess. He was one of the top athletes at last month’s Miami Under Armour combine. Once he camps and goes through spring evaluations, Burgess should start getting a lot more attention from schools.

Cornerback (2)
After the haul the Gators raked in in the 2011 class, this isn’t necessarily a priority for Florida’s staff. Still, the coaches are always looking to add a little depth any way they can. There are a ton of top corner prospects in the southeast, and Florida will have a chance with just about all of them. Getting two would be ideal for Florida.

Names to look out for:

Tracy Howard, 6-0, 170 (Miramar, Fla.) — He has had Florida near the top of his list for a while now and had a great time during his visit at a Junior Day. The Gators are the team to beat, but tons of other schools are starting to show more interest. He’s a lockdown corner with great speed and should be one of the top at his position this year. Florida might be in the lead, but he won’t make a decision until after his senior season. Look for Miami, FSU, Alabama and LSU to be in the picture the entire time.

Geno Smith, 6-0, 165 (Atlanta St. Pius X Catholic) — When the final rankings come out next year, Smith may be at the top of the list of corners. He’s light, but he’s tremendously fast and he can hit with the best of them. Plus, he’s got a great nose for the ball and blankets his receivers. Most of the major programs have offered him, but he remains wide open at this time. Florida has offered, and he recently visited Tennessee for Junior Day. Smith will have his pick of schools, but doesn’t seem like he’s in any hurry to make any sort of list of leaders right now.

Ronald Darby, 5-11, 172 (Oxon Hill, Md., Potomac) — Darby could play either running back or corner in college, but he excelled the most in combines at corner. He runs a 4.3 40, making him one of the fastest players in the country, and he’s got that lockdown ability. He has around 30 verbal offers, and Florida is one of them. He doesn’t really have a list of leaders yet. He’s looking for a top track program as well, and he would like to visit Florida this spring.

Brian Poole, 5-11, 185 (Bradenton, Fla., Southeast) — Like Darby, Poole could play running back as well, but he’s most suited to play corner at the next level. Right now Florida, Georgia and FSU are sticking out, but he currently holds offers from Texas Tech and USF. The feeling is that more offers will come in during evaluations and after camps. Poole is flying under the radar a bit right now, but he’s got the tools to shine during his senior season.

Chris Bivins, 6-0, 170 (Gainesville, Fla.) — He currently holds just one offer, from South Florida, but Bivins has been getting a lot of attention from other schools. He has visited Georgia Tech, USF and Florida this spring. Florida’s new coaching staff has showed increasing interest in Bivins, and he was asked to camp at UF this summer. Arkansas, Rutgers, Tennessee and Kentucky are communicating with him as well. Bivins really stood out at the Under Armour Combine in January and not only shows smothering corner skills but has solid speed. Spring evaluations and good camp performances will continue to raise his stock.

Safety (1-2)
The Gators return just two safeties this season, but at least three of the six defense backs Florida signed could play safety. Getting at least one more safety would be nice for the Gators. Two wouldn’t be bad either, but it will depend on space. There are a ton of “athletes” out there with the ability to play safety and pure safeties interested in the Gators. With Muschamp being a defensive back guru, many defensive backs will be attracted to Florida’s defense.

Names to look out for:

Marcus Maye, 6-2, 190 (Melbourne, Fla., Holy Trinity) — Maye left Florida’s Junior Day in February with the Gators on top. Alabama and Florida State aren’t far behind Florida. His mother also liked the trip to Gainesville, and getting to momma is always a plus for schools. Maye isn’t in a hurry to make his decision and plans to camp at a few schools this summer. Florida should be one of those schools, but so should a couple of other instate schools, including FSU.

Deon Bush, 6-1, 180 (Miami Columbus) — Bush has a boatload of offers from all over right now. He’s got family ties to Purdue, where his older brother plays. He’s listed as a safety but could play corner as well. Florida is recruiting him as a corner, but with his body he could eventually grow into a safety. He visited UF last month and was impressed. Florida is definitely on his list, but that list is very long. Big Ten teams are making strong pushes for him and he’s listening, so it appears distance won’t be a factor.

Travis Blanks, 6-1, 180 (Tallahassee, Fla., North Florida Christian) — He could play either safety or corner in college, but on film he’s got superb safety skills and instincts. His body looks like it will translate better to safety over time, but schools will recruit him as both for now. He doesn’t have any leaders at this point, but he’s got a ton of offers. FSU will being trying its hardest to keep Blanks close to home, but Blanks will have options. Florida has offered.

Nelson Agholor, 6-2, 180 (Tampa, Fla., Berkley) — Agholor will have a tough time running away from the limelight this year. He’s a top-notch athlete and can play multiple positions on the field. That versatility has made him very popular among schools. All of the Florida schools and the major SEC programs have offered him. USC, Ohio State and Notre Dame have also offered. He’ll probably play free safety in college.

Shaq Roland, 6-1, 180 (Lexington, S.C.) — Roland isn’t looking to prolong his recruitment. He wants to take visits this summer and try to get a decision out of the way before his senior season. South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama are the schools he’s listing as his favorites, and it might be tough for schools to yank him away from South Carolina. He’s a star on the basketball court as well and could be interested in playing both sports in college. Safety is where he probably translates best, but he likes receiver as well.

11 COMMENTS

  1. How come you often say that another school is “coming on strong”, but that is never used when it comes to UF? Do we never “come on strong?” Also, I hear a lot of “it’ll be hard to get them away from (insert school here)”, but again, never hear “it’ll be hard to get him away from Florida. I guess history has shown that it’s pretty easy to get kids away from our area…Portis, Spiller, etc.

  2. KB – This is just a few names to keep an eye one. I could literally name 10-20 guys Florida has contacted or have interest in the Gators at each position, but that would have taken up too much time and space. This is just a VERY early look at everything. But you are right. Goldman has gotten interest from Florida.

  3. Derek, you can bet our coaches are “coming on strong” when they are going after someone they really want. I believe that this staff will land all the talent we need the next go round. I didnt have that confidence right away, but I am feeling it now. Go Gators

  4. The class will be good but I feel that it wont be great unless we have a good season. When teams fall off and have coaching changes I think recruits tend to wait it out to see if the new coaches can right the ship. There are enough scholarship opportunities to go for a number one class but the coaches will have to fill them with top notch players and not just hand them out to whoever is willing to commit first.