Florida coaches want to install a defense 'that poses problems' for opposing quarterbacks

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Florida safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney plans to make the Gators’ defense a nightmare for the opposing quarterback in 2022. 

“In today’s game, the person you’ve got to make things hard on is the trigger man,” said Toney, speaking with reporters at the conclusion of UF’s second spring practice  last week. “You’ve got to be able to disguise and make him decide post-snap what the coverage is, where are the strengths and weaknesses and where the coverage issues are. We’re going to try and put in a defense that poses problems for the quarterback post-snap.”

Seeing as Toney, 32, will call plays for a Florida defense in need of much improvement, he’ll have to practice what he preaches, though his ascension up the coaching ladder is reason to believe he’s up for the challenge. 

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Toney started as an offensive coordinator at the high school level in 2011 and is now one of the youngest assistant coaches in the Southeastern Conference after following coachBilly Napier from Louisiana.

Under his watch, the Ragin’ Cajuns defense finished 11th among all Division I teams in scoring defense in 2021. He's now one of several coaches tasked with helping improve a UF defense that finished the 2021 season ranked 65th in scoring defense, 85th in rushing defense and 51st in total defense.

Patrick Toney: Billy Napier 'knows defense'

Louisiana head coach Billy Napier, left, and defensive coordinator Patrick Toney, right, walk the sideline during a game against Georgia State in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Nov. 4, 2021. Now the coaches will be on Florida's sideline.

Toney’s not taking all of the credit for his success thus far — it helps to have someone like Napier in the room.

“Coach Napier, he's not just an offensive guy. That's what's so great about coach Napier, is he knows defense. I've worked for a head coach before that may be an offensive guy, doesn't really understand defense, and when something happens, he doesn't know what the problem is, and there's usually panic,” Toney said. “Whereas coach Napier understands structure of the defense, what sound defense is. If we have problems, he understands and we can get them fixed without any issue."

The two concur here: The pre-snap aspect of the defense is undoubtedly vital to success, but rather than necessarily rely on out-scheming the opposition, the defense must be fundamentally sound.

Gator linebackers Diwun Black (30) and Derek Wingo (15) during the first day of spring practice, March 15, at the indoor practice facility.

The sport may evolve, but it’s ultimately still a 60-minute football game. 

“Football is a game that’s made a lot more difficult than it needs to be. It’s going to come down to taking on blocks, getting off blocks, tackling, creating takeaways and playing good, situational football," Toney said. “We’ve got to learn how to strike blockers. We’ve got to learn how to shed. We’ve got to learn how to leverage the football and pursue and get the ball carrier on the ground. Defense is not as much about what you do, it’s about how you do it.”

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After the fundamentals will come the details — the pre-snap trickery meant to confuse the opposition that often separates the best from the rest. 

“I think if you look at the blueprint of SEC defense right now, it’s a lot of guys that do very similar things. It’s about the level of detail and precision and execution they’re doing it with. So to me, the No. 1 priority is how you’re playing the game,” Toney said. “Those fundamental techniques that we’ve got to get a lot better at. And then obviously that will drive the scheme.”

With only three spring practices in the books, Toney’s methodology already has some guaranteeing a defensive resurgence when the Gators open the 2022 regular season. 

“If we live up to our potential, the rest is history,” said fifth-year safety Trey Dean. “In the fall, it’s going to be a show.”