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Safety Matt Elam thriving as silent leader

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Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 1:10 am | Updated: 1:14 am, Wed Nov 28, 2012.

Will Muschamp made sure he didn’t make the same mistake twice.

As the defensive coordinator at Texas in 2008-09, Muschamp tried to turn linebacker Sergio Kindle into a vocal leader.

Kindle, a former All-American and NFL second-round draft pick, wasn’t the outspoken player Muschamp envisioned.

Three years later, Muschamp has another defensive playmaker that lets his actions do the talking — safety Matt Elam.

“You can’t ask somebody to be something they’re not,” Muschamp said. “You got to let them be who they are.”

Elam’s versatility and ability to communicate play calls on the field has been enough for Florida this season.

Elam underwent surgery in January after a groin injury hampered him during the final five games of 2011.

The injury kept Elam from practicing on Mondays and Tuesdays last season. Still, Elam ranked second on the team in interceptions and tackles while leading the Gators in tackles for loss.

Elam focused on getting stronger during the offseason. The chiseled safety has created havoc in the defensive backfield and at the line of scrimmage.

“He is a good blitzer,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “The closer he gets to the line, the more plays that he makes.”

The Gators defense is playing as well as any in the country, Muschamp said on Monday.

Elam, a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards, has started every game this season.

He has notched five or more tackles in eight of them.

Elam leads the team with four interceptions and ranks second with 65 tackles and 10 tackles for loss.

“Matt is a guy that plays the game very focused, fast and physical,” Muschamp said.

“His leadership abilities are based on how he plays. He’s not an overly vocal guy, but I’m never going to ask someone again to be something they’re not.”

Driskel to start in 2013: Jacoby Brissett addressed the media before Florida’s season opener three months ago about starting at quarterback.

The coaching staff picked Jeff Driskel instead, and the Gators finished 11-1. Driskel started all but one game.

The Gators will not hold a quarterback competition this offseason, Muschamp said.

The job is Driskel’s, but that hasn’t changed Brissett’s attitude.

“Jacoby has been great,” Muschamp said.

“Jacoby knows that he is one snap away and is a guy that we have a lot of confidence in.”

Gators get ready for NFL Draft: The NFL Draft may be in late April, but Muschamp has already tackled the elephant in the room.

Several Florida juniors figure into the draft discussion.

“I’ve had conversations with some guys as early as [Sunday] and [Monday],” Muschamp said.

“We’ll handle that when the bowl game is over.”

Potential selections include juniors Elam, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, tight end Jordan Reed and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 15.

“If a guy is going to be a first-round draft pick, I’m probably going to tell him to go to the NFL,” Muschamp said. “That’s just my policy. If he’s not, (and) he can improve himself, then I suggest he comes back.”

Contact Adam Pincus at apincus@alligator.org.

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