The true foundation for any elite defense doesn’t start on a collegiate field.
It starts on the recruiting trail.
UF’s current 2014 recruiting class is ranked ninth in the country and currently consists of 21 commits. Nine of those are on defense.
Last season, true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III — one of the most highly touted recruits of 2013 — had an immediate impact at UF. There are several recruits in this year’s class who have the talent to become playmakers immediately.
One of the most sought after defensive backs in the 2014 class is Jalen Tabor, who is already enrolled and on campus at Florida. Tabor was originally committed to Arizona, but he flipped to UF the week after the Under Armour All-America Game.
Tabor, the No. 10 player in the Rivals.com top-100 rankings, is a physical corner with very good instincts at the position. With cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy leaving school early for the NFL Draft, Tabor has the skillset that could earn him a starting spot opposite Hargreaves.
Four-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley flipped to UF last week after previously verbally committing to Penn State. Holley gets off blocks well, and he has pretty decent speed for his 6-foot-4, nearly 300-pound frame. He is a decent pass rusher as well — a staple of defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s scheme.
Holley is the No. 2 defensive tackle in the 2014 class. UF needs depth at tackle after losing Dominique Easley to the 2014 NFL Draft and Damien Jacobs to graduation.
Another four-star defensive tackle that will bolster the position is Khairi Clark, a Hollywood native. Clark represented the East in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month where he recorded two tackles. Clark took his official visit to Florida last weekend. He has been committed to UF since June 2013.
The No. 5 defensive end in the 2014 class, Gerald Willis III, picked UF over his home school, LSU. Willis has impressive speed getting around the edge and could get reps early, as sophomore Jonathan Bullard and redshirt freshman Bryan Cox Jr. topped the depth chart at defensive end during the latter part of last season.
Adding even more depth to the defensive back corps for Florida is Duke Dawson. Dawson is another early enrollee who will benefit from getting a season of spring football under his belt. During his senior season at Dixie County High, he registered 41 total tackles, including 29 solo tackles.
A major UF target ranked in the Rivals 100 is five-star athlete Adoree’ Jackson.
He is the No. 6 recruit in the nation, according to the website. Jackson could end up signing a letter of intent with UF due to his interest in pursuing a track and field career while attending college.
Jackson has narrowed down his choices to UF, UCLA and USC, according to 247Sports.com. He plans to make an official visit to one of the three schools on Jan. 31.
UF’s defense has been one of the best in the SEC for the last two seasons. Despite finishing the 2013 season with a 4-8 record, the Gator defense was among the top three teams in scoring, rushing, passing and total defense in the final SEC defensive statistics.
With its current class, Florida is poised to rank highly again.
Follow Morgan Moriarty on Twitter @Morgan_Moriarty