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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Defense-heavy recruting class could see lots of playing time

It's time for the UF defense to get on the defensive.

With the unveiling of the Gators' latest recruiting class Wednesday, Urban Meyer sent a clear message to the defensive unit: no job is safe.

Out of the 22 scholarships the Gators handed out, they listed 12 as defensive players and eight as offensive players to go along with kicker Caleb Sturgis and defensive tackle Byran Jones, who is expected to get a look on both the offensive and defensive lines. That breakdown likely would have been 13 to seven in favor of defense had linebacker Ramon Buchanan not made a last-minute switch, signing with Miami instead of UF, leaving the Gators to pick up offensive lineman David Young to round out their class.

The split is magnified by the fact that the Gators also stockpiled defensive players last year, issuing 15 scholarships as opposed to just 10 on offensive players and had an even split in 2006.

It appears the coaches may feel that inexperience isn't the only problem for a unit that struggled miserably last season and that an off-season and another dose of spring practice won't be the quick fixes UF needs.

Given Meyer's propensity for playing freshmen, I wouldn't feel comfortable right now if I were a starter on defense.

Last year, true freshmen Joe Haden and Major Wright started at cornerback and free safety, respectively, for most of the season, while several other rookies saw legitimate playing time.

Don't be surprised to see that trend continue next season.

And with the strength of this recruiting class being in the defensive backfield, Haden and Wright could find themselves in position battles again this off-season.

Next year could be UF's best opportunity in the foreseeable future to win a championship, but that can't happen if the defense can't get off the field against Auburn, can't stop LSU on fourth down, makes Knowshon Moreno look like Barry Sanders or puts up less of a fight against Michigan than Division I-AA teams do.

After losing so many defensive starters from the national championship team, nobody really expected much from the Gators' defense heading into last season.

But let's face it. If the squad could've lived up to the tempered expectations, UF almost certainly would have been playing in a BCS bowl last season.

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And next season, those expectations will skyrocket, whether it's fair or not.

With Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin heading into their junior seasons, nobody really knows for sure how much longer they will be at UF. The Gators need to turn around the defense now before the window closes.

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