Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Troubled Secondary Takes Another Blow

Florida Loses Safety Dorian Munroe for 2008 Season

Florida's pass defense was so bad in 2007.

How bad was it?

Florida's pass defense was so bad in 2007 that it ranked dead last in the SEC and 84th in the nation, behind such luminaries as Florida International, Northwestern and Duke.

That wasn't even a joke.

I don't want to overstate this; Dorian Munroe almost certainly isn't a great player. Nor is John Curtis, the senior walk-on and safety who also hurt his knee this summer and will miss the 2008 season. Truthfully, it's hard to get any real read on Dorian, who took over as strong safety in the 2006 SEC Championship Game when Tony Joiner got hurt and started the 2008 LSU game after Joiner's bizarre incident at an impound lot. Joiner was quickly inserted into the game and Munroe went back to the bench.

Considering the war crime that was Florida's 2007 pass defense, it's a little strange that Munroe never played his way into significant minutes. So it's not likely the Gators just lost the second coming of Reggie Nelson. But what he does have is two years of experience in Gainesville and a fair amount of talent. (He was a four star prospect and one of the top ten safeties in the nation as a high schooler)

Since the spring game, UF's safety depth has been eviscerated by injuries, transfers and criminal activity. Jerimy Finch got homesick and transferred to Indiana. Jamar Hornsby was involved in a rather sickening credit card case and was kicked off the team. Munroe and Curtis tore up their knees. Dee Finley, an incoming freshmen who was one of the best strong safety prospects in the country, failed to qualify academically and will head to military school for the fall semester.

What's left? Big hitter Major Wright, a sophomore who showed some flashes of excellence as a true freshmen, but spent most of the time replicating popular whipping boy Kyle Jackson's coverage issues. He's a great prospect, but probably ill-suited for the free safety position where he's currently the starter.

Then there's sophomore Bryan Thomas, about whom I know next-to-nothing. He's followed by sophomore Ahmad Black, a cornerback who didn't play in most of Florida's important games. Black is listed at 5'9, 177 pounds on Florida's official website; that's awfully small for a safety. Some reports indicate that Moses Jenkins, a tall, thin sophomore cornerback might be an option at safety.

The great hope is incoming freshmen Will Hill, the top high school safety in the country and UF's free safety of the future. And by "future," I mean "right freaking now, please." Hill was all world as a QB/DB in New Jersey and has every single tool you look for in an SEC free safety. Of course, much the same was said of the aforementioned Kyle Jackson when he first came to Gainesville, so there you go.

The Gators might well have to look at moving Wright to strong safety and starting Hill at the other spot. Or they might not. It's hard to say before fall practice starts up and Hill even sees a single practice snap.

Regardless, Florida's once again has a serious dilemma in the secondary. What many forget about the 2006 national championship team and its great defense is that the cornerbacks weren't great players. Ryan Smith was a decent player and intercepted a lot of passes, but second starter Reggie Lewis was largely a non-entity. Nickel back Tremaine McCollum did his best work sitting on the bench.

But the presence of Reggie Nelson made them all 300 percent better. Smith plays up at the line of scrimmage and gets beaten by Marcus Monk? No problem: Reggie was there to erase the mistake. Reggie was there to erase every mistake. He gave the cornerbacks and UF's defensive coordinators extraordinary freedom. He flew to every ball, blew up every vulnerable receiver, made every play.

If the 2008 cornerbacks play extraordinarily well, they might be as good as their 2006 counterparts. Maybe. They certainly didn't show much aptitude last year. Much of that can be blamed on youth, but the way Chad Henne and Michigan eviscerated them in the Capital One Bowl doesn't indicate that the kids learned all that much during the season.

Unless Wright breaks out and Hill explodes onto the scene, those corners aren't going to receive much help from their safeties. What does that mean? Easy third down conversions. An inability to stop the short pass.

And, perhaps, more frustrating losses.

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