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In recruiting, Gators decisive on defense

Analysts say UF has shored up a weakness.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
Published January 26, 2008


GAINESVILLE - Urban Meyer sat at a small table shortly after Florida's 41-35 loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl and two minutes into his postgame news conference he was talking about the abysmal performance of his defense. It was the culmination of a long, frustrating year where the defense was concerned.

Frankly, Meyer was frustrated.

"We have some glaring errors that need to be corrected real fast, personnel-wise," he said.

Translation: Our defense is horrible and we have to fix it in this next recruiting class.

Apparently, he wasn't kidding. Less than two weeks before national signing day, the Gators have loaded up on defensive players.

It is a class headlined by Tuesday's oral commitment from Omar Hunter, the nation's No.2-rated defensive tackle from Buford, Ga. Other standouts are Pahokee four-star defensive back Janoris Jenkins, three-star linebacker T.J. Pridemore of Buford, Ga., four-star linebacker Lerentee McCray of Dunnellon and four-star linebacker/safety/athlete Ramon Buchanan of Melbourne Palm Bay.

Of the Gators' 22 commitments, 12 are defensive players.

"It's all about filling needs," Scout.com national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said. "They had glaring needs in the secondary and they certainly did a tremendous job with that. And everybody knows a lot of their problems stemmed from lack of defensive tackles and they took care of that area as well. It looks very promising for them."

Since his arrival in 2005, Meyer has repeatedly said he wants to have the fastest team in the nation. Analysts say he has helped that cause with this class.

"They've added speed is what they've added," Rivals.com analyst Barry Every said. "Everybody they've gotten is a speed guy. And football is first, these aren't kids where there's another sport in their way. ... And they've got athletes who can play several positions. It's to their benefit, whether mentally or physically, to play other positions. The players who are dead-set on playing just one thing don't turn out well. Kids that are pretty open to doing things and are coachable, they usually turn out well."

After the Capital One Bowl earlier this month, Rivals.com ranked UF's class 16th. But despite losing two of its best recruiters - safeties coach Doc Holliday and running backs coach Stan Drayton - Florida put together a late rally.

On Wednesday, Rivals.com moved UF into the No.1 position, ahead ofNotre Dame and Alabama. The Gators have picked up eight commitments in January, compared to four last year.

"I think, overall, people look at the last two classes and wonder just how many holes they could have to fill, but looking at last year's team you could see several holes, especially in the secondary," GatorBait.net editor Mark Wheeler said. "They will get tremendous help from Jenkins, who is without a doubt the most physical corner coming out of the high school ranks this year, and maybe the best one-on-one, lockdown corner. The fact he's there for spring ball and already on campus, he's definitely going to challenge for a starting spot next year."

And while recruiting is always a guessing game, most agree that getting Hunter's commitment was the Gators' biggest coup.

"Omar is a phenomenal recruit," Newberg said. "He's more of a Warren Sapp type. He's strong, he can bench over 400 pounds and squats over 600. Physically he's ready for the college game right now and I rarely say that about a defensive tackle. Just like any freshman, he'll have to make an adjustment to the speed of the game, but I think he can make it as well as any other player."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.