The Gators' defense returns nearly all of the guys who made Oklahoma's record breaking offense look bad. The secondary is so deep, the backups would be starters on most of the top-15 teams in the country. Major Wright, the man who nearly killed Oklahoma's Manny Johnson, is the anchor with SS Ahmad Black. Behind those two is Will Hill and Dee Finley, who can also destroy people. At the corners are Joe Haden, who continues to improve, and Janoris Jenkins, who gets the coveted No. 1 jersey worn by Reggie Nelson and Percy Harvin.
The biggest thing to happen to Florida in the offseason was the return of LB Brandon Spikes. What Tebow is to the offense, Spikes is to the defense. He was the leading tackler last season and became a more mature player, sticking to his assignments and becoming a team leader. His tackle of Knowshon Moreno early in the Georgia game was a sign that this defense would not be pushed around. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong says WLB Ryan Stamper is the unsung hero of the defense, as it is his calls that put Spikes in position to destroy oncoming running backs. On the strong side is A.J. Jones, but is the least active of the three. Rotating in are Dustin Doe and Brandon Hicks, both could end up being starters. However, Doe is in the dog house after getting caught driving with a suspended license. Florida's deep secondary means the Gators will not hesitate to shuffle in Hill or Finley as an extra DB who can work as a monster back. Two recruits, Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, may see time later, but Meyer always says every position is open to be won in practice.
The defensive line is bookended by Carlos Dunlap (the BCS Game defensive MVP) and senior Jermaine Cunningham. Dunlap is in the mold of Florida ends like Jarvis Moss and Jevon Kearse. At 6-foot-6, Dunlap's 290 looks lean (wearing a single digit, 8, rather than a big, round number, helps that too). Dunlap is quick, getting behind the line to make a tackle (13.5 sacks) or block kicks (three blocks). Cunningham has been the less publicized one. Bridging the time between Moss and Dunlap, the senior continues to produce. Slightly undersized at 250, Cunningham was fifth on the team with 52 tackles and 10 sacks. It was Cunningham's sack of John Parker Wilson in the SEC title game that shutdown Bama's comeback attempt. Junior Justin Trattou is the third man in, looking to stay in front of Dunlap on the depth chart.
The interior line lost a hero from the Oklahoma game when Torrey Davis left school under clouds of bad grades and alcohol crimes. Starters Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh remain. But many fans want to see what Omar Hunter can do. After being hyped by Meyer as the next big thing, various injuries led the Gators to redshirt him. Depending on who you ask, Hunter was never healthy after his last high school season or he just couldn't handle SEC ball. Now, Hunter needs to prove himself. As for finding a star in an injured player, Meyer has done it before. Under former coach Ron Zook, Jarvis Moss was an injury waiting to happen. Meyer's staff found there was something medically wrong with Moss and he began to dominate offensive lines. Hopefully the same is true for Hunter.
In 2009, anything less than a National Championship will be a disappointment. The same is true in Norman, Austin and Los Angeles as it is in Gainesville. But the Gators will have the bull's eye on their back and it is fair to wonder if they can handle the weight of that and their own expectations.