Jonathan Bullard could’ve easily left Gainesville and been selected in the NFL Draft. He’s currently watching as two former teammates see their stock go up. Most expected Dante Fowler to be a first-round pick, but he’s now being talked about as high as No. 3 overall.
Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries left with a big upside, but there were questions about his production and whether or not he could keep his weight up. After he weighed in at 307 pounds during the NFL Combine, Humphries is being talked about as a late first-round pick.
It’s natural for Bullard to think that it could have been him.
As the Gators opened spring practice on Monday, he admitted that thought has crossed his mind, but the senior defensive lineman is content with the decision he made to finish out his four years in Gainesville.
"I would be lying if I said I didn't (have second thoughts) because I see the combine could do a lot,” Bullard said. “And just with D.J. being so athletic, he rised, so I feel like I would have done good at the combine. Of course, you're going to have second thoughts and think. But I made my decision and I'm happy with it and I'm going to make the most of it."
Returning to Florida put Bullard into a role as a leader. Last year, it was Fowler as the most visible lineman that teammates looked up to and opponents had to game plan against. Bullard might not be able to put up the eye-popping numbers the Fowler did -- 8.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries and 15 tackles for a loss -- but he will be viewed as the leader of the group.
With 11 scholarship defensive linemen, the Gators should have good depth on the front and will look to Bullard to lead.
"I'm definitely ready for it,” Bullard said. “That's just something I've got to take on my back and make the most out of it. When they need something or need a play, I need to be the guy to come through. I've got the most experience. I've been playing since my freshman year. I know the feel of the game. I know how things go. I'm an older guy, so I've got to take that one."
With Fowler gone, Bullard still sees plenty of talent on the defensive line for the Gators not to see a drop off.
“I think we’ve got a lot of talent,” the senior said. “Of course, we’re going to have to make up plays and intensity with Dante leaving, so each one of us has got to take a little bit of that and work harder to make this just as solid as we were last year.”
Bullard’s leadership is even more important with a new position coach. The defensive linemen have been in a unique spot, getting used to Terrell Williams as a coach for a month before he left and Chris Rumph took over. If the younger players see Bullard struggling to buy in, they could follow and create issues.
Bullard knows the important of him as a leader, and it helps that he already has a relationship with Rumph. When Bullard was a junior in high school, Rumph was at Clemson and spent a lot of time recruiting him. After Rumph left Clemson and went to Alabama, he then recruited Bullard as a senior. They already have a relationship and it has been easy to rebuild that this spring.
“We already had a relationship coming in here, so we bonded through that,” Bullard said.