The Gators are getting used to a new coaching staff on the field this spring, but the transition is easier with a scheme similar to what Florida ran last season. Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was asked about cornerback J.C. Jackson, defensive end Alex McCalister, defensive tackle Taven Bryan, and linebackers Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin earlier this week.
J.C. Jackson: Collins declined to talk about the conversations in the offseason about which side of the ball Jackson would play, but he’s happy to have him in the secondary. Collins raved about his overall athleticism and the impact the redshirt freshman will be able to make in the fall.
“J.C. is probably one of the most athletic kids, possibly, that I’ve ever been around,” Collins said. “He’s done a good job for us, playing corner, playing some nickel, very fast, very physical, and very athletic. Technique, he gets better every day. Sometimes some of the technical things that he might not be 100-percent on, he can make up for with sheer athletic ability.
“A great attitude, he’s fun to be around every day. You can see guys like Vern [Hargreaves] and Quincy [Wilson] and [Jalen Tabor], they want to see him be successful because they like him so much and every single day he gets better.”
Matt Rolin: After sitting out for the last two seasons with two ACL tears, Rolin is on the field without any limitations this spring. The current coaching staff hasn’t been in Gainesville to watch him be on the field at times last season, but they’re impressed with the way he’s working so far.
“I thought he’s done a great job,” Collins said. “Coach Shannon has done a great job with him. He’s played faster every single day. He’s getting a handle of the defense, making calls, getting us lined up. I think he’s doing a great job.”
Alex Anzalone: Collins was quick to point out that they’ve put a lot on Anzalone this season to learn the defense and take over an increased leadership role. With Antonio Morrison on the sideline this spring rehabbing his knee injury, Anzalone is the most experienced linebacker on the Florida defense.
Collins and Shannon are making sure they get Anzalone ready for the added workload this year.
"I think he's embraced it,” Collins said. “The expectations that have been set for him, he has embraced those and he's in there studying, he's in there making calls. One of the biggest challenges for him is making sure the guys believe in you when you're making a call. So he'll make it with confidence and he'll stay after with guys. I think he's done a great job, and Coach Shannon's done a great job with him, developing him, making the calls, getting us lined up and having enough juice and energy that guys believe in it and go execute the defense the way it should be."
Alex McCalister: When Collins was in Gainesville for bowl prep in December, he was able to get a good look at how players worked and practiced. McCalister was one of the first players to jump out. His 6-6, 245-pound frame is enticing for any defensive coordinator, and Collins is enjoying finding the right places for him on the field.
“Really good,” Collins said of McCalister. “He’s going to catch your attention and the way he worked in the offseason and what he’s done in the first four or five practices has been really positive. I think you guys have gotten to known him, his personality, how much juice and energy, I think you start seeing that on the practice field starting to come out you know as him being a leader and those kinds of things. And people naturally like being around Alex and he plays kind of the way his personality is. He has fun, he loves playing ball. He celebrates with his teammates and that’s one of the big things.”
Taven Bryan: The Gators have decisions to make on the defensive line, trying to find the best spot of Jonathan Bullard, who has played end and tackle. It might be easier to stick him at end if the Gators keep getting improved performance from the redshirt freshman Bryan.
“Taven Bryan is a guy who has really come on during the spring,” Collins said.