Defensive tackle Joey Ivie has already been declared out after he “had some stuff cleaned out on one of his legs” recently, according for Jim McElwain.
The big question for Florida is fellow defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard. The senior is having an All-American caliber season, leading the team with 13 tackles for a loss and has been a key part of Florida’s run defense. Bullard is “highly questionable” on Saturday with an arm injury. He didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday but returned to the field on Wednesday, even though he didn’t practice fully.
If Bullard is out, the Gators will be down to only three scholarship defensive tackles -- Caleb Brantley, Taven Bryan and Khairi Clark. Luke Ancrum and Andrew Ivie are also scholarship defensive tackles, but they appear to be redshirting this season. Redshirt freshman Thomas Holley remains out with a hip injury. McElwain said freshman CeCe Jefferson, who has played almost exclusively at defensive end, is preparing to play more reps at defensive tackle if necessary.
“Absolutely there's a concern, and we'll see how we handle it,” McElwain said. “The guys who will play increased reps, they need to step up and they will. Whoever's there is going to play, and they're going to play with as much intensity to win that given play as whoever would be in there. They've got to be really disciplined against what they're about to face. It's a little different."
Moving Jefferson to defensive tackle would hurt the defensive end position, which will be without Jordan Sherit for the first half since he was ejected late against Vanderbilt for a targeting penalty. It will force starters Bryan Cox, Jr. and Alex McCalister to play extra snaps.
NO SURPRISE WITH SUCCESS
McElwain has maintained since Florida’s hot start to the season that none of it has surprised him. Sure, he knows that no one believes him when he says that, but he saw signs from his team during the offseason that could lead to a big year.
More than any improvement on the field, he saw a team truly understanding what it would take to be successful. They blocked out the projections that had Florida winning 5-7 games and finishing fifth in the SEC East, and the Gators worked to take care of themselves and have a successful season.
“When you listen to outside noise, it hinders your ability to go perfect your craft,” McElwain said. “I’ve certainly never used that as motivation. When you do, that’s kind of very shallow. It’s not everlasting. (The players) have done a really good job of investing and really focusing on the right things, and that’s not how much trash they can talk, not how many penalties they can accumulate. That’s not being worried about a dance or how I look. It’s about giving of yourself for the benefit of others, and understanding to get to where you want to go, the steps it takes, are not selfish steps. They’re steps you’ve got to understand to do your job so someone else can be successful. They’ve gotten that. I’m proud of them. Don’t get me wrong there. It’s what you should expect.”
MCCALISTER BREAKING OUT
Florida defensive end Alex McCalister continues to make an impact in the pass rush. After finishing second on the sack in sacks last season, McCalister now leads the Gators with 6.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries. He has 9.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries this season.
McElwain knows how talented McCalister is, and despite the important impact the defensive end has made this year, he still sees a ceiling much higher than McCalister is playing now.
"The guy can be as good as he wants,” McElwain said. “He's got a great first step. He's long, obviously. Very strong. He's really learned where to be and how to be there. For him, he's thrived under Coach Rumph's discipline and he's really done a good job of giving up himself, and it ain't all about him. He's playing really good at a high level and fun to watch."