Florida Gators’ freshmen turning heads in practice

Some first-year players started to show up during bowl practice.

Jim McElwain’s unique practicing style allowed some of the young freshmen to prove they can handle bigger roles next season. When asked about them earlier this week, McElwain didn’t want to single anyone out as standouts during the early part of bowl practice.

But some of the Florida players did.

Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor participated in the early bowl practices since he’s returning next season, but most of the reps were built in for the inexperienced players to prove they could get a bigger role next season. Tabor has seen two defensive linemen prove that they’re ready for it.

“Jabari Zuniga is pretty good,” Tabor said. “He redshirted this year. He didn’t get an opportunity to play, but I like him. Keivonnis Davis. Those two are pretty good, and we didn’t get a chance to see them.”

Davis had to burn his redshirt against Florida Atlantic and played during the last three games of the 2015 season. He recorded just three tackles but showed he could be a contributor in two of the Gators’ toughest games against Alabama and Florida State. Florida defensive lineman Jordan Sherit credited Davis for “sacrificing for the team” and being willing to give up his redshirt to help the injured defensive line this year.

But it’s Zuniga that earned praise from multiple players.

“One guy who’s coming out right now the last couple practices is Jabari Zuniga,” Sherit said. “High-motor guy. He’s still kind of new to the game, learning new things each and every day. I think just from an athletic standpoint, he has tons of potential. Coach Rumph’s going to get every ounce of that out of him.”

Sherit said that Zuniga is playing mostly defensive end in practice, but as he gets older and adds weight, Sherit believes he could slowly move inside and handle the challenges of interior offensive linemen. But his quickness and motor make him a challenge off the edge.

“I think he’s a guy who’s probably going to stay an end,” Sherit said of Zuniga. “He has great quickness off the ball. He’s a great player, a physical guy. The freshman class – Luke Ancrum’s another guy. Long guy, who has a lot of potential. The spring’s going to be a big indicator for those guys, a big time for them. I’m a guy that got a lot better through spring. They’re doing the exact same thing. We’re going to come back next fall and do the same thing this year. Our goal is to get back to Atlanta.”

Building the depth on the defensive line this spring will be an important way for the Gators to return to Atlanta. Florida will lose defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard and defensive end Alex McCalister, but as of now, those look to be the only two major losses up front.

“It’s big for those guys,” Tabor said. “We get a lot of practices here and they can just get better and work on their craft and they can show the coaches what they can do going into spring ball. We’re just building for next year.”

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