There are great numbers at defensive end. There are also all kinds of body types and player types for Chris Rumph to be able to rotate as he needs fit. This should be a real strength of the team, especially a strength of the defense in 2017.
Injuries shortened redshirt senior Jordan Sherit’s junior season, but he still managed to play in 10 games and really showed to be not only dependable, but a playmaker on the edge of the defense. Sherit was always that guy that the staff liked to own the edge and he was able to get in on 38 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two quarterback hurries. He should be the leader of the line in 2017 and expectations should be high for Sherit.
Junior CeCe Jefferson tried to play inside to being the 2016 season but he just wasn’t as effective as he had been on the edge. As the season went on he migrated back outside and we saw him start making plays again. He should stay outside, but he has good enough size so that in passing down situations Jefferson can rush the passer from inside. In 2016 he played in 12 games and started six and totaled 30 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and six quarterback hurries. Expect a bigger year in 2017.
Redshirt junior Justus Reed is probably the forgotten man at defensive end. He saw action in just the Kentucky and North Texas games a year ago as he suffered a series of injuries that kept him off the field. He didn’t play much in 2015 either, but he was one of those guys that seemed to make plays whenever he did get on the field. I think Reed is one of those guys that could really surprise, because I think he is better than what he has been able to show.
Junior Keivonnis Davis is certainly a guy that can get after the quarterback. In 2016 he appeared in all 13 games and started five. In the process he had a solid 27 tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, five quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. He got caught a few times giving up the edge which is something he can get better at this spring, but he’s a terrific off-the-edge pass rusher.
Redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga is a guy that made people wonder why in the world he redshirted in 2015. Zuniga led the team in sacks last year with five and was a constant hindrance for the quarterback when he was in the game. He finished the year with 25 tackles on the season, including one forced fumble, 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 11 quarterback hurries to go along with his sacks. He molded his body into more of a streamlined pass rusher before last season and he seemed to be at a good weight to be effective.
Sophomore Jachai Polite came out swinging in his freshman season. Most projected as a redshirt, but Polite came to Florida with good size and a motor that doesn’t stop. As a freshman he played in 10 games and tallied 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks, one quarterback hurry, and one forced fumble. He’s got enough size where he can play inside some, but will probably play mostly at strong side defensive end. He could be a heck of a third down interior pass rusher with his quickness and strength.
Sophomore Antonneous Clayton is the guy most projected to play more last year than he did. Clayton is a terrific athlete, but he lacked strength and endurance to play a lot on a team that was doing well sacking the quarterback. Look for that to change a lot as he continues to add muscle and mass to his body. He played in five games as a freshman finishing with three tackles, three quarterback hurries, and one recovered fumble. He missed the last three games of the year with injury. Let’s see what some added weight and muscle can do for Clayton in 2017.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Smith is quite the unknown. A surprise on the recruiting trail when he visited in December, committed shortly after in 2015, and then signed on in January, so this is his second spring. He’s another that needed to gain some weight and muscle, so we are looking for that from him this spring. He would be another speed rusher off the end for the Gators.
This position and cornerback are the two most worrisome in terms of depth, or lack-there-of. The Gators can probably get some plays from the ends listed above, but they are going to have to use all of the following bodies, plus another true freshman or two when we get to the season.
Redshirt junior Khairi Clark should start at the nose and is expected to play well. It will likely be a step down from the steady play of Joey Ivie to begin with, but Clark has also been consistent when in the game. He’s a big body that finished with 16 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, and one sack in 2016. The big thing for Clark is going to be staying on the field for longer than he has so far in his career. I’m not saying he can’t do it, but he has to prove it.
Redshirt junior Taven Bryan is as athletic of a big guy as you will find anywhere. If he buttons down, stays under control, and hots his potential, we will see a lot of him at the next level as well. He’s fast, quick, and very strong, but he makes the mistakes that cost sometimes. Still, he has made some big plays in his time and last year he finished with 17 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, one sack, two quarterback hurries, and one pass breakup in the 13 games he played with two starts in 2016. This is one that could be a real difference maker up front if things go right in the offseason.
Redshirt sophomore Richerd Desir-Jones will play defense for the first time at Florida, moving over from a reserve offensive guard spot this spring. Desir-Jones played defensive tackle in high school, but we have yet to see anything from him at this level to know what he is capable of. Certainly depth is an issue with this move as Desir-Jones was set to see playing time in the two-deep on offense.
Redshirt sophomore Luke Ancrum has been steadily gaining weight to transition inside from end. He did see time inside in seven different games a year ago, but was in at end of games for the most part. With the lack of depth, Ancrum can do himself a big favor by making a move this spring.
Freshman Kyree Campbell was the recruiting bonus the staff needed this spring. He was a surprise visitor on the mid-December official visit weekend and committed on the spot. A big body defensive tackle, he will be swimming early this spring, but there seems little doubt that he will need to get on the field in 2017. He’s actually a year older than most freshmen having not qualified a year ago when he signed with North Carolina. That added year of physical maturity should be a good thing for what the Gators really need from him in 2017.