Certainly at cornerback there are some huge shoes to fill for the 2017 class and the Gators have to put a quarterback on the field that can start to change around the offense, but replacing starting defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie is going to be a huge undertaking.
One player that is assigned that duty so far is redshirt junior Taven Bryan. Bryan has played a lot of football, but probably not gotten on to the field as much as he would have liked in his time here at Florida. That should change in 2017 out of necessity, but so far this spring he has shown it should be a change that is really going to benefit the Gators.
Head coach Jim McElwain spoke to the media on Monday and unprovoked, he talked about Bryan and the improvement he has made since the end of last season.
“Up front, Taven Bryan, he has been our most consistent player, day-to-day in all drills,” McElwain said. “Which is something he kind of lacked was consistency a little bit. He has probably taken as big of steps of anybody on the team as far as consistency and performance. It doesn’t matter the drill.”
“He did some flash things before, but he and Khairi Clark have done a really good job inside.”
That is a huge step for Bryan who says he has spent a lot of the last two years giving defensive line coach Chris Rumph more than his share of heart problems.
"They've always been trying to get me to be more mature,” Bryan told the Florida media on Monday after practice. “I've been causing a lot of blood pressure rises for Coach Rumph, I know that.
Bryan understands he’s been a work in progress for a while.
“How many seasons have I been here?” he asked rhetorically. “Two years. Pretty much for two years straight… you know if he dies it's not my fault. Like, I swear, I try, but I'm killing the man."
A maturity has set in, brought on by a realization that he’s got to get something done now or never. Although we have seen big plays from Bryan in his time on the field, he knows the staff wants to see more from him. He says his 2016 wasn’t one to remember.
“Not good,” he responded when asked what he thought of his redshirt sophomore year. “It just had mostly to do with my maturity. I wasn’t mature enough, ready to play kind of deal.”
“I think I showed a lot of potential, but potential is not much unless you use it.”
“What it comes down to is I started realizing the time -- I don't have much time left,” he said. “I've been here for three years and I haven't really done much so I really need to focus on my goals."
His teammates have noticed the change in his game this spring.
Redshirt sophomore center T.J. McCoy was thrust into a starting spot late last year and played some big time competition down the stretch of the season. He knows what it is like to play against big time players and believes he is seeing that with Bryan.
“Taven is a monster man, he’s a monster,” McCoy said. “That dude is quick. He’s a high energy guy. The one thing I can say this year that’s different about Taven is his knowledge of the game. Like we’ll be running a Power play and he’ll be ‘hey it’s Power, it’s Power, he’s pulling’. Stuff like that. So it’s just the knowledge of the game. He’s always been a physical guy and a guy that can get off the ball quick, but I say this spring, the mental part is really taking off for him and is making him a better player and making our defense a better defense.”
Bryan is looking for a big year based on the fact that he has grown up a bit.
"Honestly, I think with how much more mature I am this year I'll play a lot better than I have in the past,” he said. “I mean, they've told me I've had tons of potential, but it doesn't mean anything unless you use it. It doesn't matter if you're big, fast and strong if you just stand there you're still going to be a bench warmer."
It is his time to do his thing and says him getting to this point is because he learned a lot from the guys that are older and played head of him.
“I’ve transitioned pretty well,” he said in terms of working into a starting role this spring. “I got a lot of assistance from some good players over the years. Learned a lot of things, a lot of tricks.”
A couple of the guys that helped teach him were Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie, who will be taking their services to the NFL in a month or so. Brantley and Ivie have been big for the Gators for a couple of years.
“He’s just been a good friend,” he said of Brantley. “Him, Joey, everyone who has come through. The D-line has always been a well-meshed, so even when leaders go, we still kind of maintain the same ability to play.”
And while those two were good for the Gators, Bryan now expects more out of himself and fellow starter Khairi Clark.
“We’ve got to beat them,” he said. “There’s no settling for second, right? We don’t like those participation ribbons.”
“It's going to be good. I like playing alongside Khairi. You know, he's a very consistent player. He's got like some small flaws. Once he's figures those out he'll be great. And since I've always played with him, like, we always know what's going on, we're very consistent, we get a lot of non-verbal communication. We know what's going on."
McCoy is buying in. He says that Bryan can be just as good as Brantley and even more versatile.
"Taven to Caleb?” McCoy said when asked to compare. “Man, I believe Taven is stronger, stronger than Caleb. Because like Caleb is really like quick twitchy guy, he can rush the passer. I believe Taven can play anything. You can put Taven at nose, three-technique, defensive end. He's just that quick, that strong and that physical. Just, like I said about the mental aspect of the game, I believe that's made him a better player. Just knowing all three spots, ever since I've been here Taven's been playing nose, three-technique, I even saw him at end a couple times. He knows all three positions, and I believe he does it well. So I believe Taven is a little bit more versatile than Caleb, because Caleb just plays three and the nose."