Defensive line coach Chris Rumph got a deserved promotion that includes the title co-offensive coordinator in the offseason. He’s got a talented bunch to work with even with defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie off to the NFL last month in the draft.
Let’s talk about what he does have to work with…
The Bad Stuff
With Ivie and Brantley out, the depth at defensive tackle was pretty non-existent back in January. A move of sophomore Richerd Desir-Jones from the offensive line to defensive tackle and the addition of true freshman Kyree Campbell in January after enrolling early at Florida from prep school added some things, but the only other name inside right now is seldom used sophomore Luke Ancrum.
Those are the three guys in the spring than ran behind starters Khairi Clark and Taven Bryan, which is scary when you think about the rough and tumble SEC and the number of injuries the line units suffer in a season.
Possible Bright Side
Campbell showed up in shape and looks to be able to contribute more than expected. He’s got great size at 6-foot-3 and 323 pounds, he’s a run stuffing nose tackle that the Gators want to use in the trenches. He’s still got some learning to do, but they believe they will get good plays out of him.
Ancrum also stepped up this spring and added some weight to a frame that was expected to play at defensive end when he signed with Florida in 2015. Ancrum will start the season as the top reserve at the 3-technique position and should play solid minutes for the Gators in the fall.
We haven’t seen anything of what they can do, but true freshmen Elijah Conliffe and Tedarrell Slaton are also expected to provide immediate help inside. Time will tell what they look like when they show up in Gainesville, but the expectations are that they playing meaningful snaps in year one on campus.
A couple of other options are guys that will play both inside and outside. Junior CeCe Jefferson and sophomore Jachai Polite have done both already in their career and that will likely continue with their main emphasis being at defensive end.
At end, the emergence of Antonneous Clayton was expected a little earlier maybe, but the sophomore added some good weight and became a difference maker during stretches of spring ball. He’s up to 255 pounds now and the muscle will help with the problem of fighting the strong and long-armed offensive tackles he will regularly face in the SEC.
The Good Stuff
The starting four defensive linemen should be somewhere between very solid to really good. All SEC candidate Jefferson will take one of the outside defensive end spots. He’s dropped his weight to 250 pounds now, more than 25 less than what he weighed at earlier times in his career. He’s built more for speed off the edge an already has a very quick first step. He’s got surprisingly good power for a guy his size and so he can bull rush or use his quickness to beat people. Polite should spend most of his time backing up Jefferson as the strong side end.
The pass rush end will have three guys in a close race early on with Clayton working his way into that mix as well. Senior Jordan Sherit missed the end of the season and the spring with injury, but he was playing at a very high level when he went down last year. Sophomore Jabari Zuniga led the team in sacks last year, albeit most came against non-conference opponents. Still, he was disruptive more times than not when he was in the games and had a good spring continuing that trend. Junior Keivonnis Davis has added some weight and is a guy that has shown he can make plays. More time in the system will prove beneficial for Davis who just has to get over the thinking part of the game in order to really excel.
Zuniga or Sherit could also see tie on the strong side if they need to, showing just how much depth the gators have at the two defensive end positions.
The two starters at defensive tackle should be pretty good. I am not quite ready to say they will play better than the two that just left, but the talk of junior Taven Bryan over the spring has been very promising. He’s always been one of, if not the biggest physical freak on the team since he arrived at Florida. His head has always been elsewhere, but that seemed to take a big turn in the right direction this spring. He played extremely well, and the staff said better than anyone else on the defense this spring. I don’t know if they could have asked for anything more than that.
Clark looks to be solid and that is what you need from your nose tackle. He’s not a play maker type, but he can stuff the run and he already has lots of valuable experience in big games having played a lot in his career. Not saying he’s at Ivie’s level yet, but very solid.
It is really going to be about the production from the defensive tackle position. If Bryan can live up to half the expectations from the spring and Clark can stay healthy and just maintain, this should be a very good unit. If Bryan really plays like he is capable, they have enough talent and depth at end to be very special up front on the defensive line. The big key for me is staying healthy at tackle because of all of the unknowns behind the starters.