Clayton’s emergence on display in Florida’s spring game

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Florida defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton Clayton recorded back-to-back sacks in the second quarter for a total loss of nine yards. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer/File]

Considering the credence given to recruiting services in this day and age, it appeared to be only a matter of time until Florida defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton would blossom into an impact player.

And on Saturday, Clayton’s potential was on full display.

The 6-foot-3, 254-pound Clayton registered consecutive sacks in Saturday’s Orange & Blue Game at Florida Field, and he was often seen dominating on the defensive line. Seemingly a better fit in coordinator Todd Grantham’s revamped 3-4 defense, Clayton has the size and motor to become a consistent player in the SEC — something that didn’t seem possible last season.

After Rivals declared the junior from Vienna, Ga., a five-star prospect at the end of the 2016 high school football recruiting cycle, it was expected Clayton would be a candidate for early playing time at Florida.

But that couldn’t have been further from the case. He played in just five games as a freshman, registering three tackles, mostly during inconsequential action. Last season wasn’t much better, as Clayton played in nine games, recording seven tackles and a lone sack.

“My first two years didn’t go as planned. I got one sack last year, but I didn’t get any reps. The thing is, every time I got in last year I made plays,” Clayton said. “The little time I had to get in I made a play. So, I think this year, the more opportunities I get, the more production I will get for the team.”

While he’s hardly the first defensive lineman to come to Gainesville needing time to develop, many wondered if Clayton deserved to be labeled a bust considering his perceived potential.

Yet throughout spring camp, coach Dan Mullen and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri insisted Clayton has shown flashes of a player inching closer to becoming the complete package.

“The play-making is there, but it’s just me trying to get my technique down, fundamentals, all of that. The sacks will come. The sacks are easy,” Clayton said. “Either you’re going to do it right and (Sunseri’s) way, or you’re not going to do it at all. The way he coaches there’s no relax and there’s no plays off.

“As far as improvements, Coach Sal and Coach Grantham, they told me ‘Hey, you’re a great guy, you got a great get-all, but we just want you to be more consistent.’ But, as far as my personal growth, I think I’ve grown more over the past two, three years. As far as when I first came in, I was little on the weight, I couldn’t read the defense very well but now I’m getting more of the hang of it.”

UF teammates agree Clayton’s potential always being there, and it’s been a promising sight to see him perform in stretches rather than spurts.

“He’s always had it in him. That man has a motor, he’s going to give it all he has until he has no more,” Gators linebacker David Reese said. “He’s going to keep running to the ball.”

With preseason camp more than three months away, Clayton’s next step of preparation will be away from the field, where he’ll work to maximize his potential by building endurance.

“I’m already strong, but there’s no reason not to get stronger. As far as for me, it’s my stamina and conditioning,” Clayton said. “I’m just trying to build my stamina, that’s all.

“The main thing they like about me at this point is my motor – I can have a bad play, but I’m always going to go 100 percent. By me going 100 percent, I might miss my assignment, but I’ll make the play or I’ll get a sack or something. The play-making is there, but I’m just trying to focus more on getting my technique down, getting my fundamentals and all that. The sacks will come.”

12 COMMENTS

  1. He beat Jawaan Taylor on those consecutive plays. Jawaan needs to tighten it up, I hope it’s just a case of UF having an unblockable DE here.

    • I always thought he should have red shirted, he was pretty small for sec defensive lines. But shockingly he was poorly coached and put in difficult situations, leading to less than expected results and a feeling of misuse. He seems like the stress of being inproperly utilized didnt get him down and the significant change in strength and conditioning, we could have a great pash rush combined with cece, polite and zuniga.

  2. The Gatopr Defense is going to be a sack machine and interception imo. Remains to be seen if they can consistently stop the run, but we’ve got the size up front in the middle and plenty of depth at LB now to do that.

    That said, just let me point out that even though I know our offense is only really just a spring practice into installation, and that offenses are far more difficult to install than defenses, the defense was actually dialed back after the first quarter Satuday because their blitz packages were really stifling the O.

    But after watching this game Saturday, just let me say that it truly amazesme HOW BAD our previous coaching staff was from a complete, overall standpoint. They truly hurt this program and held it back.

  3. Yes I liked Coach Shannon as a person and a recruiter but he had the wrong coaching philosophy. He said he was going to “simplify” things on defenese so the players did not have to think so much and could play faster. Well that doesn’t cut the mustard against good teams like Alabama, FSU and Georgia. They will destroy simplified defenses. College players have to be able to do both to be successful. They have to be able to think and play fast. Seems like the new coaching staff is demanding they do both so the results should be better on the field but only time will tell. Defense definitely took a step back after Muschamp left.

    • Good perspective, Rob. I liked Randy Shannon too, but he had the wrong approach. “Think and play fast”….I think the new coaches are on the right track.

    • Not to be that guy but he was a terrible recruiter as well. For a guy with his background and coming from Dade/Broward we sure did settle for a lot of Randy Specials. Mac put too much trust in him and gave him a lot of autonomy, which really left a lot of projects on the roster. Some good guys that will be quality starters in 2-3 years but when your roster has been filled with plug & play guys for a decade, last year is what you get.

      And I wouldn’t give too much credit to Muschamp… defense recruiting has certainly gone down but Collins did a hell of a job coaching D.

  4. i need to watch B&O again.

    1st time through i was disappointed.

    I did not see improved OL, or QB.
    After zero offense, they threw in a couple celebrity TD’s to get some point on the board.

    And the QB TD run was artificial as well.

    There was one long pass that looked like a good play but defenders fouled receiver way before the ball got there. No idea why interference was not called. ( very obvious )

    i am not saying things will not be better, but could not tell from what i watched.

    They did seem to have a lot of fun. If fun was the objective then day was success.

    • Buck. Spring games should not be evaluated for much of anything other than getting players reps during a game, and especially the younger players. That happened Saturday. I would relax about anything else until summer/fall practices begin. Then, the real evaluation and the stepping up of talent begins.

    • Buck, this was more about engaging with fans and former players, and rewarding the players after a long camp, than determining a pecking order on the roster.

  5. Todd – I have to agree with you about the prior coaching. It is more apparent every day just how much of an upgrade we’ve made with the coaching staff. And you could probably argue (some would argue against) that the improvement in the program stretches all the way up to the AD office.

    The team has had two months of vastly improved strength and conditioning and 15 practices under the new staff, which isn’t enough time to produce miracles but it is enough time to get the train back on the tracks to success. Morale and attitude seem to be much improved and the fan base is surely in a better place. So far, by all metrics, Coach Dan Mullen is hitting it out of the park. It sure feels like a new program at this point.

    Now we have 3-4 months of additional strength and conditioning and what appears to be a competitive fall camp with additional new recruits. I’m very much looking forward to Sept 1.

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