ATLANTA — The plight of Florida junior defensive end Antonneous Clayton has been somewhat of a mystery in 2018. After talking about having a breakout season back in August, the former elite recruit pretty much disappeared this fall.
He played in the first two games, then didn’t see the field again until the Idaho game.
But, there’s actually no mystery at all surrounding Clayton’s perceived disappearing act.
As it turns out, he played in only three games because he’s redshirting this season. He’ll be a redshirt junior next season, where he is expected to compete for a possible starting role.
With depth at end, the decision was made to redshirt Clayton so he could develop physically and gain a better understanding of the defense.
“He liked the idea,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “It allowed him to develop. We’ll just have to see as he competes in the spring how much playing time he gets.”
Clayton’s coaches and teammates agree that he has a big upside. It’s now a matter of turning potential into production.
“He’s just waiting on his opportunity,” senior defensive end/outside linebacker Cece Jefferson said. “He’s been doing a good job of learning the plays, buying into the system, learning the buck position.
“When he gets his chance to get on the field, he’s going to make everybody pay.”
Clayton has been putting in the work, junior middle linebacker David Reese said.
“He has a great motor and great potential,” Reese said. “He’s one of those guys that comes with unbelievable effort. He comes with energy every day. He definitely (has a chance to become a big-time player).”
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Clayton can play both end and outside linebacker. Grantham said the coaches will try to determine where he fits best in the spring.
“He’s really a hybrid between outside linebacker and defensive end,” Grantham said. “He works his tail off. He’s got some twitch. He’s got a motor. It’s just trying to find the right combination, the right fit for him.
“Is he a defensive end or an outside linebacker? He’s gained a little bit of weight. He’s moving toward an end, I think.”
Two high-profile juniors — running back Jordan Scarlett and wide receiver Van Jefferson — still remain undecided on whether to declare for the NFL draft. Both say they will make a decision after Saturday’s game.
“I’ll probably make some decisions, sit down with my parents, stuff like that,” Scarlett said.
Scarlett said he has yet to receive any feedback from the NFL.
Jefferson, UF’s leading receiver, is holding off on his decision until sometime after Saturday’s game.
“We’re going to see after the bowl game,” Jefferson said. “I don’t want to get into much of that, but I’ve got an idea what I want to do.”
Junior defensive end Jachai Polite also has not made a decision yet, he said Wednesday. So far, junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is the only underclassman who has declared for the draft.
Could he stay?
Speaking of Polite, senior defensive end Cece Jefferson said he wouldn’t be surprised if he returns for his senior season.
“He loves the University of Florida and he loves football,” Jefferson said. “If he did come back, I wouldn’t be surprised. If he left, I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s had an amazing year, worked hard for everything. It’s his decision. I’ll support him 100 percent. That’s my brother.
“If he came back, man, Jachai could have 30 sacks in one season. I’ve never seen anything like that before. He’s different.”
Grading the defense
Florida’s defense has hit some rough patches over the course of the season, but overall, the Gators have been fairly stout, fairly consistent. Better than average, Grantham said.
“I’ve been pleased with our progress,” he said. “I’d give us a ‘B’. It’s been good. But, as a coach, you always think you could do better.”
Junior middle linebacker David Reese is from Michigan, and he’s secured 15 tickets for family members to attend Saturday’s game.
“I’ve got a lot of family coming,” he said. “I’m excited.”
Reese, who committed to Michigan in his junior year of high school, said there are no Wolverine fans among his family.
“I wouldn’t have gotten them a ticket if they were Michigan fans,” he said.