Position breakdown: Florida defensive line has what it takes to be elite in SEC

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2090
Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga provides a unique skill set to the defensive scheme. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

We break down the 2019 Florida football team by position group. This week, a look at the defensive line.

The upside

Deep, athletic and proven, Florida’s defensive front has a chance to be among the elite in the SEC, a line of scrimmage league if there ever was one.

The Gators have plenty of experience, led by senior end Jabari Zuniga, who started all 13 games last season and will be making his 23rd career start in the opener against Miami.

With Jachai Polite moving on to the NFL, Zuniga has a chance to become the school’s next defensive line star. While everyone was paying attention to the disruptive play of Polite in 2018, Zuniga was quietly having a big season of his own with 11 tackles for losses and 6.5 sacks.

Zuniga is the leading candidate to step into the spotlight this season, but there are others who could end up there as well.

Louisville transfer Jonathan Greenard was considered the Cardinals’ best defensive player (and a team captain) heading into last season, but saw his year come to an abrupt end with a broken wrist early in the opening game. In 2017, he had 15.5 tackles for losses and seven sacks.

With his length (6-foot-4) and athletic ability, Greenard seems a perfect fit for Polite’s old position of rush end. He has Polite-like explosiveness with a little bit more size and power behind it.

Greenard is expected to share playing time with junior Jeremiah Moon, who has shown signs that he’s ready to break out as a playmaker.

Inside, the Gators should be strong again, with both starting tackles from last season returning — Kyree Campbell and Adam Shuler. Both seem to have improved themselves in the offseason strength and conditioning program. Campbell shed some weight and added lean muscle and now appears quicker on his feet, while Shuler, a former defensive end, has gained some bulk and strength.

There is experienced depth behind Shuler and Campbell. Luke Ancrum, Elijah Conliffe, Marlon Dunalp and T.J. Slaton have played in 89 games combined. Slaton started two games last season.

This is a line that also features some versatility. Zuniga, Shuler and redshirt sophomore Zach Carter can all play both end and tackle, which adds to the overall depth up front.

The downside

The Gators don’t have a lot of depth at the tackle spots, where two of the key reserves — Slaton and Conliffe — have struggled with consistency in the past.

Depth at Zuniga’s end spot also could become an issue. Carter hasn’t played much and is still looking to turn his potential into production. Behind Carter is redshirt freshman Andrew Chatfield, who played in only two games last season. So, there’s little experience behind Zuniga.

Young guy to watch

It’s redshirt sophomore Zach Carter’s time to shine, and he’s certainly going to have the opportunity to do that, playing both end and tackle. One of the most athletic linemen on the team, Carter appears to have the physical tools to emerge as a possible standout. He had a strong spring and is having an even better preseason camp, playing with the kind of intensity that may have been missing from his game in his first two years in Gainesville.

This is a kid who is quick enough to bring a strong pass rush off the edge and big enough (285 pounds) to hold his own inside, where he’ll be lining up in some obvious passing situations like Zuniga did last season.

The potential is there for Carter to become one of the surprise players in the SEC.

Don’t be surprised if …

The rush end position produces more sacks and tackles for losses than it did last season when it was manned by Jachai Polite and Cece Jefferson.

Greenard and Moon are proven, veteran players whose skill sets seem ideal fits for a position where size, quickness, speed and relentless effort are required. They likely will be sharing the position like Polite and Jefferson did last season, so they will always be running on fresh legs.

And, there’s a lot of promising young talent lining up behind those two, pushing for playing time. We’re talking about the three highly rated true freshmen who have all shown promising flashes in camp — early enrollee Mohamoud Diabate, Khris Bogle and Lloyd Summerall

Quotable

“They never know what you’re going to do. You could rush, you could drop or hit the B-gap. You’re all over the place. That position requires a very smart guy. You know, athletic guys, which we have. Which is why I’m saying we’ve got guys like (Jeremiah) Moon, Mohamoud (Diabate) and (Khris) Bogle. Those guys understand what’s going on. They’re athletes. They can drop in coverage, very twisty guys. We all fit and we understand that position is to make plays for the defense. Everyone else has a job to do and we’ve got to win and make a play.” — Jonathan Greenard, on the rush end (buck) position.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. For a look at the previous breakdowns (offensive backfield, secondaryreceivers, linebackers and offensive line) click to Gatorsports.com.

Florida’s probable depth chart

DE

92-Jabari Zuniga

17-Zachary Carter

90-Andrew Chatfield

DT

55-Kyree Campbell

93-Elijah Conliffe

56-T.J. Slaton

DT

95-Adam Shuler

91-Marlon Dunlap

98-Luke Ancrum

66-Jaelin Humphries

DE/OLB

58-Jon Greenard

7-Jeremiah Moon

45-Mohamoud Diabate

97-Khris Bogle

99-Lloyd Summerall

7 COMMENTS

  1. If the D-line can put some serious pressure on Tate Martell and/or Jarren Williams, then the DBUs will have a great opportunity to make a few picks. Love to see it happen that way. Maybe the prognosticators looking for a low scoring game can be half right. We’re getting closer! Go Gators!

    • If the Gator D overall realizes their potential early on, comes in loose rather than too tight, and most of all, plays like a team — and I have no doubt that they will — it will be a long night for the Miami offense. And I think that between our two QBs, excellent running backs and wide receivers — if our OL can at least show at “SEC Average” — our offense is hands down better than theirs. Well, that’s how it looks on paper to me, anyway. I can’t wait to see what actually happens. GO YOU GO GATORS!

    • I think a highly rated SEC defense outmatches a highly ranked ACC defense any day of the week, with a caveat for Clemson the last couple of years, Tommy. Like I said, I also think our offense lines up at championship or near-championship caliber…….far superior as you noted. I will envy you on the 24th, bud!

  2. we have no five stars on the defensive line. we cannot possibly be any good. ignore what you read, except the bad stuff.
    seriously, this looks good. we have produced a lot of elite d linemen recently and i think this group is at least on par with those others. time will tell, but i like these guys chances of causing problems for every team we face in 2019

  3. #1 top mismatch in this game against Miami: UF DL v.s. the Miami OL.

    I fully expect Miami’s QB to be under heavy duress throughout this game. I really believe the Canes offense will have a difficult time even scoring on the UF defense.