Greenard proving to be saving grace for Gators’ defensive line

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Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard (58) celebrates after a Tennessee turnover Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]

Following Florida’s 31-point victory over SEC Eastern Division rival Tennessee, Gators coach Dan Mullen attempted to sum up Jon Greenard’s impact by pointing to Florida’s depth along the defensive line. 

“You just look at how thin we are right now,” Mullen admitted. “He did a great job.”

That might be an understatement, considering Greenard not only proved to be a menace throughout the afternoon on the defensive line — he also showed a keen eye for the football. 

With Tennessee driving early in the first quarter, looking to answer Florida’s early 19-yard touchdown to Kyle Pitts, Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano appeared to have tight end Austin Pope open in the end zone for six. 

But before the pass could make it past the line of scrimmage, the ball met the extended hand of Greenard. The pass? Broken up. The scoring drive? Well, Trey Dean’s diving interception in the end zone on the ensuing play not only erased Tennessee’s hopes of pulling even — it capped what would ultimately be the visiting team’s most promising scoring opportunity of the afternoon. 

When the clock struck zero, Greenard walked off the field and into the tunnel having registered four solo tackles, two tackles for a loss, three pass break-ups and a sack — an all-around stat-line seemingly indicative of a complete player. 

In the aftermath, Greenard, who arrived in Gainesville at the top of the year, said it was essentially just another day at the office, regardless of the personnel alongside him or the name on the opposition’s jersey. 

“I took it as a chip on my shoulder somewhat, but I knew we had guys around the ball that can make some plays. I just continued to do my job and not to do anything out of the ordinary. I knew they would make their plays as a defense as a whole, like we did. We made turnovers and made the things we’re capable of doing,” Greenard said, before joking his skills may result in a position change. “I might be a DB or something now, shoot. Coach might need to make a couple of plays and adjustments for me. That’s the most I’ve ever had. I didn’t even know I saved a touchdown until they told me when I got to the sideline. Just playing my game, just trying to do what I can.”

The Gators had their share of turnovers — a trio from Trask were masked by an otherwise impressive performance by Florida’s long-awaited former back-up — but Greenard and Co. ensured Tennessee’s were far more costly. 

Although the outcome was all but sealed, Greenard was still out there on the field in the fourth quarter, and ultimately for good reason, too. On Tennessee’s second play of the fourth quarter, Greenard sniffed out the run and delivered a hit on Eric Gray. The Vols running back coughed up the football, and UF linebacker Amari Burney pounced on it for Florida’s lone fumble recovery of the afternoon. 

Wherever Greenard went, the action seemed to follow him, and vice versa.

“I knew they wanted to get the ball out quick. He was getting it out quick or he was holding onto the ball forever,” Greenard said. “I was just glad to get in the way, just try to make my presence known.”

With UF hoping to get senior defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga back by Florida’s Oct. 5 contest with Auburn, Saturday served as an opportunity for the seldom-used Gators to gain some experience before the going gets tough. Yet the point remained the same following Florida’s victory; considering the unit has produced despite the depletions, how good can UF’s defensive line be at full strength? Greenard thinks he has an idea, and it’s a disconcerting notion for the offenses remaining on Florida’s schedule.

“The crazy part is we’re only scratching the surface of what we really can do. Just with that happening, I’m excited about where we are right now. It’s still somewhat early. It’s not our best performance. We’ve got a lot of things to work on still,” he said. “It was a better performance than what they did and we had some pretty good numbers, but I just know what we’re capable of and what we can do.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Former Gator great, Wilber Marshall, is who this young man, Greenard, reminds me of. Older Gators gotta’ see it too. Greenard is the closest thing (physically) that I have seen to Wilbur Marshall in, quite literally, decades. Hope this Gator ‘D’ keeps getting better, as the comp is certainly going to get better, too!
    Go Gators! Just win baby!