These Gators are expected to fill in key roles on defense

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UF linebacker Ventrell Miller (51) stops Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis (13) in last year's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

When breaking down football teams heading into the season, one popular metric to focus on is production. How much is returning? How much has departed?

Usually, the production studied most is offensive production.

In the case of the Florida Gators, who have a history of elite defenses, we’re going to take a look at the defensive production and how much is gone from last season and who will try and match it in 2020.

Here are the pertinent numbers: 223 total tackles, 38 tackles for losses, 19.0 sacks, one interception, 16 pass breakups, 12 quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles.

Those are the numbers that five of UF’s best defensive players — Jon Greenard, David Reese, CJ Henderson, Adam Shuler and Jabari Zuniga — combined to put up last season.

All five of those players are now getting ready to launch their NFL careers.

So, with them (and their production) gone, who steps up?

Here’s a look at who could be filling those roles in 2020:

Rush end (Greenard)

Cox saw significant playing time with the Bulldogs as a true freshman and would have posed a serious challenge to Greenard had he received a waiver that would have made him eligible last season.

He’s going to have to earn his way onto the field, because senior Jeremiah Moon is going to enter preseason camp planning on being the starter. He’s played in 36 games in his UF career and has been a consistent playmaker when he’s been healthy. He and Cox are similar body types and have similar skill sets that seem an ideal fit for this playmaking position in Todd Grantham’s defense.

Two highly rated players in the 2019 recruiting class — Khris Bogle and Lloyd Summerall — will have a chance to work their way into the playing rotation. Bogle played in 13 games last season, recording 4.0 tackles for losses and 2.5 sacks, while Summerall used a redshirt year to get bigger and stronger.

Outside linebacker Mohamoud Diabate, who flashed playmaking ability last season as a true freshman, also could see reps at this position.

Middle linebacker (Reese)

The likely candidate to take on the role is junior Ventrell Miller, who has put himself in this position with somewhat of a breakout season in 2019 in which he was second on the team in tackles with 55, including 5.5 for losses.

He finished the season strong with an outstanding performance in the Orange Bowl and he’ll enter camp with a lot of confidence. Junior Lacedrick Brunson and highly rated redshirt freshman Jesiah Pierre will push for playing time.

Defensive end (Zuniga)

The Gators already know who their guy is here. It’s junior Zachary Carter, who stepped in and stepped up last season filling in for the injured Zuniga, who missed more than half the season (seven games) with a high ankle sprain.

Carter more than held his own taking over the starting role. He actually had what many would consider a breakout season, the kind the coaching staff has been waiting on from this former big-time recruit. Big, fast and physical, Carter recorded seven tackles for losses, 4.5 sacks, two pass breakups, four quarterback hurries and forced a fumble. Carter has been putting in the work, and it has started showing up on the field.

Bogle could work his way into the playing rotation at this position as well, along with two highly rated true freshman — Antwaun Powell and Princely Umanmielen.

Cornerback (Henderson)

He broke up four passes and had three interceptions on the second half, including the game-clinching one late in the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl. Elam has a chance to emerge as one of the elite corners in the SEC.

Defensive tackle (Shuler)

Shuler was a guy who quietly and efficiently did his job along the defensive front, a tough run stopper who also provided an inside pass rush for the Gators. The next in line is senior Tedarrell Slaton, a talented player who has struggled with consistency throughout his career. He’s been dominant at times. Other times he’s disappeared or missed assignments. His goal in 2020 is to focus on being consistent.

Slaton could get a serious challenge for the starting role from redshirt freshman Jaelin Humphries and true freshman Gervon Dexter, a five-star recruit and the highest-rated player in the 2020 recruiting class.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t try to talk bad about our own players but we have heard for 3 years Moon was a freak due to him being I believe 6’6” but sooo many times he could not get to the qb. He seems to be horrible at disengaging from the guy blocking him, even with extremely long arms. In addition, he seems to lack the speed to get to the QB, when he does lose his blocker.