Gators notebook: Zachary Carter making statement in preseason camp

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
UF defensive end Zachary Carter recovers a fumble during a drill Monday at the Gators' practice field.

Heading into his final season of collegiate football, Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter is locked in. 

That was the message Wednesday from Florida defensive line coach David Turner, who repeatedly praised his redshirt senior defensive lineman for the work he’s put in dating back to last season. 

Turner highlighted his consistency, work ethic and dedication to developing his teammates as areas where Carter excels, as the Gators approach the end of the first week of preseason camp. 

"Zach has proven to be a playmaker. Zach's a dependable guy. Zach's consistent. He's consistent in his practice habits. That's what we always talk about, which makes him a consistent player. Zach, obviously he has talent. Zach's starting to understand the game more, understanding offenses more, understanding what people are trying to do,” Turner said. “So all of that makes him a more effective player in terms of dissecting plays, how to watch tape, how to study film. Those things make him a better player when he gets out there on Saturday. But the biggest thing with Zach is his consistency. He's smart. He can play all three positions across the board and he works at it. The game's important to him."

The game doesn’t end when he leaves the field. 

With a far greater understanding of the sport, Carter has honed in on his film study and explored every avenue possible to elevate his game. 

When everyone’s a similar level of athlete, which is the case in the SEC, it’s often the work put in off the field and away from the weight room that can make the difference. 

“I think Zach spends time away from here studying football, studying technique, talking to different people, trying to expand his game. That's where you start to see the biggest jump. You hear people talk about the game has slowed down,” Turner said. “The game has slowed down for Zach now. Zach's played in big-time games. Zach's made big-time plays, so the expectation he has for himself is at a very high level and now the game comes to him. That's the thing I talk to him about: 'You don't have to try to get out there and try to be Superman, just play and play and be Zach and let the game come to you."

A consistency boost has arrived at UF

Florida’s addition of defensive line transfers Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Shelton from Auburn and Penn State, respectively, not only improves the Gators from a physicality standpoint  — it increases the team’s “consistency” in the trenches, which was an area in need of improvement last season, said Turner.

“Last year, we were a little beat up from a physical standpoint. Very inconsistent. My most consistent guy last year, or guys, were Zach (Carter) and TJ (Slaton), who had started to develop,” Turner said. “Trying to settle in on a lineup, trying to get some chemistry up front that those guys need to have playing with each other, kind of understanding what the other guy does. Those things are important playing up front. But we were just way too inconsistent.” 

Along with increasing the group’s overall depth, Turner said the pair of Newkirk and Shelton allows the Gators to bring the defensive line unit along slowly rather than forcing the team to play someone who isn’t quite ready yet. 

“The two transfer guys, Antonio and Daquan, both are unique personalities that bring something. Older guys obviously. Antonio’s played Big Ten ball. Daquan’s played in the SEC. So you’ve got some experienced guys. You’ve got some guys that’s played in big-time ball games and big-time atmospheres, and they were vital for us and where we were in terms of some of the young guys instead of being thrust into a starting role, still being able to be a backup and kind of learn by getting their feet wet and learn as they go,” Turner said. “I’ve been very pleased with those two guys and what they bring to the table.”

Jacob Copeland and NIL

When NIL took effect July 1, many thought Jacob Copeland was poised to capitalize on his name, image and likeness and sign some potentially lucrative deals. 

Not only was that presumption based off of Copeland’s status as one of Florida’s top offensive playmakers heading into the 2021 season, it also was based on Copeland’s social media following.

Copeland has been popular on social media since he was a highly coveted prospect, and he’s amassed nearly 90,000 followers between Instagram and Twitter, giving him a larger online platform than all of his Florida teammates. 

But six weeks into the NIL era, Copeland hasn’t put much effort into securing potentially lucrative deals. However, it’s not without good reason, and it’s one that should appeal to fans pondering if the No. 1-adorned wide receiver is set to take his game to the next level on the field this season. 

“The whole (NIL) process has been good, but I haven’t put too much into it. You gotta produce on the field to make anything happen, so I’ve been focused on that because at the end of the day we still have to play football,” Copeland said. “My mindset since I became older is, I’ve got to focus on this team, all of that comes later.”

Phonetic clarity on Princely

Turner provided some clarity Wednesday about sophomore defensive lineman Princely Umanmielen, but the first clarification wasn’t regarding anything happening on the practice field. 

Of the entirety of Florida’s roster, Umanmielen’s last name is arguably the most difficult to pronounce, and there haven’t been too many opportunities to learn it considering Umanmielen didn’t see an abundance of snaps in the six games he played as a freshman in 2020, so Turner was put on the spot to deliver a much-needed articulation. 

“OO-man-me-ellen,” Turner said confidently. 

So there it is. No more excuses for mispronunciations (unless Princely sets the record straight).

On a football-centric note, Turner did discuss Umanmielen’s “unique” talent and his potential, saying he could be an imposing presence for the Gators sooner than later if his all-around development continues at the current rate. 

“Princely has a lot of ability. Right now Princely, the biggest gain he's got is working with Coach (Nick) Savage in the weight room; getting himself bigger, getting himself stronger, on his way to become a more complete player,” Turner said. “Obviously he brings a unique skill set in terms of being able to rush the quarterback, but he's gotta be an every down player for us in terms of first and second down. So those are the things he's working at right now.

"We’re still trying to get better on some things in terms or rushing the quarterback, but he's got to be better. He's got to be stronger, he's got to be more stout in the run game and those are things he's working on. He's going to be a really, really good player over a period of time before his careers out, and he's a guy that works at it and I think football is important to him.”