Over the last decade or so the Florida Gators have had one of the most consistently dominant defenses in all of college football. This years defense, while loaded with young talent, may not be as dominant as the groups we’ve seen in recent years. The Gators lost their defensive coordinator Geoff Collins (now the head coach at Temple) and seven defensive starters to the NFL Draft, but there’s no reason to believe defense won’t be a strength for the Gators in 2017.
Former University of Miami head coach Randy Shannon will have big shoes to fill as the Gators newly appointed defensive coordinator, but he should be up to the task. He’s helped recruit many of the players on that side of the ball.
Up front the Gators are loaded with talent and will have a rotation that features anywhere from seven to ten players. Their defensive line is highlighted by former five star recruit CeCe Jefferson, who can play inside and out. The junior will look to have his breakout season for the Gators, and if he does, could be a day one or two draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Equally as intriguing is the “Wyong Wild-Man” Trevan Bryan. Bryan enters his junior year with high expectations after struggling to stay on the field in his first two years as a Gator. According to reports, Bryan has upped his consistency and has focused on becoming more disciplined within the Gators defensive scheme. Khairi Clark is expected to be a major contributor on the inside. The Gators also boast Jabari Zuniga, who, as a freshman, recorded 5 sacks, Jordan Sherrit, who despite injury concerns, is an impact player on the defensive line, and several youngsters including Tedarrell Slaton, Jachai Polite, and Kyree Campbell. The group may not have any established superstars, but there is a combination of star potential and returning production that might make this the deepest group on the Gators roster.
At linebacker, the Gators have several rising stars that could have as big an impact as the guys they are replacing. At inside linebacker, the Gators return David Resse, who got a ton of experience in 2016 during Jarrad Davis’ absence due to injury. During his four starts in 2016, Reese racked up 34 tackles and even won SEC Defensive Player of the Week after his 12 tackle performance against LSU. Reese projects as a star at the middle linebacker spot and will likely be playing alongside Jeremiah Moon and Vosean Joseph, both of whom enter their sophomore season. Both players saw the field as freshman – Moon’s season was ended after two games with a thumb injury. Joseph played well as a special teamer last year, but later in the season was forced into action as a starting outside linebacker. He showed the ability to crush opposing backs and will have high expectations in 2017. Reese, Moon, and Joseph could be a lethal threesome at linebacker. The Gators also have Kylan Johnson at outside linebacker – a guy that has starting experience and talent.
The secondary is the weakest it’s been in some time, on paper. The group lost Marcus Maye, Quincy Wilson, and Teez Tabor to the NFL just one season after losing Vernon Hargreaves, Keanu Neal, and Brian Poole. Adding to the list of losses for the Gators secondary is the team’s best safety, Marcell Harris, who suffered a season ending torn achilles tendon in July. But the Gators aren’t known as “DB U” for nothing. They’ve still got Duke Dawson, Chauncey Gardner, and Nick Washington – all of whom have big time skill sets. Dawson primarily played nickel in 2016, leading the team in pass break ups with seven. He’ll now be asked to play outside corner opposite sophomore Chauncey Gardner. Gardner enters his second season with extremely high expectations coming off of a two interception, MVP performance in the Outback Bowl. At safety the Gators have Nick Washington, but he’s been battling a shoulder injury and may not be available to start the season. If Washington is held out to start the year then the Gators could be in trouble and may be forced to start true freshman Shawn Davis.
Overall, the defense should be a strength for the Gators in 2017. Even if they aren’t quite up to the level that recent Gators defenses have played at, this edition of the Gators defense will be a tough, play-making unit, and will give opponents plenty of fits in 2017. Depth with experience is a bit of a concern in the secondary, but there’s more than enough talent to make up for the lack of experience. Bank on the Gators to have another top 10 defense in 2017.