The big names may be gone but the depth is there on the defensive line. The line is the deepest position on Florida’s defense despite a lack of experience when you get past the first unit.
The defensive coaching staff mentioned that the drop-off in the second unit was concerning. As spring went on, the urgency in their voices increased. It is a concern to have so much inexperience behind the starting four but it’s also a blessing to have that kind of youth and talent to bring off the bench.
Redshirt freshmen like Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley will need to step in in a big way this season. Taven Bryan got a leg up by enrolling early and impressing the coaching staff with his strength and quickness. The Gators will also need to get production from Joey Ivie, Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley.
Let’s get into our last depth chart breakdown.
BUCK – Dante Fowler (Jr.), Alex McCalister (R-So.)
Dante Fowler is the man here. He’s not going to come off of the field unless he needs a breather. Fowler is far and away the best defensive lineman the Gators have to offer and he’ll be the target of every offensive line coach and offensive coordinator this season.
Right now, McCalister will back up Fowler but I think this will really be a committee. McCalister continues to add weight to his long, lanky frame but he has yet to show that he can play meaningful snaps and be an impact player. Jordan Sherit is another option here to backup Fowler
NT – Leon Orr (R-Sr.), Jay-nard Bostwick (R-Fr.)
Heading into his fifth season, it’s finally Leon Orr’s time to shine. The senior sat out the spring after surgery on his wrist but will be ready to go full speed this fall. Orr is a big, space-eater who had the opportunity to sit and learn from two Gator Greats in Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley. However, the Gators need him to take the leap from serviceable backup to playmaker.
Jay-nard Bostwick will back up Orr and he should get a lot of playing time in the defensive line rotation. Bostwick is quick off the ball and has a lot of potential to become a very good player in the future.
DT – Darious Cummings (Sr.), Caleb Brantley (R-Fr.)
With his jersey rolled up to expose his belly, Darious “Bear” Cummings is one of the most recognizable defensive linemen on the roster. He’s also a veteran leader and vocal player in the locker room. Cummings will be counted on to take on double teams and create space for the linebacker to make plays as well as finding a home in the backfield and being stout against the run.
Caleb Brantley came in last season with the most hype of any of the freshmen defensive linemen. Florida hopes that he can realize his potential after a redshirt season.
DE – Jon Bullard (Jr.) , Bryan Cox Jr.
Bullard worked inside a lot due to necessity last season. He’ll be the first one to tell you that he would rather be out on the edge and get after the quarterback. Bullard will likely be asked to play some tackle this season but he’s a bigger asset to Florida at end.
Bryan Cox Jr. had a very productive spring and got a lot of work. He came to Florida as a “tweener” but has grown into a player who can put his hand in the dirt and play in the SEC. He’ll platoon with some younger players but will be counted on more this year than he ever has.
The rest – Gerald Willis (Fr.), Taven Bryan (Fr.), Thomas Holley (Fr.), Jordan Sherit (R-Fr.), Joey Ivie (So.), Khairi Clark (Fr.), Justus Reed (Fr.)
I’ll kick off this section with the players I think may be better suited to redshirt and develop this season. Justus Reed has a lot of potential at the BUCK position but will need some time to develop his body. At just 213 pounds, the staff would like to see Reed put on a good 15-20 pounds if not more.
Khairi Clark is another player that may need a year to develop. Clark is listed at 308 pounds but looks like he might weigh more. Clark has some baby fat but the strength and conditioning program will change that. Jeff Dillman worked wonders with Dante Fowler, who showed up as a freshman weighing more than 280 pounds and they’ll do the same with Clark.
Taven Bryan was the least known quantity in the recruiting class but was a pleasant surprise this spring. Before watching him work in the spring I would have said I expected him to be a redshirt candidate but I think Bryan will have a role in the defense this season.
Jordan Sherit played sparingly this spring but he’ll be asked to platoon at BUCK when Fowler needs a break.
Joey Ivie continues to surprise me. I thought Ivie was a project, someone who could eventually work his way into the rotation as a junior or senior but that timeline has been moved up. Ivie will play a lot this season.
The two players I’m most excited about are Thomas Holley and Gerald Willis. I’ve compared this duo to the 2010 signings of Floyd and Easley and I’m sticking to my guns. Willis is a tough player who can get after the quarterback but has the nasty attitude to play inside as well.
Thomas Holley has only been playing football for two years but his potential is through the roof. Holley can play end in a 3-4 defense or tackle when Florida is in a 4-3. Both players are explosive and versatile and should develop into monsters along the defensive front for the orange and blue.