Against all odds, we made it through the offensive two-deep depth chart. It got hairy there for a minute, trying to find 10 offensive linemen on campus, or enough receivers to fill out the depth chart, but we made it.
Now we turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball — the area where Will Muschamp actually left some depth and talent on the roster.
Starting with the defensive line where Florida loses their star playmaker and face of the defense in Dante Fowler Jr. There isn’t one person on the roster who can replace Fowler, but Florida has a good mix of experience, youth and plenty of talent to go around.
Weakside Defensive End
Starter: Alex McCalister
Backup: Justus Reed / Jordan Sherit
Geoff Collins like to run a 4-3 defense but he’s a smart man and he knows that he needs to fit his defensive schemes to the talent that he has on the roster. Collins already went as far to changing the normal terminology he used at Mississippi State to make the transition easier on his players.
So, even though there will be a lot of four down linemen this year, expect to still see Alex McCalister stand up on the outside and rush the passer, similar to the BUCK in the previous defense.
McCalister continues to come on, gain weight and progress on the field. He made a quantum leap from benchwarmer to key role player last year. Now, Florida needs him to become the main edge threat for the defense and it appears to be a role that McCalister if both ready and able to fill.
Justus Reed has put on a lot of good size since getting on campus. He was long and lean as a prospect — and he’s still lean — but looked much improved this past spring.
Jordan Sherit is in the same boat. He’s been in Gainesville for two years now with little impact. Sherit is a big, strong kid and a standard 4-3 defense suits his skill set better.
Strongside Defensive End
Starter: Jon Bullard
Backup: Bryan Cox Jr.
Bullard returned for his senior season and will lead the front seven. He had a great spring and showed how unblockable he can be during the spring game. Thanks to the emergence of a couple of younger players, Bullard is finally back out roaming on the edge, rather than playing tackle and the move back to end seems to have reenergized him.
Cox missed the spring following hip surgery but he came into his own last year after a breakout game against Tennessee. He’s a quick end, with very good strength and will continue to fill his role in the defensive rotation.
Starter: Taven Bryan
Backup: Caleb Brantley
The Gators weren’t very deep at this position with Jay-nard Bostwick and Thomas Holley both missing the majority of camp but there was a standout in Bryan.
Bryan was forced to redshirt last year but the Wyoming Wild Man showed everyone this year why the previous staff was so happy to get him on campus. Bryan is strong, quick and relentless on the field. He’s a gamer and someone who fans will get to know better this season.
Caleb Brantley has all the talent in the world but Collins and McElwain both continue to question his work ethic. It seems that Brantley needs to have the light switch finally flip for him. This isn’t high school anymore. Brantley has all the physical tools to be a great defensive lineman in the SEC, he just needs to put it all together.
Starter: Joey Ivie
Backup: Khairi Clark
Two years ago I asked Dominique Easley, Jon Halapio and Jonotthan Harrison who the best young defensive lineman was. They all said Joey Ivie. Ivie had just played sparingly as a freshman that season and I thought they were joking, but Ivie proved this spring that they were right.
Ivie was downright unblockable this spring. He forms a formidable duo next to Bryan and the two of them will be known to Gator fans very soon.
Khairi Clark is another talented player who just needed a year to get his body right, get into the weight room and develop. He did just that and there will not be much drop-off when he comes into the game. Clark is bigger — more of a nose tackle — than Ivie and he will fill that role in the defense.