Florida Gators new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has brought a certain attitude to Gainesville. Collins is one of the most active coaches on social media. He has all kinds of hashtags on Instagram and Twitter with different meanings. He hands out “juice points” and hands out awards to players after each practice like the “CRYPTiD” award. Most of the hashtags are more cryptic than CRYPTiD, but there is one that stands out from the rest.
This one stands for “Best Defense in the Nation” and it’s less a bragging point and more of a credo for the unit that has carried the Florida Gators for the last half decade.
“Yeah, always, we talk about it all the time,” defensive end Alex McCalister said. “It’s not just about the SEC, it’s not just about this or that. Overall we’re trying to be the best defense that this country.”
For the better part of the last decade, the Gators have had one of the premier defenses in the SEC and in the country. Florida has finished inside the top 10 in total defense in every season since 2008 and outside of 2010, Florida has never finished out of the top-20 in scoring defense. A change in coaching staffs hasn’t affected the players’ confidence and Collins’ decision to keep a lot of the same schemes and terminology has helped the defense continue to play at a high level despite the change in regime.
“He brought a lot of energy,” senior linebacker Antonio Morrison said of Collins. “They brought about the same amount of energy but it’s different energy. I’m not saying one of them is bad, it’s the same amount of energy but a different energy. It’s kind of refreshing for us to get a new feel from a new guy and it’s helped out some of our younger guys. We ran such a complex defense in the past but the way Coach Collins approached things has helped out a lot of younger guys.”
Those younger guys will be key for Florida if they aspire to move on from being called “one of the best” to “the best this season. Young players like Alex Anzalone — who stepped into the starting middle linebacker role in Morrison’s absence — and Daniel McMillian will be asked to step up at linebacker. Florida will start a sophomore in Jalen Tabor or Quincy Wilson at cornerback and fellow sophomore Duke Dawson will also get plenty of playing time but perhaps the youngest position my be along the defensive line.
Replacing the third overall pick in the NFL Draft won’t be easy. Dante Fowler accounted for 28% of the Gators total sacks last season and it doesn’t matter how good Florida’s secondary is (they’re one of the best in the country), they can’t cover anybody for 10 seconds. There has to be a pass rush.
“The big thing last year was that everybody was keying on Dante [Fowler], so everybody was sliding that way,” redshirt junior defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said. “This year, since we don’t have Dante, it’s going to be a lot different because we don’t know how the offense is going to key on us.”
It’s the younger players, the guys that haven’t necessarily proven it on Saturday that will need to step up into playmaker roles. There is a load of potential but potential is a word that no football player wants to hear. As far as the Florida Gators defense is concerned, one player does not define them, “There are no individuals on our defense,” Morrison said. “We’re all one defense, no individuals at all.”
Losing a star doesn’t matter. Learning a new coaching staff doesn’t matter. There is only one goal; be the best defense in the country.
“I stand behind that 100 percent,” Daniel McMillian said. “I’ll tell anybody else that. We’re going to be the best defense in the country.”