Once the news of Bryant Young’s abrupt resignation became public, senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs elected to use Twitter for the airing of his feelings.
With Young’s departure from Gainesville, Jacobs was losing not only his position coach, but also the man who convinced him to suit up for Florida.
“Im not gonna say a hall of famer is irreplaceable, but great ppl are even harder to replace,” Jacobs wrote on the popular social media site after the announcement.
With Young gone, Florida’s group of defensive tackles are — for the moment — leaderless. While current defensive ends coach Brad Lawing has experience coaching tackles, head coach Will Muschamp is yet to formally name a replacement for the departed Young (who, although not being inducted, was a finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame this past year).
With the team set to enter into a critical time of off-season development, the group — new coach or not — will rely heavily on the leadership of its upperclassman, a handful of players that includes Jacobs.
A JUCO transfer from East Mississippi Community College, Jacobs immediately bolstered the depth of UF’s defensive front with his experience and size (listed at 6’3 and 286 pounds).
During his first season as a Gator, Jacobs appeared in 12 games and contributed heavily to the d-line’s rotation, posting 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks in the process.
Upon entering spring, Jacobs was mentioned as a potential starter for Florida, hinging on a solid spring and fall camp performance. While the grueling days of fall practice sit over three months away, Jacobs performed solidly in the spring, leaving him squarely in the mix for playing time in the fall.
“I think I did a lot of improving this spring and I’ve been doing some real good things,” Jacobs said just before the conclusion of spring practice. “Playing some of my best football right now and just probably being the strongest I’ve ever been in the weight room is definitely transitioning to the field.”
“I look forward to getting back out there during the summer and just keep improving.”
With the departure of Sharrif Floyd, a likely first-round pick in next week’s NFL Draft, Jacobs is stepping into rather large shoes. Floyd left an undeniable mark on the Florida program in just three years, blossoming into a leader in terms of play and spirit during his time in Gainesville.
While Jacobs is yet to draw comparisons to Floyd with his play during the spring, Muschamp stated the Louisiana-native has been improving at a satisfactory rate.
“I think Damien Jacobs is playing very well,” Muschamp said. “I think consistently through 12 practices, he’s improved himself and he’s gotten better.”
The hope for UF’s coaching staff and obviously Jacobs himself, is that the improvement carries over to the Fall as well. Florida may have depth in terms of numbers entering the fall, but the Gators are still a relatively inexperienced group upfront.
For now, Jacobs says the main issue for the group is consistency.
“I think we’re looking pretty good on the d-line,” Jacobs said. “We just have to be more consistent as a unit. Some days you might have some inside guys or outside guys just doing real well. But once we become more consistent as a unit, we’ll be pretty good on the d-line.”
As for his fellow position mates, Jacobs will see a pair of familiar faces in the defensive line meeting room this fall.
Florida dipped back into East Mississippi C.C. this recruiting cycle, signing two more defensive tackles from the school in Darious “Bear” Cummings and Jarran Reed — who, sadly, is yet to reveal a fearsome nickname.
On the same Twitter feed where he publicly let known his feelings for his departed coach, Jacobs also revealed that without Young, the Gators would not have signed him — nor Cummings and Reed.
However, Jacobs and Cummings are already on campus with Reed expected to arrive in the summer. Cummings recently went through his first spring practice with Florida, and according to Jacobs, “Bear” benefitted from his tutelage.
“I think Darius came in ahead of me,” Jacobs said. “I really believe that … I think what really benefitted him the most is just being with me through my experiences, me telling him, ‘hey man, this is what it’s going to be.’”
“I really didn’t have that. Omar [Hunter] didn’t come from the same place like me and Darius did, so it’s a little different.”
Like Floyd, Hunter is also another departed stalwart from the defensive line. In turn, their loss has left Jacobs — along with fellow senior Dominique Easley — in charge of leading the group this summer and the subsequent season.
Muschamp said that if the season were to start today, Easley would be playing on the inside, an idea that excites Jacobs.
“It’s going to be huge because in this league if you can’t hold the (point of attack), you can’t keep those blockers off those linebackers, and it’s going to be a long game in the SEC,” Jacobs said.
“So that’s why I put the pressure on myself to improve and play how Muschamp wants, because I know how important it is. You can’t play this game without some good inside presence.”
Jacobs said that although last year was an adjustment, he has begun to grasp how things are done in Florida’s program and the SEC.
While he won’t have the same coach guiding him this season as he did last, Jacobs will continue to push forward with a positive attitude — if for no other reason, because it’s what Young would want him to do.
“Adversity definitely hit me today,” Jacobs said on his Twitter after Young’s announcement.
“But like coach always told me I gotta respond positively.”