The Florida Gators are poised to be a force in the world of college football once again in 2019. After a remarkable first season under head coach Dan Mullen that led to a Top-10 finish, the Gators have every reason to believe the second year in the system will be even better.
But even the best teams in the nation enter each new season with a plethora of concerns. In this article, we will go over the most glaring ones for each position group.
Last time, we took a look at the offense, so we’ll dive into the defense this time.
Florida is pretty well set along the defensive front, especially when it comes to the starters.
The ends have potential to be elite this season despite the blow of losing Jachai Polite. And on the inside, the Gators are steady.
The main concern at this point is getting a few guys beyond the starting tackles to step up.
Adam Shuler surged late in the 2018 season and Kyree Campbell continues to be solid alongside him. The duo of Elijah Conliffe and Tedarell Slaton are still up in the air.
Florida needs to be comfortable with putting those two on the field to keep bodies fresh. They both possess the talent, but it’s the consistency that’s been lacking in their first two years.
The time to sit back and wait for them to come into their own has come and gone. If the waiting game continues, the Gators will find themselves thin on the inside once again.
It all boils down to experience here. David Reese is the senior leader of the defense. He’s as seasoned as anyone out there, but whoever takes over for Vosean Joseph won’t be.
That is reason for a little worry, but the good news is the Gators have several talented options to choose from. Amari Burney, Ventrell Miller and James Houston highlight that list.
Burney had a stellar freshman season and is poised to breakout as a sophomore. He will likely get the first shot at it, but it is definitely going to be a battle to watch come fall.
The Gators really need to see all three of those guys, and hopefully even a few more, make some noise this season.
It feels like Reese has been at Florida forever, but his career is finally coming to an end. And though he’s not an All-American, he’s as reliable as they come and has truly been the heart of the defense for years. Who will take over next to him and ultimately take his place?
All will be right in the world once again when C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson take the field together on August 24. Even against the best in the country, the money is going to be on those two most of the time.
That is, assuming Wilson returns from his ACL tear without a hitch. Those injuries are so tough and comebacks can be so unpredictable, even for the best of the best.
But given his exceptional work ethic, there is every reason to believe Wilson will be a new and improved version of who he was back in his freshman year.
Assuming Wilson’s return is as seamless as the Gators hope it will be and he can stay healthy throughout the season, depth is the only other issue.
Chris Steele was expected to get some pretty significant playing time as a freshman, but with him out of the picture, freshman Kaiir Elam should get a shot at that.
The numbers are still not in Florida’s favor at the position it prides itself on the most.
With the uncertainty surrounding Brian Edwards, that really just leaves C.J. McWilliams and a group of true freshmen to hold down the backup roles.
The Gators do have the option to move Trey Dean back to corner from nickel if it comes down to it, especially since John Huggins showed such promise there in the spring as well.
For now, Florida is in good shape at corner, but one injury or incident could disrupt that in an instant.
Their play in the spring game left much to be desired and more questions than answers. Yes, of course, it was a vanilla defense and the Gators wanted to wow the crowd with as much offensive firepower as possible, but it was bad. There is no way it was meant to be THAT bad.
Florida’s deficiencies at safety have been ongoing for a while now. Though the group seemed to improve as the season went on last year, it still didn’t quite meet expectations in stopping the run or the pass.
It is one of the few positions on the team that didn’t have any attrition, but the Gators must trust that another year older means another year better.
No one’s spot is guaranteed, and competition has a way of bringing out the best in most. Between the oldest player in the group in Jeawon Taylor, the one with the most starts in Donovan Stiner and the biggest playmaker in Brad Stewart all working for a spot on the field, there will be plenty of competition to go around.
Florida also has a couple of others to play around with in Shawn Davis and Huggins. Davis has shown the ability to make some big plays, but has given up a few as well. Then, Huggins has next to no defensive experience just yet, but he showed out in the spring. His move to nickel might be short-lived if the Gators want to get the best players on the field.