The Florida Gators are historically known for having an outstanding defense, but last season was a bit of a letdown.
On the way to a horrific 4-8 season, Florida finished outside of the Top 20 (31) in total defense for the first time in over a decade. The Gators also came in at 69th in the country in scoring defense after finishing 6th the season before.
For a group of players who came to Florida to be a part of what was once a defensive juggernaut, last year was an embarrassment and they feel like they have a lot to prove.
“We’re real motivated,” said sophomore defensive back Marco Wilson. “We know it was not a good season and that’s just not the standard here. And you know, we have to come out and just prove everybody wrong because there’s a lot of bad talk on our name and we’re just not going to accept that this year.”
No real games have even been played yet, but this defense already has high expectations for the upcoming season.
With more experience, a new coaching staff and a new scheme, there is plenty to be excited about.
From what he’s seen so far this spring, redshirt junior defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga thinks the defense could make a significant jump in 2018.
“It’s going to be tough to throw and run,” he said. “Looking at it, I’m looking at a Top 10 defense, you know what I’m saying? So we have a lot of potential, we’ve just got to keep working.”
He is a part of a defensive line that could very well be the deepest unit on the team this season. Size, length, speed—this line has something for everything that could be thrown (or ran) at it.
And Zuniga is not the only one noticing a difference.
“Our D-line is probably going to be one of the best D-lines this year,” said junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. “Probably the best in the country.”
Then, the Gators have playmakers like Gardner-Johnson and lockdown corners like Wilson and CJ Henderson in the backfield.
Those players to go along with Florida’s new attack-heavy defense make a pretty good recipe for wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.
Junior safety Jeawon Taylor said on Tuesday that he expects the Gators to finish at least Top 5 in the country in forced turnovers this season. That’s a pretty bold prediction considering Florida was 81st a year ago.
The expectations this defense has for itself may seem lofty, but it’s all a product of the mindset and sense of confidence the new coaching staff brings. The Gators are setting the bar high at every position on the field this season, because it should have never dropped so low in the first place.
“4-8, it ain’t cutting it this year,” Gardner said. “I feel like we’re going to the SEC Championship and possibly to the playoff. That’s how I feel. Ask anyone else in the country, they don’t feel the same way. They’re not playing with us, they’re not putting on this helmet.”
It’s easy to talk now, but there is no hiding on Saturday. The spring game will give the first true idea of where the defense, and the whole team for that matter, stands heading into fall.