After the defensive nightmare that transpired in the 2020 season for the Florida Gators, the only way left to go is up. But what should the expectations be for Florida’s defense in 2021? Will it take some time to get things back on track or was last season simply an anomaly?
At the conclusion of spring, head coach Dan Mullen had optimism for the future of his team’s defense. By accounts of coaches and players, Florida’s biggest weakness from a season ago is primed to become a strength.
“I thought our defense had a really good spring,” Mullen said. “You’d say the defense won pretty much all the scrimmages that we had. So, I think overall the defense had a very good spring. But we got to continue to take those steps and create that depth.”
The question then arises as to whether the defense took a big step forward or the offense took a step back. At this point, the answer is likely yes to both.
That is not to say that the Gators will be a bad offensive team in 2021, but they lost several key pieces and are building around a new starting quarterback. Expecting Florida’s offense to be in midseason form in February and March just isn’t plausible.
But defensively, the Gators did make some schematic changes this spring that they hope will be the answer along with a more typical offseason.
“It’s easy to look statistically at certain things,” Mullen said. “But then statistics can tell you maybe what, but why are the statistics that way? What made them that way, and are we addressing those factors? I think we have some good coaches. I think Todd [Grantham] is an excellent football coach. That he’s able when you look, this is the problem, how do you go fix the problem, and how are we making adjustments to make sure we’re doing that.”
Florida’s defensive coaches seemed to come to the conclusion that all of the circumstances leading up to last season’s struggles were to blame more so than scheme or lack of ability. Whether that is the case or not, the pressure on this staff to make some major improvements is mounting daily.
Defensive line coach David Turner owned up to that.
“We got to coach better,” Turner said. “Starts with us, and we got to coach better and we got to put the guys in a better position. There’s no question about that. The responsibility is on to get it fixed. That’s what we’re doing.”
While Turner put the responsibility on himself and the rest of the coaches to make a turnaround this season, players often took up for the staff and said it was on them to go make the plays.
“I think the guys are a little bit embarrassed about how we finished up and they came out with a different mindset,” Turner said. “We know what we have to do better.”
Even coaches on the other side of the ball noted the sense of urgency from Florida’s defensive players.
Quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee served as an analyst under Grantham a season ago, and he clearly saw a new attitude this spring.
“When those guys are really on it, intense and playing hard, it’s pretty hard to move the ball on those guys,” McGee said. “Because I was with them last year, and I know Zach [Carter] and I know Ventrell [Miller] and Mohamoud [Diabate] and all those guys, and I’m watching them now, and they’re a little more intense than they were.”
If this team seriously wants to start competing for championships, it needs all of the defensive hype from spring to translate to the field in the fall. Florida is littered with experience and talent along the line, returns a hungry group of linebackers and essentially gets a fresh start in the secondary outside of Kaiir Elam and Trey Dean.
It’s a make it or break it kind of season, and the Gators are ready to meet the challenge.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said senior linebacker Amari Burney. “I’m just going to say it’s going to be very exciting for this defense to make plays. The enthusiasm, everything we’re going to do, it’s just going to be very exciting this year.”