Standout defensive players from week one

Florida’s defense allowed just 270 yards of offense against Utah in week one. Gator Country provides five standout players on Florida’s defense vs the Utes.

LB Shemar James

There’s no doubt that the Gators’ defense made big strides in Thursday’s loss against Utah, specifically in the second half. The sophomore standout linebacker played a huge role for the Gators leading the team with 13 tackles and 1.5 TFL; seven of those tackles came from the second half alone. Something clicked in that locker room for the defense and Coach Austin Armstrong during halftime.

“Great play calling from Coach Armstrong, and guys that kept fighting until the last whistle, which I appreciate from our defense,” James said.

This defense wants to be great and good players like Shemar James bring out the best in the players around him. Things weren’t perfect on Thursday night, but this defense has potential and that was evident in the second half.

James ranked first in coverage for the Gators with a grade of 80.5, according to PFF. The star linebacker was also the second highest-graded defensive player for Florida, trailing only Kelby Collins at 86.5.

S Jordan Castell

First off, I think the outcome on that first play to open the game would’ve been different with Jordan Castell in coverage. The true freshman went out and proved exactly why he got the starting nod at safety in week one after recording seven total tackles and four solo in his first game as a Gator. The Orlando native played well enough to continue to see snaps in Austin Armstrong’s defense.

“He’s got height and length. He’s got traits for that position,” Napier said on Castell. “I think he’s a guy that — he’s proved to be very productive in a practice setting. The game is a whole new world, and I think his growth throughout the season, he’s only going to continue to get better.”

Castell is a very quick learner and the hype surrounding him in fall camp was earned in week one after tying Shemar James with a team-high six tackles in the first half. I expect the former four-star prospect to keep getting better as the year goes on.

Castell’s tackling grade of 83.9 ranked third on the Gators’ defense, trailing only Shemar James and Miguel Mitchell.

OLB TJ Searcy

The rise of the former four-star prospect should come as a surprise to nobody. True freshman TJ Searcy is a player who can get to the quarterback and get to him quickly. In Thursday night’s loss, Searcy picked up a great tackle to stop Utah on third down and finished the game with three total tackles.

Searcy reminds me of former Gator Alex McCalister. Standing at 6-5, 245-pounds, Searcy didn’t have any trouble getting to the ball against Utah’s offensive line. According to PFF, the Georgia native was the fifth highest-graded defensive player for the Gators on Thursday at 76.9. The freshman has plenty of upside and I expect him to put on a show this upcoming weekend against McNeese State.

DL Caleb Banks

The former Louisville transfer has great lateral skills and was jumping off the line quickly against Utah on Thursday. According to PFF, Caleb Banks was graded at a 77.2 against the Utes, the fourth highest among Florida defensive players. The interior linemen for the Gators rotated a lot and the redshirt freshman looked better than most when on the field.

“Caleb, for his size he’s an amazing pass rusher in my eyes,” Justus Boone said on Banks. “I think he does really well getting off the ball and executing moves in his mind before he even puts them on, so he does good at that.”

The Detroit native finished Thursday’s game with two total tackles but was constantly causing problems for Utah’s offensive line. Expect Banks to be a leader for the Gators’ front four as the season progresses.

S Miguel Mitchell

Napier named Miguel Mitchell one of their players of the game during Monday’s press conference. Mitchell recorded four tackles (two solo) while posting a pass deflection in his first career start with the Gators.

Mitchell ranked as the third best defender in Thursday night’s contest while posting the second highest run defense and tacking grades, according to PFF.

The 6-1, 215-pound safety allowed zero receptions on two targets.

Gentry Hawk
Gentry Hawk is a student at the University of Florida studying sports journalism. He is a writer and reporter for GatorCountry. You can find most of his work on Twitter @gentryhawkgc, or right here on Gator country.