Top performers from Florida’s Orange and Blue game: Defense

Both team Orange and team Blue had flashes of great defensive play throughout Florida’s spring game.¬†Team Blue found constant pressure in the contest, totaling six sacks and eight tackles for loss.

Gator Country provides you with the top performers on defense in Florida’s annual Orange and Blue game.

ILB Grayson Howard 

Transfer linebacker Grayson “Pup” Howard was all over the field on Saturday afternoon, leading team Orange with six tackles (three solo) while impressing in coverage throughout the game.

Playing with the first team defense, Howard recorded a PBU against TE Arlis Boardingham in the middle of the 1st quarter, forcing 4th down and a FG attempt for team Blue. Howard was able to reach in and deflect the pass that may have been a touchdown if Howard didn’t get his hand on it.

Howard’s athleticism was on display yesterday. The 6’4, 235-pound linebacker is down seven pounds from his last listed weight at South Carolina. Howard looked like a three-down linebacker that can play the run while exceling in coverage, which is something Florida’s linebackers have lacked over the years.

Howard spent a lot of time this spring with the first team as linebackers Derek Wingo and Shemar James are still returning from surgeries, gaining valuable reps in the process.

CB Ja’Keem Jackson

Sophomore Ja’Keem Jackson thrived in coverage, leading both teams with two pass break ups in the contest. On the first play from scrimmage, Jackson blanketed the speedy Aidan Mizell, keeping him in front while breaking up a prayer from DJ Lagway.

Jackson played in 113 snaps in 2023, allowing six receptions on 11 targets for a catch percentage of 54.5%. Both Devin Moore and Jason Marshall are back in 2024, so it will be difficult to start over those two, but Jackson should be in for a significant role this season.

Edge George Gumbs

Transfer edge George Gumbs was living in the backfield against team Orange, logging 1.5 sacks and one QB hurry in the contest. In a game where Gumbs would have been allowed to hit the QB, he would have disrupted a 37-yard pass to Marcus Burke, exploding off the edge to get near Lagway as he was preparing to let it fly.

The athleticism of the 6’4, 246-pound edge rusher was on full display in Florida’s Orange and Blue game. Gumbs has only played defense for two seasons, but he has the measurables and speed to make a major difference for Florida.

LB Mannie Nunnery

LB Mannie Nunnery’s day was highlighted by an impressive interception off DJ Lagway. The linebacker dropped into zone coverage before quickly picking up on TJ Abrams’ hitch route. In a full sprint to get to Abrams, Nunnery was able to keep his head up and find the ball as Lagway was a tad late on his release.

Nunnery also recorded a tackle for loss in the contest and three total tackles.

STAR Aaron Gates and Sharif Denson

Both Gates and Denson showed flashes off greatness on Saturday afternoon.

Gates recorded four tackles including one right at the line of scrimmage, where the redshirt freshman exploded off the edge to wrap up the running back for no gain.

Denson recorded an interception over Chimere Dike, who slipped after planting. Denson jumped the route and came away with the ball.

The competition at the star position has been significant through spring camp, and these two showed us why in Florida’s Orange and Blue game.




Nick Marcinko
Nick is a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications. He is passionate about all sports but specifically baseball and football. Nick interned at Inside the Gators and worked part time with Knights247 before joining the Gator Country family. Nick enjoys spending his free time golfing and at the beach.