Through two games, UF has had the 6th-ranked defense by SP+. The pass rush, consisting of veterans Jonothan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, looks incredible. The Gators already have 15 sacks on the year, 10 of which came against a new Miami offensive line. Todd Grantham, aka Dr. Pressure, has had a field day with his elaborate blitz schemes and deep pass rush. This has Gator fans drooling, as Grantham has established himself among the elite DC’s in CFB. Grantham even turned down the Bengals this past offseason to stay in Gainesville. You can’t blame him, as UF has some absolute trench monsters and future NFL defensive backs. This could easily be UF’s top defense since 2015, which fielded 5 NFL draft picks. Let’s take a look at the Gator defense.
UF has claimed the term “DBLOCK”, and it really sticks considering UF’s front 7 play. Jabari Zuniga is a freak, with size and speed to get to the QB on any given play. He’s already proven why he’s an All-SEC player, posting 6 tackles and 1.5 sacks versus Miami. Kyree Campbell and Adam Shuler have held down the middle, and Marlon Dunlap has been a pleasant surprise thus far. Ancrum and Slaton have both missed some time, but expect Slaton to get more reps in SEC play. UF has the luxury of mixing and matching certain personnel – moving Zuniga inside. Zach Carter got a few reps as well, and I see him being better as a run stopper than a push rusher.
Greenard has done an exceptional job at BUCK, as he was in the backfield constantly in the first two games. Jeremiah Moon has been another pleasant surprise in Grantham’s Nickel packages. He still needs a bit of work at BUCK, but has been serviceable so far. Khris Bogle also stepped in at BUCK during the UT-Martin game and was all over the field. I’m excited about his potential and could see him starting at BUCK next year once Greenard leaves. Greenard will have to adjust to the trenches in SEC play, but based on what we’ve seen, he’ll be just fine. He has that “It Factor” – reading the OL perfectly when rushing and does a considerable job in contain as well (He’s already better than Polite, IMO).
The linebacking core is young, but Ventrell Miller has settled in at the Money spot. Amari Burney hasn’t been healthy, but he is another one to keep an eye on. David Reese holds down the other MLB spot, with James Houston IV rotating in every few plays. Miller does an excellent job in run support, but I’m worried about coverage matchups with tight ends. Brevin Jordan went for 88 yards on UF, and the Gators didn’t have an answer. The Gators will have to figure it out before Vandy, as Jared Pinkney will be coming to town. Burney could step in here and help out, but Houston looked lost and Reese has speed issues with quicker tight ends. This unit has the speed to cover guys in space and in the slot, but I’m still concerned over the matchup problems we could have down the road.
We know UF has the best CB duo in the entire country. Marco Wilson and C.J Henderson are lockdown corners, and Henderson is well on his way to securing a 1st round NFL Draft selection. Marco has gotten back into the groove after his ACL injury last year, and he’s licking his chops now that Kentucky has back-up QB Sawyer Smith playing this weekend. C.J Henderson is currently dealing with a “slight ankle sprain,” but should be back before any big games. I’d expect him back after Kentucky, as I expect him to sit this weekend as a precaution.
All three freshman defensive backs played well, especially Chester Kimbrough. Kimbrough was the first freshman to come in, and he played incredibly well all night. Jaydon Hill had a nice PBU and secured the shut-out saving tackle in the 4th. Kaiir Elam had a pick in the end zone to protect the shutout later that drive.
Trey Dean is currently starts at STAR, and has looked a bit out of place thus far. I’m not worried about him, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him play Safety and maybe let Shawn Davis get reps at STAR. Davis thrives in run defense and has the speed to cover as well. Jeawon Taylor has been out recently with a shoulder injury, and you should see more Brad Stewart this weekend after missing the first two games.
As I said last week, I’d ideally have Davis and Stewart starting at the two safety spots, and I think we’ll see this down the road. Stewart won’t start right away, but he should win his reps back, considering the play of the other safeties. Davis has played lights out all year and is a total ball hawk. Still, safety depth is an issue – the Gators only have 4-5 guys that can play, and 2 are toss-ups from week to week.
Wrapping it up
Overall, UF is looking at a pretty complete defense this year. I think this defense will be better than last year’s, with everyone being an upgrade aside from Dean (Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was solid, but he’s now in the NFL). STAR is a big ask for anyone, so Dean will grow into the role with time. As expected, tackling looked much better against UT-Martin. This is another thing that will come with time, as you don’t hit much in fall camp, and it takes a few games to get into it. Look for this fast and gritty defense to do great things with Grantham’s aggressive play calling.