Florida Gators spring position preview: defensive line

Florida’s defensive line has been a relative strength in recent years, but how about going forward? Our spring preview of the defense starts up front:

Synopsis: Florida loses Alex McCalister and Jon Bullard to the NFL, but there’s still plenty of talent left over from last year. Caleb Brantley and Cece Jefferson will lead the way for the Gators’ deep, ferocious front that promises to harass quarterbacks and blow up plays in the backfield before they ever get started. Make no mistake: just because Florida loses two big time linemen doesn’t mean the unit won’t continue to dominate.

What to watch for: Tons of new faces will be thrown into the mix, but look for freshman Antonneous Clayton to step up immediately. There are almost always freshmen to watch in spring position battles, and Clayton is that guy on Florida’s line. His combination of speed and power create problems for opponents, such as exploding off the snap with a blinding first step, and could spell trouble for any offensive lineman who underestimates him.

Dark horse: Bryan Cox Jr. may not get the media attention Jefferson and Brantley will, but he’s just as difficult to block off the line as either. He was able to see playing time immediately as a freshman, and quietly emerged as a solid contributor last year with 3.5 sacks. Now in his senior season, it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to his new role as a full time starter.

Projected starters: DE: Cece Jefferson, DT: Caleb Brantley, DT: Joey Ivie, DE, Bryan Cox Jr. That’s a damned good front four right there. It’s also worth noting that Antonneous Clayton could see some instant playing time as well, in which case Jefferson would move inside. Be sure to also keep your eyes out for guys like Taven Bryan, Khairi Clark and Jordan Sherit who have waited their turn and will finally get their chances to shine this year.

Summary: Watch. Out. The Gators are absolutely loaded on the defensive line, even with the losses of McCalister and Bullard. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they have the best d-line in the country, but with some intense offseason training, and week-to-week improvements in the fall, it could be by the end of the season. Barring the standard roster killers- injury, off the field incidents and academics- Florida will have an outstanding defensive line that’s capable of wrecking an offense’s game plan by itself.