With several defensive starters out this week, Gators’ depth, versatility will be tested

No championship team becomes a championship team without some contributions from its backups. We’ve seen backup quarterback Treon Harris do just enough to save the Gators against Vanderbilt. And now, it looks like the time has come for backups to step in en masse.

Three normal defensive starters will not make their starts against South Carolina: defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard (arm) and Joey Ivie are both out in all likelihood, and another key contributor, Jordan Sherit, will miss the first half due to a targeting call against Vanderbilt (one that was so wrongfully called I wouldn’t shed a tear if fans lobbed flame cocktails through the windows of the referee’s house, but the call was the call and now we’ve got to live with it). In addition to that, safety Keanu Neal is questionable with a foot injury.

So that’s four starters on defense Florida could be missing against the Gamecocks, at least for the first half. In particular, Florida is very, very thin up front. So the next question is: who will replace those starters?

First, though, let’s understand that the Gators are by no means in real trouble with its defensive line even without two starters. Florida’s front seven consists of two linebackers, two RUSH lineman/linebackers, one nose tackle, one defensive tackle and one defensive end. Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox give the Gators two veteran- and quite nasty- RUSH linemen they’ll have full use of. Then there’s freshman Cece Jefferson, a freak athlete who can play inside just as well as he can play on the edge. 

So the solution seems to be a fairly simple one for Geoff Collins. Caleb Brantley would take over for Bullard as the Gators’ full time DT. Either McCalister or Cox would move from their RUSH positions to the defensive end spot, and be replaced with Daniel MacMillian. Cece would then move from his end position to the nose tackle spot. For depth, the Gators also have Taven Bryan and Khairi Clark available to use as interior linemen. Now, the depth behind these guys may be a problem, as we’d be looking at using multiple guys who seldom see action, but it’s one of those “cross that bridge when we get to it” type of problems. For now, consider it problem solved.

That’s not to say this game won’t be a stiff test for Florida’s versatility. Just because the guys I’ve mentioned are all extremely talented and will be practicing in their new roles all week doesn’t automatically mean they’ll be able to seamlessly step in and play their positions to perfection against the Gamecocks. It’s a test that I think the Gators will be able to pass with flying colors, but it’s a test nonetheless.

Of course, Florida has faced various tests of adversity since Jim McElwain took over. They’ve pretty much passed them all with flying colors. What’s one more?