« Florida football position preview: Linebacker Vosean Joseph primed for more big hits | Main | Highlights from Mike White's season-ending press conference »

Florida football position preview: Gators looking for outside pass rusher on defensive line

Antonneous Clayton is eating 6,000 calories a day to bulk up.

CeCe Jefferson has dropped about 25 pounds since he arrived on campus.

The two are taking opposite routes with their weight, but their goal is the same. With Florida losing eight defensive starters, including two on the defensive line, Clayton and Jefferson are working diligently to shore up the Gators’ outside pass rush.

“Pass rushing is fun,” Jefferson said. “Setting the edge is fun and I just enjoy it.”

Florida needs it. Being able to rush four more often instead of bringing in consistent blitz packages will allow Florida’s younger linebackers to roam in the backfield and help a defensive backs group that lost three starters with pass protection.

“I hope we get a guy that [is] capable of rushing the passer,” defensive line coach Chris Rumph said. “… All that will come along. We'll get it."

Jefferson and Clayton, blue chip prospects from the last two recruiting classes, both have the potential to be that guy. Jefferson has played in 26 career games (10 starts) and has a knack for getting into the backfield. He has 15 career tackles for loss and has the ability to compete with most offensive linemen.

Clayton has had a rougher start to his collegiate career. The former five-star recruit found himself in Rumph’s doghouse early. He didn’t fully grasp the playbook, he was underweight, and he wasn’t used to the faster pace of the game.

All in all, Clayton played in five games in 2016, with his lone highlight being a fumble recovery in the win over Vanderbilt.

This spring, he’s up to 250 pounds and is focused on playing an overall more physical game. Clayton credits the older defensive linemen for helping him mentally adjust.

“They’re like, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to be a dog. You can’t come in here and just scare. You’ve got to be confident in yourself and also in your abilities as a run-stopper and also as a pass-rusher,’” Clayton said. “If it wasn’t for those guys, I’d probably still be at my high school level.”

Clayton and Jefferson are not going to be doing it alone, though.

Rumph makes it a priority to frequently rotate players throughout games. This way, when the fourth quarter comes along, his starters are still fresh and his younger linemen are gaining experience.

“By throwing them in the fire early,” Jefferson said, “I think it opens their eyes to show them he’s there for them.”


Key returners: CeCe Jefferson, Khairi Clark, Taven Bryan, Jabari Zuniga

Key losses: Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Bryan Cox Jr.

Key additions: Kyree Campbell

Look out for: Taven Bryan

2016 Stats: 31 sacks (fourth in SEC); 80 tackles for loss (sixth in SEC); 3.84 yards per rush allowed (fourth in SEC)

Evaluation: Florida’s defensive line once again has promise this season. CeCe Jefferson is a high-motor guy and it looks like he’ll be playing on the edge this season, which is his natural spot. Jabari Zuniga led the Gators a year ago with five sacks and was second with 8.5 tackles for loss. The biggest question mark will be the interior of the line. Taven Bryan, heading into his redshirt junior year, has performed at a consistently high level throughout the spring and has earned praise from both head coach Jim McElwain and Rumph. How that translates into live game production will be key.


Team Stats

» View more stats



Powered by TypePad