Less than five weeks remain until Florida kicks off the 2017 regular season against Michigan at AT&T Stadium. The Gators enter this year as back-to-back SEC East champions, notching 13 conference wins under coach Jim McElwain since he took over the program in 2015. As always, UF’s success on the gridiron this fall will largely depend on its roster, a group of players featuring both seasoned veterans and unestablished newcomers. Here is the position preview for players set to play on the defensive line at Florida this year:
Players: Luke Ancrum (R-So.), Taven Bryan (R-Jr.), Kyree Campbell (Fr.), Zachary Carter (Fr.), Khairi Clark (R-Jr.), Antonneous Clayton (So.), Elijah Conliffe (Fr.), Keivonnis Davis (Jr.), Richerd Desir-Jones (R-So.), CeCe Jefferson (Jr.), Jachai Polite (So.), Jordan Sherit (R-Sr.), Tedarrell Slaton (Fr.), Jordan Smith (R-Fr.), Jabari Zuniga (R-So.)
Florida is full of depth on the defensive line and figures to have anywhere from eight to 10 players see the field on a consistent basis.
Junior CeCe Jefferson headlines the group with a career stat line of 59 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and seven quarterback hurries. The 6-foot-1, 260-pounder can play both inside and outside and is projected to be selected in the middle rounds of next year’s NFL Draft, according to Fox Sports.
Redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga wasted no time making a name for himself last season as well. After spending all of 2015 on the sidelines, Zuniga burst onto the scene with 25 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and a team-leading five sacks and 11 quarterback hurries.
Five other returning players on the defensive line registered at least 10 tackles and one sack last year: redshirt senior Jordan Sherit, redshirt junior Taven Bryan, redshirt junior Khairi Clark, junior Keivonnis Davis and sophomore Jachai Polite.
The Gators also have several new faces set to join the team this season in freshmen Kyree Campbell, Zachary Carter, Elijah Conliffe and Tedarrell Slaton. Carter and Conliffe are expected to be used as edge rushers this fall, while Slaton and Campbell are tabbed to play inside at tackle.
Predicted Starters: Bryan, Clark, Jefferson, Zuniga
UF will do so much shuffling and rotating on the defensive line every couple of snaps, it doesn’t matter which players open the game on the field and which ones don’t.
However, this foursome is currently the most likely combination to get the starting nod on Sept. 2 against Michigan.
Jefferson and Zuniga should separate themselves from the pack as the two most consistent defensive ends on the roster, while Bryan and Clark possess the experience needed to replace last year’s NFL-bound starters, Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie, on the inside. Davis, Polite and Sherit are locks to receive significant playing time as well.
The biggest questions then become which freshmen will step up and earn a spot in the line’s rotation, and can sophomore Antonneous Clayton rebound from a disappointing first season in Gainesville.
Clayton came to Florida last fall as the No. 27 overall recruit in the Class of 2016, according to Rivals, but only managed to register three tackles and three quarterback hurries in five appearances.
The Vienna, Georgia, native has the potential to be a great pass rusher for the Gators and showed improvements in his game this spring. Only time will tell whether he’s ready to produce at a high level for UF in 2017.
Contact Dylan Dixon at email@example.com and follow him Twitter @dylanrdixon.
CeCe Jefferson celebrates a play during Florida's 30-3 win against Iowa at the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2, 2017, at Raymond James Stadium.