Florida football officially opened up fall camp Friday, and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, cornerback Kaiir Elam and linebacker Mohamoud Diabate all echoed the same sentiment.
This defense is out to prove something.
“All of us got a chip on our shoulder,” Diabate said. “We’re seeing what everybody was saying about our defense, about our coaches, about us. So, it's like, how can you not have a chip? How can you not remember that when you’re working out, when you’re watching film?”
“It makes you hungry. We wanna go back… that’s all we want.”
Elam said the team feels motivated after dropping its last three games of 2020, and the loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game left a sour taste in his mouth.
“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “That’s not the Gator standard.”
Elam believes the Gators can get back to that point.
After missing all of spring practices in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida’s defense seems to all be on the same page again in 2021. Elam said the team wasn’t communicating last season and looked out of sorts at times. The lack of communication showed on the field, as the Gators allowed 428 yards and nearly 31 points per game last season, including a 52-point performance by Mac Jones and the Crimson Tide.
This year’s rendition of the Gator defense looks to right the wrongs of the past, and Diabate said this is the closest team he has ever been on.
“All of us, you know, we’re cool, we hang out,” he said. “We might be done with workouts at five and we might still be in the locker room at eight… We are a close team, we all know what each other want, and we push ourselves to get there.”
That connection, or synergy as Grantham likes to call it, could prove fruitful to a defense which returns its top defensive backs in Elam and Trey Dean as well as its two leading tacklers in Diabate and Ventrell Miller.
Grantham said he likes the defense’s attitude and vision for where they want to go as a unit.
“We look forward to playing as a unit, and as you play as a unit, you can create that synergy that allows you to be the defense you want,” Grantham said.
Elam has embraced his leadership role on the defense, saying he enjoys teaching the younger cornerbacks and is willing to help any of them improve.
I’m always trying to coach them up,” Elam said. “Make sure they have all the knowledge I have of things I didn't have when I was a freshman so we all can be on the same page.”
“When push comes to shove all I wanna do is win… If someone told me to cut off my finger to win, I’m gonna do it.”
Florida has just under a month to continue to grow as a unit and save Elam’s finger before its first game against Florida Atlantic University Sept. 4.
Contact Michael Hull at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Hull33.
Michael Hull is a fourth-year journalism sports & media major and a sports writer at The Alligator. He hosts the weekly sports podcast and has worked on staff for five semesters. In the past, Hull has served as the sports editor, the men's and women's golf beat writer, the volleyball beat writer and the football beat writer.