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Friday, September 29, 2023

Gator draftees start NFL journeys this week at training camp

Former Gators Kaiir Elam, Zachary Carter and Dameon Pierce look to make their teams’ 53-man rosters before the NFL regular season

<p>Dameon Pierce runs toward the end zone after losing his helmet during a Nov. 27 game against Florida State. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans.</p>

Dameon Pierce runs toward the end zone after losing his helmet during a Nov. 27 game against Florida State. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans.

Rookies are exposed to the true speed and unforgiving nature of professional football for the very first time in training camp. 

The Florida Gators draft class of 2022, Kaiir Elam, Zachary Carter and Dameon Pierce, began their training camps with their respective teams this week with a shared goal: make the 53-man roster that heads into the regular season.

Buffalo Bills cornerback Elam was introduced to the NFL like learning how to swim in the deep end of the pool. Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, a two-time pro bowler coming off of a 1,000-yard season in 2021, was ready to line up against Elam during the Bills’ first day of training camp Sunday. The matchup was nothing like the athletes the former Gator faced in college. 

Elam showed great coverage on Diggs initially, according to MSN, forcing Bills quarterback Josh Allen to throw the ball out of bounds during his first rep on Diggs. The next trip around, however, the pro bowler took the UF alum on a detour. 

As the two new teammates went back to face each other, Diggs exploded off the line into his first move and caught Elam on his heels. By the time the rookie recovered and sprinted to catch up with Diggs, the veteran wide receiver had flown past him and opened himself for a dart from Allen.  

Despite how early it is in this year's training camp, Diggs sees reasons why the Buffalo front office wanted Elam on draft day. 

“He’s a good player, he was drafted in the first round,” Diggs said regarding Elam. “Of course they’re gonna expect a lot out of him immediately, but I feel like he’s up to the task”.

That expectation comes as the Bills secondary has been without their star cornerback Tre’Davious White for a majority of preseason, as he recovers from an ACL tear that he suffered in last season's game against the New Orleans Saints.

The Riviera Beach, Florida, native will need to beat out veterans Siran Neal and Dane Jackson for the second-string cornerback spot. With Elams skill set acquired during his time at UF, facing the top collegiate receivers in college, he might have a chance. 

As Elam fights for his spot in upstate New York, the former starting running back for the Gators, Pierce, might keep “starting” on his title with the Houston Texans. 

The rookie running back started camp with the Texans at the Houston Methodist Training Center Friday. 

With a new head coach, offensive line and running back room, Pierce can find himself in a key role for a new-look offense in Houston. 

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Pierce could thrive in this new environment that is expected to be a run-heavy system led by offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. 

The fourth-round pick ran for 1,806 yards and collected 23 touchdowns during his tenure at Florida. A hard-nosed and powerful rusher, Pierce  will hope to bring juice to his new team. However, no position is given in the NFL.

In order for the Bainbridge, Georgia, native to secure the starting role for this season, he would need to glisten with unmatched talent in training camp against former 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack and former Super Bowl champion Rex Burkhead. 

Coming off of two four-win seasons, expectations are low for the Texans in 2022. Pierce could possibly secure the job as a backup behind the veteran backs, learning from two players who have seen the highs and lows of the league until Pierce’s time comes to take the reins of the franchises lead position.

Carter went onto the practice field at Kettering Health Practice Fields in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday wearing a full black loose uniform alongside 16 other defensive lineman. All of them were there for the sole purpose of finding a roster spot.

At Florida, the third-round pick finished his collegiate career with 107 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. His skill as a rusher towards the trenches makes him a potential starter with the Bengals, possibly finding a role inside or on the edge of the defensive line. 

However, with the Bengals bringing back all the former defensive lineman from their 2022 Super Bowl run, excluding Larry Ogunjobi, it will be hard to find room on the roster in Cincinnati. The UF alum has a hard road ahead. 

As these former Gators continue to work on the field, coaching staffs and organizations' front offices will have to make the decision on their futures. First team cuts in the NFL will start on Aug.16. 

Contact Brandon Hernandez at Follow him on Twitter @BranH2001.

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Brandon Hernandez

Brandon Hernandez is currently the enterprise sports writer and sports podcast host for The Independent Alligator. He likes long walks on the sidewalk and watching basketball tape in his off time. You can find most of his work @BranH2001 on X and on The Courtside Podcast on Spotify.

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