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With nine starters from the Florida Gators‘ 2015 football team now in the NFL, Florida will be looking for help in all three phases in order to ensure it repeats as SEC East champions after taking the division crown for the first time since 2009 last year.
With summer workouts still weeks away and fall practice even further in the distance, OnlyGators.com is here to take a look at which four players in each phase are most integral to the Gators’ success next season.
Let’s get continue with the defense after our look at special teams.
Defensive end Cece Jefferson, sophomore: The second-year pass rusher made a tremendous impact as a true freshman in 2015, registering 3.5 sacks while starting four games. Jefferson played in all 14 contests and progressed as the season went on; it soon became obvious that his five-star pedigree would be realized during his time at Florida. While redshirt junior defensive tackle Caleb Brantley brings plenty of experience has immense talent in his own right, it will be Jefferson tasked with filling the versatile and consistently productive shoes of Jonathan Bullard. There may be no greater ask and no more important player to the defense’s success in 2016.
Cornerback Quincy Wilson, junior: For all the hype thrown on Vernon Hargreaves III last season, a pair of then-sophomores quietly made waves in the Gators’ secondary. Now-junior Jalen Tabor was billed as someone who actually outperformed Hargreaves in 2015 — and by all accounts that was true. Lost in that conversation, though, was the production of Wilson, who made nine starts in 14 games with two interceptions on the year. Like Brantley on the line, Tabor is the trusted party in the defensive backfield; you know what you’re getting from him and may very well see an All-American campaign. That’s why Wilson is so important. Just as teams threw the ball away from Hargreaves, they will soon learn to avoid Tabor in 2016; when they do that, the realization will likely come over them that Wilson probably shouldn’t be tried either.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone, senior: A former five-star prospect, Anzalone is somehow still an unknown quantity. Injuries his freshman season and depth at the position limited his snaps and development early on. With 2015 looking to be a breakout campaign for the newly-minted starter, Anzalone suffered a serious shoulder injury and missed the final 12 games of the season. The talent and ability is there with Anzalone, but he hasn’t made contact in a practice since last fall and now steps in to an even further depleted linebacking corps that is counting on him to help lead the defense. Redshirt senior Jarrad Davis being one of the best players at his position in the nation certainly helps the Gators, but Anzalone finally coming into his own would be a massive difference-maker for coordinator Geoff Collins‘ retooled defense.
Defensive end Bryan Cox Jr., redshirt senior: There’s been a lot made about the blossoming of sophomore Keivonnis Davis and potential emergence of redshirt junior Jordan Sherit, but the Gators need Cox to be consistently productive as a pass rusher this season. Cox flashed in 2014 but took a big step forward last season, starting 13-of-14 games while totaling 45 tackles (10.5 for loss) with 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. If Cox can improve on that production and become a consistent threat from the outside edge, it could go a long way to filling the void left by Alex McCalister.