After a strong performance in the Outback Bowl, the Florida Gators defense appears to be in good hands despite the big departures looming.
The Florida defense has carried the Gators to two straight SEC East titles and 19 wins in Jim McElwain’s first two seasons in charge in Gainesville.
With so many talented players – Jarrad Davis, Marcus Maye and Caleb Brantley, among others – leaving after this season, plus defensive coordinator Geoff Collins now the head coach at Temple, questions abound about whether or not a young defense can step up and take over next season.
If the Outback Bowl against Iowa was any indication, the Gators should be just fine.
Freshman linebacker Vosean Joseph, who saw little playing time during the regular season, proved that he is the next in line of sturdy linebackers for the Gators, making six total tackles (four solo) and one tackle for a loss. Meanwhile, fellow freshman defensive back Chauncey Gardner gave a glimpse of what life will be like after Maye and Jalen Tabor, who is expected to declare for the NFL Draft, are gone.
On the front line, the growth of Cece Jefferson and Keivonnis Davis will fill the void left by the graduation of Bryan Cox Jr., and be crucial in keeping the Gators as one of the nation’s top teams in the trenches.
Of course, the hiring of a new defensive coordinator is the first course of action that McElwain must take. Randy Shannon, who filled in on play-calling duties for the Outback Bowl, put up a great performance in holding Iowa to a mere three points. If the game was being treated as a job interview, he surely answered any questions with aplomb.
Shannon has served as the linebackers coach the last two seasons for the Gators, so continuity with the current players and the incoming recruits would be another.
Using the Outback Bowl as a litmus test for the future, the defensive talent in Gainesville again appears bountiful as the Gators look to take another step forward under McElwain in 2017.