High hopes, low execution.
Those words could encompass the defensive side of the football as a whole in 2020, but in this case, it does justice in describing the interior defensive line.
After analyzing the play of the exterior defensive line throughout the 2020 season on Thursday, it’s now time to examine the play of the Florida Gators' interior defensive line, the defensive tackles.
Returning their fifth-leading tackler from last season in Kyree Campbell, Florida has an opportunity to put together an impressive campaign from the interior of the defensive line last season.
Serving as a multi-year starter within the Gators defense, Campbell has been a consistent piece in the unit's makeup since Dan Mullen's arrival in 2018.
Compiling 88 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery entering his final season in orange and blue, Campbell provided optimism for the performance of the position no matter who lined up beside him.
However, missing the first three contests for undisclosed reasons, Campbell’s absence sparked serious questions pertaining to the leadership and depth of the unit.
With the defensive tackle conversation starting and stopping with Campbell as the focal point, Florida was forced into a different lineup from weeks one through three.
Looking to senior DT Tedarrell Slaton and highly-touted true freshman Gervon Dexter—recording 18 tackles and one interception on the year—to carry the load, Florida struggled to defend the run due to the lack of experience in the middle. Ranking 93rd in total defense after the first three games of the year, the impact Campbell can provide was desperately needed.
Upon his return against Missouri, Florida would sport their duo of choice in Slaton and Campbell to man the trenches, a recipe that saw relative improvement initially but continued to falter as a whole throughout the season.
They would combine for 62 tackles and three sacks on the season.
Sparingly employing the likes of Marlon Dunlap Jr., Dante Lang, and Jalen Lee in relief of the big three, Florida’s depth—or lack thereof—played a significant role in their crumbling in the last three games of the season.
With the evident struggles that came with and without Campbell, Florida finished the year ranked 71st in rushing yards allowed per game with 170.5 and 83rd in total defense, allowing 428 yards per game.
A shell of its former self in 2020, the usually stout Gators defense will look to bounce back next season but will do so without their top two dogs in the middle.
Recently announcing their respective departures to the NFL draft, Campbell and Slaton create holes along the defensive line to be filled in 2021. As a result, the necessity to find replacements looms large, especially considering the emphasis put on anchoring down the trenches to take the next step as a program.
With Desmond Watson and Christopher Thomas—two talented members of the 2021 recruiting class—joining the fold at defensive tackle as true freshmen in 2021, Florida was left with questions surrounding the lack of experience as a unit.
As a result, the Gators have looked to the transfer portal to add depth to the unit for 2021 in acquiring Daquan Newkirk from Auburn and Antonio Shelton from Penn State.
Moving forward, rotation along the unit will likely occur frequently in an attempt to keep fresh legs on the field in all scenarios.