When the No. 6 Florida Gators get set to kickoff the remaining three games of its season, there could be fresh faces on defense getting more play, at least that's what Gators head coach Dan Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham have hinted at over the past week.
When developing young players to eventually take over as the team's bright new stars, getting extra playing time, especially near the end of a season, can be majorly beneficial. On Saturday, the Gators deployed several young players including freshman defensive tackle Gervon Dexter and redshirt freshman Ty'Ron Hopper, among others.
"The thing about that game (against Vanderbilt last week), if you go back and look, at the last two-minute drive or the score situation when we got the pick, there were a lot of young players in there during that time frame," Grantham said on Tuesday.
"Jesiah Pierre basically played three quarters of the game for us ... You know, Hop [Hopper] was in there, Tre’Vez [Johnson] was in there, Rashad [Torrence II] was in there. So there (were) a lot of young players in there, and we’ll continue to develop that because as you get into the end of the season you never know when you’re going to need guys.”
Grantham is right, if the Gators are to continue forward through the season and into a potential SEC Championship contest presumably against the Alabama Crimson Tide, they'll need to put their best foot forward to making sure its young players are ready for any and all action, especially if someone such as linebacker Ventrell Miller, who was banged up on Saturday, is out for an extended period of time.
For the Gators, they saw plenty of action with its freshmen and one player in particular that stood out during the contest was Hopper. Hopper, a redshirt freshman, was touted last season as one of the bright young players in the Gators' linebackers room. Noted for his versatility and athleticism, it was no wonder he looked as fast and fluid as he di on Saturday.
“He’s been fortunate," Grantham said of Hopper. "Like when he’s been in there, man, we’ve had some cross-dogs inside. He’s been able, if you go back, he’s been able to accomplish some stuff. I think he’s a good young player. We evaluate all of our players in practice, everything that they do, and we’re going to try to get guys the reps that they earn."
Hopper has played 19 snaps over the past two games, and while that isn't a fantastic sample size, the plays he was in for, he was able to make quite the impact. According to Pro Football Focus, Hopper was able to net three "stops" against both Vanderbilt and Arkansas the week before, respectively. "Stops" are described as "defensive stops - tackles that constitute a "failure" for the offense."
He was also able to net two pressures, one in each of the past two contests.
Over the next three games, including this week against Kentucky - if it is played - look for Hopper to continue seeing the field, especially if Florida would like to rest its starters in preparation for the weeks ahead, particularly in a championship-like setting.
The leader of the Florida defense, cornerback Kaiir Elam, recently opined on Hopper's playing. As a player who came in with the young linebacker, he understands the impact he can have in the future.
"So, I came in with Tyron Hopper, he's learning - the more reps you get, the more experience you get, you get a lot better. You can't just - football is not just a mental sport, so I think he's getting better the more and more reps he gets," Elam said earlier this week. "I think he's really good."