Photo: Mohamoud Diabate; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
The Florida Gators' defense is looking forward to a bounce-back year following a disappointing 2020 season across the unit. A catalyst for the squad entering 2021 is junior linebacker Mohamoud Diabate.
Diabate has held a meaningful role in UF's defense dating back to his freshman campaign, appearing in 25 games (starting seven) and accumulating 81 tackles, 5.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, an interception and a pass breakup in that span.
With 17 pounds of muscle added to his frame from workouts this offseason, now standing at 6-foot-3, 227 pounds after weighing in at 210 pounds after the 2020 Cotton Bowl, Diabate is ready to man a full-time role at inside linebacker while continuing to add a pass-rushing presence off the edge.
“I think [the weight gain is] going to help him tremendously," linebackers coach Christian Robinson said of Diabate on Tuesday.
"He’s done everything I’ve asked him to do," Robinson continued. "And [strength and condition] coach [Nick] Savage and just being a gym rat, his body looks the way a linebacker’s supposed to look. He has more to grow and he knows that he has to keep developing and doing his part."
Robinson indicated that, at his current weight paired with blazing speed, Diabate is capable of consistently playing off the ball and his style of play should complement that of physical linebacker Ventrell Miller in the middle of the Gators defense.
Diabate would agree, acknowledging that his offseason regimen has prepared him to make a major impact this year.
“It was a good offseason. I felt like I dedicated myself every day, my nutrition, my stretching, everything," said Diabate. "The last two years, I’ve been able to have a big impact on my team and make big plays, and I feel like with this added weight – with the weight, I’m even faster. So, with all that, I feel like it’s time.”
Florida would hope so. In addition to simply needing its defense to return its form from the 2018-19 seasons under coordinator Todd Grantham, Robinson has over 200 snaps at inside linebacker to fill following James Houston IV's offseason transfer to Jackson State.
Although Diabate can offer quarterback pressure from the BUCK rush end position, Florida will depend on him to add speed and playmaking ability while shooting gaps against the run and dropping into coverage. With his quickness, Diabate can keep up with slot receivers; at his size, he can man up on tight ends as well, a position UF has struggled to cover in the middle of the field in recent years.
Diabate expressed that his comfort grew within the scheme in 2020 as he continued to learn off-ball responsibilities. With a full offseason under his belt at the position - keep in mind, the 2020 training program was heavily modified due to the coronavirus pandemic - Diabate is ready to make his mark at MONEY weakside linebacker on a consistent basis.
"I felt like a lot of people except for my coaches don’t understand how hard it is from straight going off the ball and trying to get the quarterback to, OK, now you have to pass off routes, now you have to backpedal. I never had to backpedal before," Diabate admitted.
"So, just being comfortable, getting used to seeing things. My dad says what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So, things go bad, you learn from them," Diabate preached. "You learn very quickly, and by the time I got to the last game of the season, I was comfortable. And then with the spring and then this camp, it’s time, like I said.”
The transition wasn't easy for Diabate, but Robinson knew he was capable of pulling it off.
"I’ve said it before about Mohamoud and his goals," Robinson shared. "We were watching the gold jackets get handed out this past weekend. I can’t tell you how many times you walk through the hall and when he’s having a down day or thinking, ‘Hey, maybe this is hard’, to remind him that, 'What is your goal?' You gotta remind him what your vision is and where you want to go."
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