You know the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?
The Florida Gators defense hasn't looked good to start off the 2020 season. Three games in (compared to five for some teams), UF ranks second-to-last in total defense in the SEC, creating just a turnover per game and struggling immensely on conversion downs. The Gators are also missing tackles against the run at the highest rate in the league.
For a defense that prides itself on being fast physical, and aggressive, things appear broken.
Perhaps a way to fix things would be infusing young talent. In defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's time at UF, he's recruited plenty of blue-chip prospects that, in some cases, were expected to make a quick or immediate impact.
A couple of young prospects have found some playing time, but not too many and certainly not every each position they could be of some help.
"You earn your reps to practice and, you know, we have guys that are playing and earned their reps, and we like a lot of our young guys," Grantham said on Tuesday. "As we continue to, you know, play the games and have our roster and see who is available... and the style of offense we're going to see, you know whether guys play or not."
We've seen a few freshmen take the field. Defensive tackle Gervon Dexter has found a role averaging 25.5 defensive snaps per game. Safety Rashad Torrence II was thrust into action 10 snaps into his first game after Shawn Davis was ejected but has found a significantly reduced role since. STAR cornerback Tre'Vez Johnson has played 8.5 defensive snaps per game in the last two contests while defensive tackle Jaelin Humphries (r-Fr.) saw seven snaps against Texas A&M following one snap as a true freshman after an injury.
Several veteran starters have found continued to play despite struggles, however, with intriguing freshmen behind them on the depth chart. Where have players such as linebackers Derek Wingo and Ty'Ron Hopper (r-Fr.), defensive end Princely Umanmielen, defensive tackle Jalen Lee, and others who have received praise from the staff along the way been?
"I think those have done a good job, and when you look at each guy, each guy's going to be at a different level where they are," said Grantham. "So, we evaluate that, where they are. And as they're ready to play and have success, we want to do that."
Wingo was praised as a prospect for being beyond his years in the mental aspect of football. Linebackers coach Christian Robinson emphasized that in fall camp, noting that Wingo would ask him playbook questions in the middle of the night in order to best understand the defense.
Florida has had issues at linebacker where Wingo, who has the confidence of his linebackers coach, or Hopper, could be of help. A lack of depth on the defensive line could call for Umanmielen, or other freshmen, to step up. The same could be said at STAR where Johnson could press for an increased role, and at strong safety.
Just don't expect Grantham to rush it.
"We're developing guys every day, and we'll continue to develop guys, and as guys earn those reps we'll put them in the game.”