Gators DT Tedarrell Slaton Has Big Shoes to Fill on Defensive Line
A big, mincing, quick-footed, 6-foot-5, 335-pound defensive tackle is hard to come by. A special athlete. But the Florida Gators may have one in Tedarrell "TJ" Slaton.
Slaton, a rising-senior from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.), was originally recruited by the Gators as a four-star offensive lineman. Shortly before his collegiate career was set to begin, however, Slaton was moved to the defensive side of the football - providing the Gators with a heavy size advantage along the defensive line.
Slaton's career did not begin the way he wanted. While his playing time increased during his sophomore season, the physically-imposing defensive tackle was benched only a couple of weeks into the season, unable to keep up with Kentucky running back Benny Snell.
Over the past two seasons, Slaton has played second-fiddle to graduate-transfer defensive tackle Adam Shuler. Shuler was able to quickly earn the starting position for the Gators and went on to log 68 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks for Florida.
Earlier last season, Shuler had high-praise for his young disciple.
"(Slaton's) grown a lot," Shuler said shortly following the team's game against UT-Martin last season. "He’s learning discipline, he’s learning, you know, his role so he know who we expect and we know what to expect from him now.”
Now, it's Slaton's time to shine. Playing in a deep rotation last season, Slaton accounted for three sacks, and 12 pressures in 124 pass-rush snap, while playing the team's three-technique defensive tackle position. Having the ability to generate pass rush from the interior of a defense is extremely valuable.
Due to his benching, Slaton made it a goal of his to better himself heading into the 2019 season. Working on his diet, the (at the time) junior defensive tackle was ready for an emergence, and he didn't disappoint.
In what was probably the best game of his career last season, Slaton effortlessly pushes back the Missouri's left guard, knocking him right into Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant's ankles, helping create a sack. His potential is extraordinary, and with the ability to be unfettered by a heavy rotation as a starter, more opportunities for plays like this should arise.
With Shuler gone, Slaton becomes an elder-statesman of the group. Only defensive tackle Kyree Campbell and redshirt senior Marlon Dunlap Jr. have similar experience heading into the 2020 campaign. While Dunlap is expected to be in rotation with Slaton, the 6-foot-3 , 295 pound defensive tackle's 2019 season ended early due to an undisclosed injury.
Slaton will need to take young players such as freshman defensive tackle Gevron Dexter under his wing next season, giving the newcomers an example of what to follow when it's their time to shine under the lights on Saturdays.
Until then, Slaton looks to live up to the high expectations set by not only himself, but his defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and fellow defensive linemen, particularly his former roommate in Campbell.
"He is taking it serious,'' Campbell said of Slaton before the season last year. "I can see that he has really bought into the program. I believe he wants it."