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Gators Defensive Line: Bringing New Energy

Gators defensive line

Defensive Line Review

Bringing back both interior defensive lineman starters should do wonders for the Gators’ front seven. Now with SEC experience, Cam Jackson and Caleb Banks should take their respective games to the next level. Already one of the deeper and more polished groups, the pressure inside should be up to par. Previously somewhat stout against the run, the middle of the defensive line should be a strength. With most of the defensive starters returning at other positions as well, fans are expecting a step up this season. Landing the commitment of a big-time transfer out of the Ivy League, the interior now has a formidable rotation. With four NFL Draft hopefuls plugging up the middle, the Gators’ defensive line should be highly regarded. This unit will stifle run lanes, and force teams to pass to beat them. Fans should be excited about the potential of this Gators’ defensive line.

Proven Leader

Choosing to pass up on the NFL and return to Gainesville, Cam Jackson brings the Gators a veteran leader. Transferring over from Memphis last season, Jackson was able to adjust to the SEC speed rather quickly. Making big-time contributions, all eyes will now be on him to anchor this defensive line group. Totaling up 32 tackles last season to go along with two pass deflections, the ability is evident. Not the biggest stat machine, Jackson did not record a single sack last season. Making his presence felt regardless, he dominated more in the running game. Making some big plays plugging up the middle, Jackson uses his size to his advantage. Measuring in at 6-6, 360 pounds, Jackson clearly has the size to compete in the SEC. Surprisingly agile for his build, Jackson has shown that he’s not simply a one-gap player.

Making some impressive tackles directly at the line of scrimmage, Jackson has shown his ability to shed blocks quickly. Now, it will be all about his consistency. New to the SEC last season, Jackson was expected to be a contributor, but not necessarily lead the Gators’ defensive line. With a year of experience in the best conference in football, Jackson must now become the veteran presence. Starting 11 games, Jackson managed to adjust to the speed of SEC offenses. Wanting to bring back status to the University of Florida, Jackson now has one more year to prove himself. If he continues to work at his craft, an NFL future is quite possible. The Gators’ defensive success will hinge on Jackson, and his ability to plug up the middle of the line of scrimmage.

Ready to Step Up

The other returning starter right next to Jackson, Banks, also came to Gainesville via the transfer portal. Coming over from Louisville, Banks started 11 games for the Gators last season. Racking up 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack, Banks’ production wasn’t necessarily eye-popping. Learning as he went along, he had his best day against LSU, which came late in the season. Now viewed as a leader in the locker room, he will have to take his game to the next level. With the addition of the transfer portal defensive lineman, and other rotation players, Banks won’t have to do it all himself. With the Gators’ defensive line as a whole struggling to get after the quarterback, changes had to be made. Bringing in new defensive line coach Gerald Chatman from Tulane should be hugely beneficial.

Banks has been quick to praise his new defensive line coach and expects much more physicality. A talented group, if able to come together as a unit, they could be one of the best in the SEC. Banks will have a big role in the development of this group and has already started to bring the energy. Throughout spring practices, Banks has noted the energy shifting, as the Gators’ defensive line seems to be much more bought in. If the Gators’ defense wants to change the recent narrative, it will have to start at the line of scrimmage. Banks and the rest of this defensive line need to lead the way from a physicality standpoint. A crucial season for Billy Napier and company, this Gators’ defensive line will look to lead the way and bring the Gators back to a bowl game.

The Talented Transfer

Coming to the Gators from the University of Pennsylvania, Joey Slackman was quite a highly-rated transfer portal prospect. Rated as a top 50 prospect in the transfer portal by 247Sports, Slackman was a huge get for this staff. Earning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, he was prolific at making plays in the backfield. Totaling four sacks and 12 tackles for loss, the production is certainly there. For Slackman, the biggest question will be how long it takes for him to acclimate to the SEC. No one will be doubting his talent and skill set; however, this is a tremendous step up in competition. Not expected to repeat the gaudy numbers from last season, he won’t have to shoulder the entire defense. Part of a talented and deep group, Slackman will be able to rotate in and out. Perhaps not expected to be an all-SEC player, Slackman will still be looked upon as a top defensive player on this Florida defense.

Can He Stay on the Field?

Known around the United States by many college football fans, Desmond Watson is a certified fan favorite. Due to his immense size and personality off the field, many would assume Watson to be one of the stars. Coming up with many impressive plays, Watson seems to be held back by his stamina. Unable to stay on the field for more than a few plays, Watson struggles with his consistency. Coming into Gainesville at an unreasonably high weight, Watson has certainly put the work in and shed some pounds. However, even now his weight is incredibly high, and he lacks the conditioning to last long on the field. His weight has also impeded his lateral quickness, as Watson must rely on his brute strength to win against blockers. Now, Watson has made some key plays, including a huge quarterback hit against Tennessee. The talent is there, he simply must tone up.


Gators defensive line
Photo courtesy: Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun


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