Photo: Gervon Dexter; Credit: Alex Shepherd
With spring football squarely in the rearview mirror, and not much going on in the realm of college sports, AllGators has decided to take a stab at going over various position groups for the Florida Gators and the three pressing questions for each room.
Continuing on the defensive side of the ball, the next position we’ll cover is Florida’s defensive line. Having already written about the JACK edge rushers, which play among the front-four, we’ll focus on the strong-side defensive ends, three-techniques and nose tackles this time around.
Sean “Chaos” Spencer, most recently with the New York Giants for two seasons in the same position, took over as UF’s defensive line coach this year as a member of new head coach Billy Napier’s inaugural Gators coaching staff.
AllGators’ three questions by position series
Can Gervon Dexter take his game to the next level?
The highest-rated recruit to enroll during the Dan Mullen era of Florida football, Gervon Dexter has been a consistent figure on the Gators’ defensive line over the last two seasons and took over a starting role in 2021.
Florida’s previous coaching staff flexed Dexter across the line over the last two seasons, he has interior versatility given his size (6-foot-6, 313 pounds) and athleticism. In that stretch, Dexter has compiled 70 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, an interception and two fumble recoveries.
His best fit in new defensive coordinator Patrick Toney’s scheme, though, is at three-technique tackle. There, Dexter can establish himself as an interior pass-rushing menace on the half of the front opposite of the JACK edge rusher, which will be Florida’s primary pass rusher.
One would think focusing on one position can elevate Dexter’s production in the backfield. Dexter hinted as much in spring camp when talking about Spencer, noting that his technique has been in need of improvement.
“He’s a great technique coach, that’s kind of what I was missing,” Dexter said of Spencer during the spring. “I was playing a lot of just physical football and dominating the game just based off me and my physical ability. Coach Chaos came in and he’s … breaking the small things down and teaching me the small techniques that I may not [have] known was a problem but is a problem.”
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With better technique and a fresh start in a new scheme, the sky is seemingly the limit for Dexter entering his junior season. Pro analysts have already pegged him as a potential early-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft — can he meet those expectations?
What will the nose tackle rotation look like?
Desmond Watson appears poised to start at nose tackle for Florida in 2022 after appearing in all 13 games as a true freshman. He’s a talented run-stuffer who is continuing to develop as a pass rusher, but with a listed 415-pound frame, Watson is not in a position to man a full-time role yet.
The Gators would benefit greatly from identifying a capable late-down nose tackle to offer Watson breathers and upgrade their ability to pressure quarterbacks when they are more likely to pass the ball than hand it off.
You can’t knock the Gators for not trying to find that exact player. Since spring camp ended, UF has pursued two top transfer options at defensive tackle in Darrell Jackson and Jermayne Lole. Those prospects, however, ended up at Miami and Maryland, respectively.
At this point, transfer candidates are extremely thin. Florida was supposed to receive a visit from sixth-year lineman Darel Middleton this past Thursday, who most recently has played at West Virginia and Tennessee, but a change of plans sent Middleton to Jackson State for an official visit this weekend. He ended up committing to the Tigers during the visit.
Florida may be forced to depend on its young depth at defensive tackle to split time with Watson during the 2022 season. Junior Jalen Lee, redshirt junior Jaelin Humphries, redshirt freshman Chris Thomas Jr. and true freshman Chris McClellan will be players to monitor throughout fall camp.
Princely Umanmielen appears to be the next man up, but could Tyreak Sapp push to start at defensive end?
With 2021 starting strong-side end Zachary Carter now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL, Florida is looking for a new starter on the edge of their defensive front opposite of Brenton Cox Jr.
Throughout the spring and in the Orange and Blue game, it was junior Princely Umanmielen manning the gig with the first-team. Umanmielen has contributed frequently during his first two seasons at UF, posting 21 tackles and 3.5 sacks across 20 appearances.
Umanmielen might hold onto the role due to his experience, but don’t count out redshirt freshman Tyreak Sapp as someone who could steal snaps from the upperclassman.
Sapp did not appear in a game as a freshman, but made a name for himself in the spring game with six tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble, also pressuring quarterback Jack Miller III into throwing an interception. Umanmielen had three tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss himself.
Redshirt freshman Justus Boone is also a candidate for playing time at defensive end, but Umanmielen and Sapp might have an edge over the South Carolina product due to their performances during the spring.
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