Photo: Brenton Cox Jr.; Credit: Doug Engle-USA TODAY Network
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.
We’ve already covered the entire offense and now we’re flipping sides, asking three questions for each position on Florida’s defense, starting with the JACK edge rusher (outside linebacker). Although the JACK aligns up-front in defensive coordinator Patrick Toney’s scheme, we’ll cover the rest of the defensive line in our next story.
To prevent any confusion, we’ll note that the JACK position was called the BUCK under former Gators’ defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Gator Great and former 14-year NFL linebacker Mike Peterson took over as Florida’s JACK edge rusher position coach this year, a member of new head coach Billy Napier’s inaugural coaching staff.
AllGators’ three questions by position series
What are the expectations for Brenton Cox Jr.?
Brenton Cox Jr. has had his eyes set on an NFL career since enrolling at Georgia as a member of the 2018 recruiting class.
It hasn’t come as quickly as he intended — after playing sparingly as a freshman, Cox transferred to Florida and had to sit out the 2019 season, and he’s back for a third season with the Gators after starting at BUCK over the last two seasons.
Cox has been productive for Florida, posting 12.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss from 2020-21 with career highs in both categories (8.5 sacks, 14.5 TFLs) last season while he played through the recovery of a late offseason Jones fracture surgery.
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Yet, Cox is hungry for more, and reasonably so. His surgically-repaired foot clearly limited him at times last season, as seen by his 1.5 sacks through the first nine games of the year.
Now fully recovered, Cox has high expectations for himself. He shared during spring camp that he intends to break Florida’s single-season sack record of 13, which was set by Alex Brown in 1999.
“Right now I’m going for a sack every half, so if I do that I’m going to pass those numbers,” Cox stated. “But right now I’m just trying to beat the sack record so just going out there and playing hard every play.”
Will any young edge rushers take on a large role?
The Gators lost a promising and experienced backup edge rusher in Khris Bogle to the transfer portal earlier this year, leaving UF with a lack of proven depth behind Cox entering the 2022 season.
Florida will have options to replace Bogle and offer Cox with the occasional breather, and if any of these young players can make an impact quickly, they can be further incorporated into the defense via sub-packages to rush opposite of Cox in certain situations.
We have our eyes on redshirt sophomore Antwaun Powell-Ryland, who saw an uptick in snaps as the 2021 season went on. He posted his first career sack against Vanderbilt, finishing the game with 1.5 in total, and flashed the ability to pressure passers as he gained more playing time.
Other candidates to rotate at JACK edge rusher are redshirt senior David Reese, redshirt junior Lloyd Summerall III and redshirt freshman Chief Borders.
What does the future of the room look like?
As mentioned above, there aren’t any proven edge rushers behind Cox on Florida’s depth chart. However, three of the backups — Powell-Ryland, Summerall and Borders — have eligibility beyond the 2022 season, and the Gators are excited to develop each of their skill-sets.
To bolster the future of the position, Florida welcomed the enrollment of 2022 edge rusher Jack Pyburn this summer. The Gators also anticipate the enrollment of 2022 edge rusher Andrew Savaiinaea before the summer wraps up.
UF doesn’t have its eyes on too many class of 2023 edge-rushing recruits, but you can find the prospects they have targeted thus far here.
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