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New Florida football coach Dan Mullen said he’d have his coordinators in place quickly, and he exceeded even his own suggested timeline of a couple weeks in announcing his first three hires within two days of his introductory news conference.
Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, who served as co-coordinators of Mullen’s offense at Mississippi State, were the first hires Tuesday. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham followed Wednesday.
Florida did not officially announce titles for Gonzales or Hevesy, but one can presume they’ll fill the same roles as they have under Mullen. Gonzales spent the last five seasons at Mississippi State coaching the wide receivers and, for the last four, serving as the co-offensive coordinator overseeing the passing game. He’s spent 14 seasons with Mullen, at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Mississippi State.
Hevesy, meanwhile, was with Mullen for all nine seasons at Mississippi State, spending the last three as co-OC overseeing the running game while also coaching the offensive line.
Those longtime assistants were expected additions to Mullen’s staff in Florida while Grantham was an intriguing choice given his preference for the 3-4 defense.
The Gators’ personnel was recruited for a 4-3 defensive front, and many fans are wondering what this will mean for the defense in 2018.
The latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day takes a look …
Jeremy M. asks … “Grantham runs a 3-4 defense?? Better be recruiting a bunch of LBs.”
Andrew C. asks … “I’m not familiar with his defense at State, but I know previously he ran a 3-4. [Does] he still run that scheme? We’ve pretty much always been a 4-3.”
Yes, Florida is going to have to prioritize recruiting linebackers in its next couple of classes.
There’s no reason to think Grantham will deviate from the 3-4 base defense he has used at Georgia, Louisville and Mississippi State.
He had immediate success at his last two stops, converting Louisville and Mississippi State to his 3-4 multi-front scheme, so change can be a good thing.
As ESPN outlined in a story during his first season at Louisville, it was a deviation from what coach Bobby Petrino was used to defensively and it required players to change positions and adapt to new responsibilities. Meanwhile, when he got to Mississippi State last year he commented that he viewed his inherited roster as “first-year players” that were going to have to be prepared to learn multiple positions to fit his defense.
At both programs, though, he produced right away.
In Grantham’s first season at Louisville, the Cardinals ranked sixth nationally in total defense (308.5 yards per game allowed) and in his first season at Mississippi State the Bulldogs jumped 100 spots from 110th to 10th nationally in total defense (302 YPG).
Grantham will also show wrinkles and nuance in his defensive looks.
The Advocate observed last season while writing a scouting report on Grantham before Mississippi State played LSU that the Bulldogs had operated mostly with 1 linebacker and 6 defensive backs the week before against Louisiana Tech’s spread offense.
But, yes, it’s going to be quite a learning curve for the players on the Florida roster. Grantham’s recent track record provides hope that it’s not an insurmountable adjustment.
In terms of the Gators’ personnel, Florida would seem to have a couple ideal building blocks for the nose tackle spot in a 3-4 scheme with massive rising sophomores T.J. Slaton and Elijah Conliffe. The responsibility of that position is to take up space and command double teams, and as those guys continue to mature and develop they have the potential to be handfuls in the middle.
And rising junior David Reese, with his instincts and sure tackling, is a strong fit for the responsibilities of an inside linebacker in the 3-4.
Beyond that, there are a lot of questions. As the 3-4 uses outside linebackers rather than defensive ends to pressure the quarterback, it will be interesting to see what Grantham does with pass-rushing ends such as Jachai Polite, Jabari Zuniga and Antonneous Clayton.
The rest of the linebacker picture beyond Reese is a question mark. Vosean Joseph, Jeremiah Moon and Kylan Johnson all have some experience, but also have plenty to prove.
Linebacker was Florida’s thinnest position group in 2017, with freshmen James Houston and Ventrell Miller suspended and fellow newcomer Nick Smith redshirting due to a knee injury. It’s simply hard to project how all the pieces fit at this point.
How Grantham moves and utilizes his personnel will be among the most interesting storylines of spring practice.
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