GAINESVILLE, Fla. — New Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had a short window to make one of his most important recruiting pitches, as it pertains to the 2018 Gators.
Before National Signing Day, Grantham’s defense already had received a substantial boost when standout defensive end CeCe Jefferson announced he would return for his senior season rather than declare for the NFL draft.
While meeting Tuesday with the local media for the first time since his hiring in late November, Grantham discussed the conversations with Jefferson that helped secure his return.
“I mean, it really gets down to players understanding what’s best for them. If it’s best for them to leave and go to pro football then that’s what they should do. If it’s not, then here are the reasons you need to come back,” Grantham said. “And you need to lay them out for them because it’s going to be hard work, but it’s understanding that you really can develop yourself as a better player, fundamentally make yourself more ready for that league the following year, get closer towards your degree and come back and play for an SEC championship and compete for that as a team and be around guys you’ve been around for the last three to four years of your life.
“So I think a combination of all of that stuff allows you to get excited and want to do that and come back.”
Grantham has a good perspective on what it takes for a player to succeed at the next level, as he was a defensive line coach in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys for a combined eight seasons and the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns from 2005-07.
While Florida’s new DC didn’t say this specifically, part of the appeal for Jefferson may have also been the Gators’ new defensive scheme and what that will allow him to do in boosting his draft stock.
Grantham confirmed Jefferson will work as both a defensive end and an outside linebacker, when the Gators are in a 3-4 alignment, which might allow him to further his appeal to NFL talent evaluators as a 6-foot-1, 242-pound prospect (as listed on the 2017 team roster).
“He’ll be multiple in our defense meaning he’ll play outside linebacker and defensive end. At the end of the day, he’s an edge rusher is what he is. And to me it’s just about developing him and continue to develop his habits and his traits and fundamental skill set to allow him to continue to be successful,” Grantham said.
Jefferson, who had been bounced between the edge and interior of the line as a sophomore, put together his best season last fall at defensive end while leading Florida with 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks along with 47 total tackles.
While Grantham does build his defense around a “3-4 structure,” as he termed it, he said the Gators also will go with four down linemen often as well.
That was one of the main questions for Grantham in his first meeting with local reporters, as many have wondered how equipped Florida’s roster is to play the 3-4. It sounds like the coaching staff is not only prepared to be diverse in its schemes, but also flexible with its personnel.
“In reality we play as much four-down as three-down. I mean if you look at our tape last year, we’d have looked a lot like your guys looked structurally at times during the game,” Grantham explained. “By being a three-down structure, it allows us to play three-down and four-down fronts, give us multiple looks, which I think you need to try to do today in college football to try to put the offense behind the sticks and create negative yardage plays.”
Wherever Jefferson lines up, he’ll be an asset for a young defense as one of the most experienced players on the roster.
A 5-star recruit and perhaps the most high-profile signee for the previous coaching staff, Jefferson cracked the starting lineup as a freshman and has played in 37 games over three seasons with 28.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
“He’s a guy that we’re obviously going to look to to be a leader for us,” Grantham said. “He’s really embraced everything we’ve done from that standpoint to want to be a complete player. And what we’re going to do with him is just take it day by day and try to get a little bit better and try to work to let him be the best player he can be and be a dominant player on our team.”
New Florida defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, meanwhile, was the defensive ends coach at Florida State when Jefferson was a top target for many big programs on the recruiting trail. He too is excited to get to work with him in his senior year and seconded the notion that playing in this defense will help Jefferson at the next level.
“I was at another place and I recruited CeCe and he had some good ability to get off that edge and rush the passer,” Sunseri said. “I think you’ve got to utilize him because of his size and be able to move him so the line can’t be slid to him. I think like anything else, CeCe has got to get better with his hands, using his hands and get the edges and not get in a fistfight with the bigger guys and get around them and use his quickness and use some people and run some games with ‘em and I think he can have tremendous success.
“But the multiplicity [involved] when you get into Coach Grantham’s system is only going to benefit CeCe. … It’s only going to benefit him being part of this defense that we’re going to start running.”
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