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Antonneous Clayton could be ‘x-factor’ Gators are looking for on defense

Antonneous Clayton

We all wonder how Florida hasn’t found a decent quarterback for the last decade.

What about an elite edge rusher?

It’s been 11 years since defensive end Derrick Harvey recorded 11 sacks in the 2006 season.

Shouldn’t the Gators have a gifted pass-rusher more often than that?

As first-year Florida coach Dan Mullen tries to guide the Gators out of their doldrums, the focus is on him fixing the dreadful offense. However, part of Florida’s resurgence needs to come off the defensive edge as well.

The player who could be a real X-Factor for the Gators in that department this fall is junior Antonneous Clayton. The former five-star prospect has 10 tackles and one sack in his first two years on campus.

However, Clayton might have benefited the most of any defensive player from the coaching change. Clayton was 218 pounds coming out of high school. He was a hyped recruit more because of what he could be once he filled out.

Under former coach Jim McElwain’s weight program, that never happened. Mullen hired Nick Savage as the team’s strength and conditioning coach in January and Clayton has raved about his physical change.

The 6-foot-2 Clayton now is listed at 254 pounds.

His presence was often felt in the spring. He had a multi-sack scrimmage early in spring and then posted two more sacks in the Orange & Blue Game. Clayton beat starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor on both sacks in the spring game, forcing a fumble from quarterback Kyle Trask on his second.

The Gators need Clayton to deliver a huge season for a multitude of reasons.

Last year’s sack leader CeCe Jefferson (4.5 sacks) underwent shoulder surgery following spring drills and it’s uncertain when he’ll be back at full strength. UF believes Jefferson will be fine for the start of training camp, but until he’s out there in contact drills there’s no guarantee.

Even with Jefferson, the Gators had 23 sacks last season to rank 59th in the nation. End Jabari Zuniga had four and shows promise, but Clayton needs to emerge as someone the opposing quarterback must account for prior to the snap.

RELATED: Is Dan Mullen devaluing South Florida recruiting?

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