The 2021 football season is right around the corner for the UCF Knights. It’s a new era with head coach Gus Malzahn running the show, With a new season comes new expectations. Today, we’re going to look at the defensive line.
The defensive backs struggled more than any position group on the field last year. Like the defensive line, this was due to a variety of factors, including COVID opt-outs, roster dismissals due to disciplinary issues, and a general lack of depth that came as a result of the above, along with the typical wear and tear a team suffers from. Add an offense that operated way too fast and you have a recipe for disaster. With Malzahn running an offense that should afford the defense with some more rest, and with new defensive coordinator Travis Williams bringing in a new attitude and energy, the defense is looking to be much different than last year, starting with the defensive line.
Opt-outs hurt DB more than any other position
No FBS team had more COVID opt-outs than UCF and no position on the Knights felt it more than the defensive backs. Would-be starter Tay Gowan and likely two-deep back Devunte Dawson both opted out. Another defensive back, Elijah Benoit, also opted out. That hurts.
Since then, Gowan left for the NFL and Benoit transferred to Eastern Illinois. Dawson is back and expectations for him are high. The JUCO transfer from Coffeyville Community College was meant to be an impact player in 2020 before his opt-out. Now, the redshirt senior is being looked as a staple in a young group of defensive backs.
Trial by fire
When UCF had to dismiss a number of players due to disciplinary reasons, they had to use a number of inexperienced players who probably would not have seen the field much last season. Corey Thornton played a lot as a true freshman. He ended up eighth in tackles. Davonte Brown also saw plenty of playing time as a true freshman in the second half of the season. Divaad Wilson, a redshirt sophomore last year, transferred from Georgia, and saw some action. While there is a new defense, the game experience was invaluable to some of these younger players.
Who else will step up?
Aside from Dawson, senior Derek Gainous will have a large role in the defense. Redshirt senior Zamari Maxwell is also going to be looked at for leadership. One guy to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman Jaiden Francois. The transfer from Nebraska was highly anticipated, but got stuck in transfer limbo due to Nebraska not releasing him from his NLI. This forced Francois to redshirt and work on the scout team. Another player who is going to be looked at for a quick fix is senior Jarvis Ware, who just transferred in from Missouri. Ware comes in with 28 games and 51 tackles under his belt.