Part of Caleb Brantley’s career went just the way he envisioned it. That’s the part that had him standing at a podium Saturday afternoon talking to the media at the NFL Combine.
The 6-foot-2, 295-pound defensive tackle from Florida is expected to be a first- or second-round selection in next month’s NFL Draft.
“I still feel like I’m the best defensive tackle in the nation, and that’s not going to change,” Brantley said.
The part of Brantley’s career that didn’t go exactly as he had mapped it out was the team’s success.
“We came in together thinking we were going to win a national championship,” he said. “Things obviously didn’t go that way, but we had one of the best defenses in the nation every year.”
Many of the reasons why are here this week. Six former Florida defensive players – Brantley, defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr., linebackers Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis and cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson – received invitations to the combine. That’s more than any team in the SEC, other than Alabama which had seven defensive players invited.
“Everywhere you look, there is a Gator,” Davis said. “That means a lot. That just shows what we did. All of us have worked hard since the first day we stepped on campus. We all had a dream coming in to Florida and hopefully use that as a platform to extend our football playing time. We are all blessed to be here right now. It’s really a powerful thing.”
Tabor, Davis and Wilson are expected to be first round selections, and Brantley could make it four in the first round.
“That speaks volumes,” said Anzalone, who added the man who recruited all those players to Florida deserved some of the credit.
The Gators all came from the signing classes of 2013 and 2014, then-Florida coach Will Muschamp’s final two recruiting classes at the school. Muschamp was fired following the 2014 season and now is the coach at South Carolina.
“Muschamp and his staff, they really built the basis for us as a defense,” Davis said. “They put together a group of guys from across the country that were very talented, and they got us thinking how to be a dominant defense. When they moved on and (new Florida coach Jim) McElwain came in, we never lost that mentality. We came out and we did exactly what they put in us.”
The Gators were second in the SEC in defense last year, allowing 292.8 yards per game.
“Will Muschamp? I learned how to take coaching with him,” Brantley said. “I learned how to work hard. I love coach Muschamp. He taught me how to be a man.”
The Gators have one offensive prospect at the combine this year, lineman David Sharpe, who said Muschamp wasn’t to blame for the offensive struggles that led to his firing.
“I don’t think it was his fault. We clicked, but sometimes we wouldn’t click,” Sharpe said. “He’s a fiery guy, definitely a defensive-minded guy. (The number of defensive players from Florida here) shows he does a good job in what he does.”
Brantley believes he and his teammates will be remembered for a while in Gainesville.
“I think Muschamp recruited a great group of guys, obviously because a lot of them are here,” he said. “I think our defense is going to go down as special, one of the best defenses in history.”