Pup Howard might be the key to unlock the Florida Football defense

The transfer from South Carolina didn't miss a single tackle last season

James Gilbert/GettyImages
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In 2023, Florida Football had a number of problems on defense. Chief among them was the inability to tackle and get opponents down to move the down marker one number forward. As we have previously chronicled here at Hail Florida Hail, the Gators were the worst tackling team in the SEC in 2023.

And even though Florida was relatively quiet in the transfer portal, one of the slightly under the radar pick ups they grabbed might just be the key in unlocking the potential for the 2024 edition of the Gator defense.

Florida Football: Puppy Power

Early last year it seemed like the linebacker play for the Gators was going to be fine. Shemar James ha appeared to take a step forward and it looked like Scooby Williams was rounding into his full potential. James wound up dislocating his kneecap thanks to the abysmal turf in Jacksonville and the early success Williams had wound up being fools gold. Williams had a missed tackle rate last season of 22.4%, third highest on the team among players who had at least 200 snaps.

James is still recovering from his injury and Williams opted to head to College Station in the transfer portal.

But just as the portal takes, it also gives and this is where Pup Howard enters into the picture.

If you follow recruiting, you know Howard was a priority target for the Gators in the class of 2023, but he wound up going to South Carolina. He took about 20 snaps a game with the Gamecocks last season, and admittedly, his pass coverage could have been better. Obviously, that's not why he could be the key to unlocking Florida's defense in 2024.

Despite being a true freshman, Howard wasn't dinged for a single missed tackle in 2023.

Myles Graham and Aaron Chiles are probably the future for Florida linebackers, but the former is out with back surgery and the latter won't arrive until the fall. Derek Wingo is also hurt and thus it has given Howard plenty to do this spring.

Billy Napier was asked about how Howard was doing at his press conference following the team scrimmage on Saturday:

"It’s been great. He’s taken advantage of the reps that are available because of Shemar (James) and Derek (Wingo) being out. He’s one of the most productive players out there today. I think when we look back at his stats, there was a lot of production for him today. He’s a good communicator. He’s got an edge to him, he’s big, he’s long. I think he cares about the place. He came back. There’s something about Florida kids. I think there’s a connection to the place and a pride there. He cares about UF."

Billy Napier on Pup Howard

It's spring and every player is going to get praised publicly, but if James can get healthy and Howard get take a step forward similar to what we saw James do last season, Florida might just have two quality linebackers to provide some much needed solidity for the 2024 campaign.

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