GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s hard to hide a guy as physically massive and imposing as Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan.
He’s officially listed at 6-foot-5 and 293 pounds, and he looks like he could show up on one of those World’s Strongest Man competitions one day.
“He’s amazing. He could lift the whole weight room if he wanted to,” Gators running back Lamical Perine said.
And yet, Bryan was obscured last season, stuck behind former Florida standout defensive tackles and 2017 NFL draft picks Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie.
Now a redshirt junior, he’s primed to slide into Brantley’s spot in the middle of the Gators’ defensive line this fall, though he still remains out of the spotlight.
Defensive ends CeCe Jefferson and Jabari Zuniga have generated a good bit of preseason buzz, the praise continues pouring in for the Gators’ young linebackers, and everybody wants to know where Chauncey Gardner Jr. will end up in the secondary, not to mention how the young defensive backs are coming along as a whole.
Bryan, meanwhile, remains the most under-the-radar potential impact star for this retooled Florida defense.
“I feel like he’s going to shock a lot of people this year. He’s very underrated,” Perine said. “That’s one guy like during this offseason he was working out, we would have a full workout, he would go in after everyone was done and walking out, he’ll go in and have his own workout. He’s working hard, man.”
Judging by the comments from his teammates, maybe it’s best that Bryan has the gym to himself for his workouts.
“Squat, bench, curl, whatever it is, that man is a beast. I’m telling you, he’s a beast. He’s a beast, like he’s a real-life beast,” Gators defensive end Keivonnis Davis said. “He’s a monster. I tried working out with him over the summer, but I was sore the next day. He’s a monster. It’s crazy.”
Bryan tallied 17 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a sack and a team-best 2 forced fumbles last season as a redshirt sophomore rotating in behind Brantley, but he would be the first to admit he hasn’t reached his potential yet with the Gators.
A 3-star recruit from Casper, Wyo., he was initially nicknamed the “Wyoming Wild Man” by Florida defensive line coach Chris Rumph. But Rumph said in the spring that he wanted to hold off on any such nicknames after seeing Bryan’s inconsistent performance (and perhaps focus) through the first part of his career.
Bryan was open about this during an extensive interview with local media in the spring, admitting that the Florida coaches “have always been trying to get me to be more mature” and acknowledging that “I’ve been causing a lot of blood pressure rises for Coach Rumph.”
“What it comes down to is I started realizing the time — I don’t have much time left, you know. I’ve been here for three years and I haven’t really done much so I really need to focus on my goals,” he said then.
According to his teammates, that looks to be the case.
Brett Heggie, competing to be the Gators’ starting left guard, was asked this week who he thinks is the toughest Florida defensive lineman to block.
“Taven Bryan, I’d say. His quickness off the ball and his experience. He’s a smart defensive lineman,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing. Powerful and quick — he puts the two together. It’s a tough combo.”
Florida needs Bryan to be that guy, too. Brantley’s impact last season went beyond the traditional stats (which were impressive in their own right). His disruption to the middle of opposing offensive lines altered many an opponent’s plans while setting up his defensive teammates for big plays.
Physically, Bryan looks capable of being that guy. And if his focus and maturity are there as well, as he asserts, it’s a lot easier to see how the Gators offset their significant personnel losses on that side of the ball. Easier to see how they reset the defense with another wrecking ball inside between those high-upside defensive ends and in front of those intriguing young linebackers and that unproven yet talented secondary.
“One day in practice we were doing 1-on-1s and he just came off the ball with one hand and jacked a guy up. He just, you know, went overboard and he didn’t even try. He was laughing. It wasn’t even a serious rep and he just destroyed [the guy],” Davis said. “It’s crazy to watch him practice. You see that and you think I’ve got to compete where he’s at because he’s at another level. He’s a grown man on the field.”
Says a fellow grown man and 6-foot-3, 253-pound junior defensive end.
“He’s a beast, like, for real, for real,” Davis said. “I don’t think nobody would be able to block him come fall.”
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