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During Taven Bryan’s early years as a Gator, plenty of hype surrounded the Wyoming native as many viewed him as an under-the-radar pickup on the recruiting trail who could end up blowing up in Gainesville.
But following a set of 2015 spring practice where the “Wyoming Wild Man” buzz was strong and Bryan looked poise to play a considerable role that season as a redshirt freshman, he had a quiet year for the most part. Although he recovered a fumble and returned it 48 yards against FAU, Bryan logged just 10 tackles in 12 appearances serving mostly as a backup that season.
Although one of the lasting memories of his redshirt sophomore in 2016 was an ejection late in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Bryan took a step in the right direction and had overall his best season statistically as a Gator, with a sack, two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries, and three tackles for loss in 13 appearances (two starts).
“It was just an eye-opener, you know,” Bryan said. “You put your mind to something and you can really do it. You’ve just got to focus on it and just try to do it correctly, and I should be playing really well this year.”
However, Bryan describes his overall performance during the 2016 season as “not good,” adding that he felt he wasn’t mature enough at the time.
“I guess I’ve gotten a little older. I’m old now,” he said. "Honestly, I think with how much more mature I am this year I'll play a lot better than I have in the past. I mean, they've told me I've had tons of potential, but it doesn't mean anything unless you use it. It doesn't matter if you're big, fast and strong if you just stand there you're still going to be a bench warmer.”
Florida has been seeing a change in Bryan’s work ethic and approach to the game this spring, with the redshirt junior defensive tackle stepping into a full-time first-team role at defensive tackle in the wake of Caleb Brantley’s departure. Meanwhile, nose guard Khairi Clark has filled in for Joey Ivie, who graduated following the 2016 season.
Bryan feels his aggression and ability to determine which way the ball is going are two areas where he’s grown so far this offseason.
“They've always been trying to get me to be more mature,” Bryan said. “I've been causing a lot of blood pressure rises for Coach (Chris) Rumph, I know that. But mostly 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."
On Monday during his press conference, Florida head coach Jim McElwain mentioned how much he has seen Bryan grown from last season to this spring.
“Up front, Taven Bryan, he has been our most consistent player, day-to-day in all drills,” McElwain said. “Which is something he kind of lacked was consistency a little bit. He has probably taken as big of steps of anybody on the team as far as consistency and performance. It doesn’t matter the drill. He did some flash things before, but he and Khairi Clark have done a really good job inside. That’s huge for us."
That familiarity with Clark should go a long way for Bryan entering the 2017 season, as both players saw plenty of reps working alongside one another with the second unit last year.
"Oh, it's going to be good. I like playing alongside Khairi,” Bryan said. “You know, he's a very consistent player. He's got like some small flaws. Once he's figures those out he'll be great. And since I've always played with him, like, we always know what's going on, we're very consistent, we get a lot of non-verbal communication. We know what's going on."
Those two will play key roles this season for a Gators defensive line that has lost some depth at tackle. Replacing the production of Brantley, a potential early-round pick in April’s NFL draft, won’t be an easy task, but Florida is high on what Bryan could bring to the table moving forward – considering his recent progress.
“It’s something we talked heavily about the offseason,” McElwain said. “He had kind of a luxury, so to say, because you had Bullard, Caleb, you know what I’m getting at. He’s counted on now.”
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