FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
Tedarrell Slaton has always been massive, and that’s been both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness at times. The former top-75 defensive tackle prospect came to Florida at 6-foot-5 and more than 360-pounds.
He’s not just a brick wall, either. He was described as the best dancer on the team by offensive lineman Jean Delance. Slaton dunked a basketball when he was 13. You can’t teach that combination of size and athleticism, and it gives him the capability of doing things at the line of scrimmage that a lot of other linemen cannot.
But, in his first two seasons, he had a tendency to rely on brute strength alone. His technique wasn’t always good, and he got out of position too often as he tried to make big plays instead of the right ones. In our Anonymous Players Parting Thoughts series, he’s been criticized the past two years for not having a high motor. There’s another gear in him that for some reason he just can’t seem to reach.
Now, he’s hungry – and not just for lunch. One play from the 2018 season sticks in his mind.
Slaton started the first two games of the season against Charleston Southern and Kentucky. Late in the first half against the Wildcats, he got out of his gap and Benny Snell broke off a 44-yard run. The drive ended with an interception, but Kentucky gashed Florida for 303 rushing yards and beat the Gators for the first time in a lot of people’s lifetimes.
When he arrived at the stadium for meetings the next day, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham told the team that changes needed to be made. That performance against UK couldn’t happen again. Slaton knew right away what that change was going to be.
He didn’t start again the rest of the season.
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“[Grantham] was just like ‘We’re not doing this because we don’t like you. We’re just doing this because it’s a part of the game and this situation.’ But, he was just telling me to not look down upon yourself because we took it away from you. Just work to get better and fight for it.”
Flash forward almost one year, and it appears he took that challenge to heart.
“I seen a lot of progress,” defensive tackle Adam Shuler said. “Progress in work ethic, progress in finishing, which is all what Coach [David] Turner has embedded, that finish, finish, finish mentality in us. I think we are all starting to pick up on it.”
The coaching staff urged him to lose weight over the off-season, and he made the necessary commitment. He read online that a good way to lose weight is to simply eat less of what you’re already eating now and drink a lot of water. He did that, and he’s down to 335 pounds. As a result of his slimmed-down physique, he’s quicker off the ball now, he said.
“I’m not as tired as I usually would be,” he said. “But, that’s just what comes from putting the work in. I’m still working on getting in shape. I just got my weight down. Now I got to get my endurance up.”
Like a lot of fans, he said that 44-yard run and the Kentucky loss still stick with him. Whereas fans probably want to burn every copy of that game available, Slaton said he watches that play “all the time” and uses it as motivation.
“It was kind of like this stepping-stone because it happened to me, and I knew why it happened,” he said. “Like the next day in the meeting room, Coach Sal [Sunseri] came in, he just told us, 'There has to be a change,' and I knew exactly why there was a change."
He’s worked with the third team in the portions of practice open to the media so far, but he said he’s not too concerned with who starts games. UF likes to rotate guys on the defensive line to keep everybody fresh, so the second- and third-stringers will still receive plenty of snaps.
“If you know your stuff and you know the defense, you’re going to play,” Slaton said. “That’s how it is. It don’t really matter if you’re starting because they’re going to rotate the guys no matter what.”
He said that he is more of a visual learner than many of his teammates, so it took him a bit longer to pick up Grantham’s defense last season. He said he’s got it down now.
Former defensive line coach Sal Sunseri was all about hand placement and effort, while new coach David Turner is a “technician” who focuses on all the little details of the position, he said. Slaton has benefited from Turner’s approach to the position.
“[Turner’s] always teaching us how to step or where to place your hands or where to get your eyes in the gap, and then Sal was more of like, you know, he was more go out there and do your thing but don't get beat,” he said.
Slaton is transitioning to a new position this year. Last season, he played the three-technique position, which lines up on the outside shoulder of a guard and is expected to create havoc in the opponents’ backfield. This season, they’ve moved him to the less glamorous but perhaps more important nose tackle position, which eats up space and allows the linebackers to make plays. He said starting nose tackle Kyree Campbell has done a good job of showing him the ropes.
“Slaton has progressed a lot,” Campbell said. “He has down pat his technique, and I'm 100 percent sure y'all are going to be very surprised this season.
“He is taking it seriously. I can see that he has really bought into the program now. He is always with me and he is always asking questions. I believe that he wants it.”
After that stunning loss to Kentucky, it seemed as though any chance Slaton had of living up to all the hype that surrounded him when he arrived at UF was on life support.
“It put me down, but it also motivated me to get better," he said.
Fans have heard this story before the past two off-seasons and will probably be a bit skeptical, but Slaton believes this will finally be the year for him to breakout.
He may have lost weight, but he’s hungrier than he’s ever been.