Multi-talented Moon ready to take the next step

Aug 8, 2019 | 0 comments

The Buck position plays a crucial role in Todd Grantham’s defense. As a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker, the Buck is expected to pressure the quarterback, get sacks, force turnovers and even drop into coverage on occasion. Basically, their job is to torment quarterbacks from the first snap of the game to the last.

“If you look over the history of the SEC in maybe the last eight to 10 years, that position has probably averaged 10.5 sacks,” Grantham said. “It's really a credit to the people that have played it because you find ways to get talented guys and get them one-on-one. And football is about winning one-on-one matchups.”

Despite losing Jachai Polite’s 11 sacks and 17.5 tackles-for-loss, the Gators seem loaded at the position again this season. Jonathan Greenard brings 9.5 sacks, two full seasons of playing experience in the ACC and veteran leadership with him from Louisville. Behind him, a talented crop of young players led by Mohamoud Diabate provide intriguing options for the future, if not this year.

One name that hasn’t been mentioned much this preseason is redshirt junior Jeremiah Moon. To overlook him would be a mistake, as he split first-team reps with Greenard in the portions of practice open to the media. Every year, there are one or two players who surprise everybody and come out of nowhere to have a big season. Moon might be the best candidate to be that guy in 2019.

Moon’s always had the measurables that you look for in an edge rusher. At 6-foot-6, he’s long and rangy like a defensive end, yet he’s quick and agile like a linebacker.

“He's as athletic a guy as I've had at that position,” Grantham said. “He's very twitchy. He's long. His length allows him to cover. He runs really well.”

For various reasons – whether it be a lack of weight, poor development by the previous coaching staff, injuries or simply having better players ahead of him on the depth chart – those measurables have only resulted in two sacks and 2.5 tackles-for-loss in his career.

“It’s humbled me a lot,” he said. “I’ve had injuries, that’s no excuse, too, but I feel like now in the position that I’m in – I’m working with the ones – I think I have a good chance to make an impact and really set myself up for the success I want.”

After the Peach Bowl against Michigan, it looked like 2019 would be his breakout year. Polite was off to the NFL, leaving him as the only returning Buck with experience. Then in January, he broke his foot during a conditioning drill and the Gators added Greenard.

Moon said he tried to keep a positive mindset during the rehab and trust that his hard work would pay off eventually.

“It’s been pretty frustrating, but, like I said, I know God got me, and the main thing is just staying positive and putting yourself around people that are going to uplift you and not bring you down,” he said. “And just keeping my head on straight. That’s all I’ve been doing.”

Some guys would’ve viewed bringing in a player of Greenard’s caliber as a betrayal. “I busted my butt for three years in practice, and you reward me by bringing in a guy to take my job?” would be a very reasonable thing for someone like Moon to think. Instead, he still believes that Grantham has a role for him in this defense.

“I feel like he’s seen me play,” Moon said. “He knows I’ll come in and work every day, and I’ll work really hard. So, I felt like with the injury, he still believes in me.”

Whether his production in games will change remains to be seen, but he definitely looks different from a physical standpoint. He’s listed at 232 pounds now, and he looks noticeably stronger. After looking like a wiry linebacker his first three years at UF, he’s built more like a defensive end now.

Moon said his key to adding weight was just eating more and hitting the weight room as much as he could after he was cleared to put pressure on his foot. His added muscle could help him carve out a larger role for himself this season and help him to be more disruptive when he’s in there.

Greenard said he’s been impressed with Moon’s length, range, coverage skills, football IQ and the way he attacked his rehab. He thinks they’ll complement each other well this season.

“We do things better than each other, certain things,” he said. “I’m more physical. He definitely can be physical. He can beat more people around the edge, and I can go through them or around the edge. We definitely balance each other out. I think he does some really good things. He’s a really good athlete. I see nothing but good things.”

Grantham said Moon’s versatility will be an asset. Obviously, he’ll have a role as a situational pass-rusher. But, when the Gators go into their base package, he’ll be the strong-side linebacker. With depth at nickel becoming a bit of a concern with John Huggins’ absence and C.J. McWilliams’ injury, Moon has been mentioned as one of the guys who could fill in there if needed.

“[Nickel], relative to base, it's not like it's a whole new thing,” Grantham said. “There's some carryover to it, so he could easily go out there and do that. So, it's a credit to him and his ability. We'll have that package with the other ones that we have ready based upon the people we play and what we think we need to do."

The past two years, Moon entered the season with sky-high expectations, only to fall woefully short of them. This year, he’s flying under the radar a bit. It would only be fitting for this to finally be his year.

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