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Florida Gators in the NFL: Laying claim to DBU, if not Kicker College

The former Florida contingent of kickers has been flying high in recent weeks. The kickers? Not so much.

Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys Set Number: X164205 TK1

The fight over which collegiate program is the real DBU has been waged for years. While many schools like to throw the term around, there really are only four that at any time can lay claim to the title — LSU, Alabama, Ohio State, and Florida.

After the first few weeks of the 2022 NFL season, it looked like the Gators’ claim was probably over too. Joe Haden retired. Janoris Jenkins is still unsigned. And interceptions by former Gators were few and far between.

That’s changed in a big way over the last month.

On October 9th, C.J. Gardner-Johnson picked off Kyler Murray for his first interception of the year. This past Sunday, he picked off Kenny Pickett. In his past three games, he has four picks.

Ceedy Duce added a sack on Sunday and has been every bit the playmaking menace the Eagles thought he’d be when they traded for him before the season. He’s up to 39 tackles on the season, a sack, five passes defended, and those four picks — which are tied for the league lead. No wonder the Eagles are perfect to start the season.

Also on October 9th, Kaiir Elam snagged his first career interception. He followed it up the next week with a pick of Patrick Mahomes. Elam has started five straight for the Bills and has 31 tackles and three passes defended along with the two interceptions.

Again on October 9th, Marco Wilson had a career-high eight tackles. The following week he almost grabbed an interception on a diving breakup of a deep ball to Tyler Lockett. Finally on October 20th, Wilson grabbed that first pick and took it back for a touchdown. Along with that pick-six, Wilson has 21 tackles, three passes defended, and a tackle for loss in his past four games.

C.J. Henderson earned his first start of the season on October 16th. This past weekend, he had what was almost a game-winning interception and return against the Falcons. (More on that almost part later!)

Henderson has started two of the past three for Carolina. In addition to the pick Sunday, he had two passes defended and earned the highest weekly grade from Pro Football Focus (91.1) of any cornerback in the league.

Marcus Maye was hurt and missed a month but returned to the Saints defense on October 16th. His play has been solid as he figures out his role for his new team. Maye has missed just one tackle all season and when he’s been the nearest defender in coverage, he’s giving up a passer rating of 75.

Keanu Neal has started three straight for the Bucs and set a season-high with eight tackles last Thursday. He had 25 tackles in the month of October.

In addition to these guys, there are still potential DB contributions for former Gators yet to be made this season. Teez Tabor is in Seattle, although he’s been inactive the past few weeks. Quincy Wilson saw his first game action in two years with the Steelers in Week 6 and is back on Pittsburgh’s practice squad along with Duke Dawson.

Elam used the Sunday Night Football player introductions as a platform to let the world know where he went to school — and, y’know, he has a really strong argument lately.

Week 8 Notables

Kyle Trask has had a spot on Tampa’s 53-man roster since they drafted him in the second round in 2021. But for 24 regular seasons and two playoff games, Trask was inactive on gameday — meaning he had never worn a Bucs uniform outside of the preseason. That changed last Thursday, when Trask was active for the first time in his career.

Trask was rewarded with the active slot for a counterintuitive reason: The Buccaneers had so many injured players, there wasn’t an inactive spot available. And as usually happens when you’re Tom Brady’s backup, Trask, of course, did not see the field. Despite knowing he wasn’t likely to play, it had to be a special night — and one he hopes he doesn’t have to wait another year and a half to experience again.

Trask wasn’t the only one with a night to remember last Thursday. Demarcus Robinson tied his career high with six catches, five coming in the first half when Lamar Jackson seemed to look for him on every throw. Robinson rewarded him by making moves like this.

Dante Fowler played his most snaps of the season and had by far his best game. He stuffed the stat sheet with five tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, and a pass defended. He’s played well in limited snaps all season and likely earned even more playing time going forward with his effort.

Dameon Pierce and the Texans struggled mightily against the Titans. Houston couldn’t get anything going on and the Titans stuffed the box and swarmed Pierce all day. But even in defeat, Pierce ran his ass off and showed how tough he is.

After going over 100 combined yards in each of his past four games, Pierce was limited to 28 yards on the ground as Houston began their final drive in garbage time. On that final drive, Pierce added a seven-yard run and all three of his catches, the last being his first career receiving touchdown - and a fantasy football miracle too.

Fred Johnson was waived on Tuesday by Tampa Bay. He was active for six games this season, including last Thursday. But Johnson only played two offensive snaps and 18 on special teams. I’d imagine someone will give him a look as a backup tackle and guard.

The Lonesome Kicker(s)

Watching Eddy Pineiro on Sunday was painful and heartbreaking. The way karma works, you just knew the celebration penalty on D.J. Moore was going to haunt the Panthers and Pineiro. Sure enough…

When Pineiro trotted out with a chance for redemption in overtime after Henderson’s long interception return, I was as nervous as I’ve ever been watching a field goal that didn’t involve my team. Just like the first kick, Pineiro pulled it to the left.

The intense Pineiro bashing on the hellsite that is Twitter wasn’t clever or funny. Pineiro had been great all season for Carolina until those final two kicks. He was perfect on two field goals and two extra points earlier in the game and hadn’t missed an XP all season. After the crushing misses, he faced reporters and bluntly said he has to make those kicks and knows he will going forward.

Pineiro had a streak of 27 straight field goals snapped earlier in the year but is still 14-for-16 (87.5%) in 2022 and 45-for-52 (86.5%) in his career.

He’s a solid kicker and he’s going to be just fine going forward.

On Monday night, it almost felt like Evan McPherson wanted to stand in solidarity with Pineiro — so he shanked his own field goal and extra point. Incredibly, McPherson and Pineiro share a bond beyond being the two best kickers in Gators history.

As Adam Sandler sang, the lonesome kicker(s) indeed.

Player of the Week

Ceedy Duce is making a strong push for Pro Bowl consideration. For the second time in his career, CJGJ had an interception and a sack in the same game. He is the 12th player this season to pull off the feat.

In the last three Eagles games, Gardner-Johnson has 22 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack, 2 TFLs, 4 PDs, and 1 QB hit. The August trade Philly made to grab him from New Orleans was a steal.

He’s become a leader in the locker room and on the field with his spirit, energy, and play. It was pretty clear his personality was going to be a perfect fit in Philadelphia. What was less clear was his ability to learn more than just the chorus to the fight song.

The way the Eagles and Gardner-Johnson are playing, he’s not going to have to worry about a vacation for a long time this season. And as for a second profession, that’s a good decade plus in the future too.

Play of the Week

Give it up for the Wyoming Wildman. After getting his first sack of the season last week, Taven Bryan combined with Myles Garrett on another on Monday night.

What you don’t see in that first clip is Bryan’s traditional “campfire” sack celebration. It’s as unique a celly as there is in the league.

Here are all of the Week 8 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, PHI, S

Week 8: 1 INT, 14 return yards, 1 sack, 8 tackles, 1 PD, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 76 snaps (100%)

  • Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE:

Week 8: 5 rec, 80 yards, TD, 50 snaps (75%)

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., DAL, OLB

Week 8: 1 sack, 5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QB hit, 1 PD, 37 snaps (47%)

  • Dameon Pierce, HOU, RB

Week 8: 15 rush, 35 yards, 3 rec, 16 yards, TD, 42 snaps (78%)

  • Taven Bryan, CLE, DT

Week 8: 0.5 sack, 4 tackles, 1 QB hit, 36 snaps (68%), 11 ST snaps (48%)

  • Demarcus Robinson, BAL, WR

Week 8: 6 rec, 64 yards, 48 snaps (63%)

  • C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB

Week 8: 1 INT, 54 return yards, 2 PD, 34 snaps (51%)

  • Keanu Neal, TB, S

Week 8: 8 tackles, 76 snaps (100%)

  • Zach Carter, CIN, DT

Week 8: 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 53 snaps (74%), 6 ST snaps (26%)

  • Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 8: 78 snaps (100%)

  • Alex Anzalone, DET, LB

Week 8: 7 tackles, 66 snaps (97%)

  • Marco Wilson, ARI, CB

Week 8: 4 tackles, 1 QB hit, 69 snaps (97%)

  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 8: 72 snaps (100%)

  • Kaiir Elam, BUF, CB

Week 8: 2 tackles, 38 snaps (58%)

  • Marcus Maye, NO, S

Week 8: 1 tackle, 58 snaps (100%)

  • Eddy Pineiro, CAR, K

Week 8: 2/3 FG, Long 42, Miss 32, 2/3 XP

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 8: 0/1 FG, Miss 47, 1/2 XP

The Limited

  • Malik Davis, DAL, RB

Week 8: 8 rush, 23 yards, 2 rec, 18 yards, 1 tackle, 19 snaps (33%), 15 ST snaps (52%)

  • Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 8: 1 KR, 21.0 avg, 1 PR, 0.0 avg, 3 snaps (5%), 14 ST snaps (58%)

  • T.J. Slaton, GB, DT

Week 8: 2 tackles, 22 snaps (37%), 9 ST snaps (41%)

  • Marcell Harris, NYJ, LB/S

Week 8: 16 ST snaps (57%)

  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR

Week 8: 0 targets, 31 snaps (53%)

  • Jon Bostic, WAS, LB

Week 8: 1 tackle, 8 snaps (14%), 23 ST snaps (88%)

  • Feleipe Franks, ATL, TE

Week 8: 5 snaps (7%), 18 ST snaps (51%)

  • Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 8: 5 ST snaps (17%)

  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB

Week 8: Active but did not play

  • Fred Johnson, TB, G/T

Week 8: Active but did not play

The Inactive

  • Carlos Dunlap, KC, DE: Bye
  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P: Bye
  • Kadarius Toney, KC, WR: Bye
  • D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT: Inactive (Back)
  • Max Garcia, ARI, G: Inactive (Shoulder)
  • Jonathan Bullard, MIN, DT: Inactive (Illness)
  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR: Inactive (Groin)
  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE: Injured Reserve
  • Teez Tabor, SEA, S: Inactive

The Practice Squad

  • Freddie Swain, MIA, WR
  • Jarrad Davis, DET, LB
  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB
  • David Sharpe, BAL, T
  • Jeremiah Moon, BAL, LB
  • Jabari Zuniga, SEA, DE
  • Duke Dawson, PIT, DB
  • Quincy Wilson, PIT, DB