Florida Gators’ Defensive Resurgence: Armstrong’s Second-Year Blueprint


Florida football defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, a native of York, Alabama, grew up with a strong appreciation for the competition of SEC football.

Armstrong, 31, learned it firsthand as the Florida Gators’ first-year defensive coordinator in 2023.

There were growing pains, as UF’s defense moved from surrendering an average of 13.5 points in its first four games to 34.6 points in the final eight games of the 2023 campaign. In eight SEC games, Armstrong’s defense at UF allowed 30 or more points six times. “When you’re young and successful, you’re a boy wonder,” Armstrong admitted. “When you’re not, you make boy mistakes. That’s only part of it.”

Austin Armstrong’s proposal to strengthen Florida’s football defense
Armstrong will seek to build on his second season leading the UF defense. The Gators return five starters from a defense that finished 11th in the SEC in yards allowed (382.3 per game) and scoring defense (27.6 ppg allowed).

“We had to coach them better – that’s my responsibility – and put them in position to be successful,” he said. “At the end of the day, we can make all the excuses about having a young team and such, and that’s true … it’s a results-driven business and we had an opportunity in all those games to be successful.”

Florida senior cornerback Jason Marshall Jr., one of the team’s five returning starters, claimed Armstrong maintained a sense of unity on defense throughout the 2023 season.

“We did have a lot of ups and downs, but he’s one guy that stays collective,” said Marshall. “He told us ‘stay collective’, no matter the ups or downs.”

New voices for the Florida Gators defense.

Florida’s defensive staff now includes three new coaches: secondary coach Will Harris, defensive line coach Gerald Chatman, and linebackers coach/co-defensive coordinator/executive coach Rob Roberts, all of whom Armstrong believes will have an impact.

“Gerald Chatman coaching defensive line brought a tremendous amount of urgency,” Armstrong told reporters. “I believe you saw this during the media session. It takes a lot of tenacity, physicality, and technique to play that position, and with the urgency that he has brought, he has immediately helped us improve.

“And Will Harris, from our first conversation with him in December, I knew he was special. He’s hungry, humble, and smart… He’s had a unique playing experience, and he’s worked with some of the best coaches in football, like Pete Carroll and Chris Peterson, and having him on our team has helped us improve.”

Armstrong has a unique relationship with the 56-year-old Roberts, Auburn’s defensive coordinator last season. In 2018, he worked as a graduate assistant for Roberts in Louisiana.

“It’s kind of good for me to have a guy in the trenches with you again that you have a close, personal relationship for five years,” Armstrong said in an interview. “He’s helped me improve throughout my career, and the guy doesn’t get enough credit.

“He’s one of the fathers of modern defensive football and to have him in this building and to have him at my right arm at all times helping us, I couldn’t be luckier.”

UF football defense emphasizes tackles and turnovers.

Last season, Florida’s defense suffered in two areas: tackling and turnovers. Last season, the Gators forced an SEC-low seven turnovers, with only three turnovers and four fumble recoveries.

Armstrong stated that new special teams analyst Joe Houston and current special teams analyst Chris Couch have been tasked with studying turnovers and determining where Florida may improve its turnover rate in 2024.

“It’s that conscious effort all the time to attack the football,” Armstrong went on to say. “And in every play, someone should do it, you know? At the end of the day, that ball is our responsibility, as is the urgency, and more importantly, the conscious effort required to get the ball out.”

Tackling appeared later in the season, as injuries increased. The loss of linebacker and second-leading tackler Shemar James (55 tackles in 2023) to a dislocated kneecap during the final four games of the 2023 season didn’t help.

Florida hopes that a more mature roster and the program implemented by new strength coach Tyler Miles will result in a team that is willing to accept contact. Last season, UF’s defense weakened late in games. Florida lost four November games last season, giving up 22 points in the second half and overtime to Arkansas, 35 points in the second half to LSU, 20 points in the second half to Missouri, and 17 points in the second half to Florida State.

“It kind of makes you sick a little bit, the inability to finish those games,” Armstrong told reporters. ” At the end of the day, that is my obligation. And it is our collective responsibility as a staff. I’m excited about the work that we’ve done to assist get it right.”

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