Have you ever been charged by a bear? Of course you haven't, because if you had, you'd be dead. A better question might be: have you ever watched a video of a bear charging someone? It's legitimately one of the most terrifying things I've ever watched.
Do you know how much a bear weighs? Grizzly bears weigh upward of 700 pounds (315 kilograms). The males are heavier than the females and can weigh up to 1,700 pounds. A large female will weigh up to 800 pounds. Black bear males can go up to 500 pounds, though the biggest ever was 816 pounds -- in Minnesota, of course. Female black bears are anywhere from 90 to 300 pounds.
Ok now that those numbers are in your head, do you know what "charging" is? For those of you that don't, when bears feel threatened, most of the time dealing with protecting food or cubs, they will do something called "charge". It's pretty self-explanatory, really. First, what they'll do is run fast, then really fast, then so fast you think to yourself "there's no way that creature is moving that fast". The result will go one of two ways: either the bear will just be false charging you (or bluffing) and will turn away at the last second just to flex and scare you, or they will actually come at you and likely end your life.
A bear can run 50 yards in 3 seconds, or up to 40 mph. That's faster than a race horse in short distances, and faster than any human, uphill or downhill. And that's all while carrying nearly one ton of weight on their body. Oh, and for reference, Tyreek Hill ran the fastest recorded speed of any player in the NFL last year and ran 22.77 mph. So if you're thinking about trying to out run a bear: don't.
Bears may be cute on television, in cartoons and as stuffed animals, but the reality of it is these are massive, imposing creatures who have an untapped amount of potential for power and violence within them. They are one of the strongest animals you'll come across, but they don't always show it. Sometimes it is hidden strength and speed. Most of the time they move slow -- slow to get up, slow to lie down, slow to walk and even what they would call a playful run -- but when when they flip that switch, you're in awe.
It makes sense that Florida Gators defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga has the nickname "bear".
If you look at Zuniga now, you'll see a 6-foot-4, 260-pound young man who, over the last five years at Florida, has fully filled out that big frame of his to handle all kinds of muscle and power. At times, it looks like Zuniga is towering over offensive players, even certain linemen. But this isn't something new to him. In a story told by Scott Carter of GatorZone, Zuniga's mother recalls times in elementary school when his teachers would call his mother in to explain that Jabari was playing too rough with others on the playground.
That's how he got the nickname bear, and why it fits him on the field, too.
Zuniga was just a 3-star recruiting coming out of Marietta, Georgia back in 2013. He redshirted his first year in the Gators program, likely for the benefit of his body under the scheduling of a DI weightlifting program. The following year Zuniga may have still been raw in his football technique, but his strength and speed were ready for Saturdays. He appeared in all 13 games in his redshirt freshman season and even started three of them. The following year, though banged up a bit through some injuries, Zuniga still played in 10 games with six starts. And in 2018, his first year under head coach Dan Mullen, Zuniga played in and started all 13 games.
In Zuniga's first season he finished with 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. The following year he added another eight TFLs with four sacks. And in 2018 he finished with career highs in both, 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
So what's the next step for Zuniga? Well, we don't exactly know -- and I mean that in a good way.
"He easily, when you go back and look, could’ve had a double-digit sack season," Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. I certainly think that’s in his realm, to be able to do that... He has explosive power and initial quickness, but he can be a little bit more explosive."
Could a double-digit sack season really be on the horizon for this draft-eligible bear? Let's take a look.
Play No. 1: Bear Strength
There are a few instances in the play above that signal strength from Zuniga. I understand that the offensive lineman he is engaged with gets hit in the back of the knee and that is what causes him to fall over the way he does, but the force at which he was thrown off still shows you just how strong Zuniga was in engaging him. The second is that once Zuniga was free of the block, look at how powerfully he leapt right at the ball carrier. That was seamless strength being displayed in both the upper and lower body that were eye opening to me.
Zungia showed his strength again in the play above.
At the snap, Zuniga immediately threw off the hands of the offensive lineman closes to him. To me, that tells me that if you're not willing to devote a whole block to Zuniga, you better be prepared to handle what comes next.
What came next was Zuniga getting a full head of steam and running the blocking back straight over. That ball had to get out quick, because if it didn't, Zuniga would've tackled both the running back and the quarertback.
There is a lot of natural power in Zuniga's body from top to bottom. He is built very well, and can channel that functional strength on a regular basis -- when he knows how to.
Play No. 2: Bear Burst
I'm just going to give opposing teams some friendly advice right now: Don't leave Jabari Zuniga unblocked.
There, that one was free -- the next one will cost you.
Though unblocked, Zuniga showed what kind of burst he has. This is an element of converting that power we talked about in the previous section into speed. Zuniga can get up and out of his stance with such force that he's nearly at his top speed by step number three. This is something that could show up big time in something like the 10-yard split at the Combine.
A powerful burst and first step is what gives us the potential to see plays like the one above -- plays that warrant first round consideration. When Zuniga gets out of his stance at an appropriate time after the snap (we'll get to why that isn't always the case and is sort of a problem) he can really be a force off the edge. That clip above looks like something you'd see from someone who is around 240-245 pounds, and yet Zuniga showed that kind of burst and bend and lower body power at 260.
Play No. 3: Bear Hands
When asked about it this offseason, the area in which Zuniga himself, as well as his coaches, mentioned as the area in which he has to improve the most is with technique and with finishing plays. I think that if one comes, the other will follow.
Zuniga has strong and fast hands, he just doesn't always place them in the right areas. When he does, you can get plays like the one above where he's engaged and then disengaged with his blocker in a matter of one second. This allows him to penetrate the backfield, which of course, then lends to plays being made in the backfield.
Zuniga has the potential to have great hand usage, but he hasn't mastered it yet. He's still a bit reckless there, and hasn't been able to expand his pass rush moves because of it -- right now it's either a rip or a swim. He shows tools in that area, but it's one to watch him develop in his final season.
Play No. 4: Bear Stance
The component in Zuniga's game that I noticed that is holding him back the most is his consistency when getting off the ball.
Watch the play above closely. See how Zuniga was by far the last one on the line out of his stance? That happens too often, especially for a player who has as good a first step as he does.
In this play, Zuniga got a much better jump on the snap and look what happened: pressure in the backfield.
Now, I know that the down and distance situations were a little different, as it was 2nd-and-11 in the first clip and 3rd-and-9 in the second. But even so there are a handful of plays every game, like the one above, where even in certain potential rush situations Zuniga is very late of of his stance.
This is different than not seeing a guy's elite first step consistently. Zuniga's highs and his ability to show first step explosiveness are way too good for us to be seeing plays like the first one in this section, and yet they happen with regularity. That is by far the most frustrating part of his game, mainly because the surrounding parts are pretty dang good.
Play No. 5: Bear Charge
When a grizzly bear charges, it comes up on you quick. One second you think you might be in the clear, heck, you might even think you can out run it, and then, before you know it, they're on you. It's overwhelming.
That's Jabari Zuniga.
These two plays in this section are not the same exact play, but they're from the same goal line stand.
From stance to burst to bend to ball. All before the line of scrimmage. That's what Zuniga is capable of.
Bears are some of them most athletic creatures in nature (weight adjusted, of course), but you don't always get to see that. They move slow on a regular basis. They're slow to get up and to move around and because of this they're easy for us to observe and live with most of the time. But if you disturb them, if you get them focused, if you give them a reason to show what they can do.
They will -- Jabari will.
And it won't be good for their target.