Secondary Thriving Under Pressure

Will Muschamp didn't waste time putting intentional pressure on the Florida secondary. If they mess up, it most likely means a touchdown for the opponent. That's the message he has preached since his first day of spring practice at Florida, and it hasn't stopped in fall camp. Jaylen Watkins has seen the group mature under that pressure.

The pressure might get the best of some, but Watkins thinks they have responded well. If anything, they've thrived under it. It's the pressure of playing secondary that doesn't come with playing linebacker or defensive line for the defense.

"(Muschamp) just tells us that if we mess up, it's a touchdown," Jaylen Watkins said. "If the d-line messes up, we can cover them. We have no one to cover us, though. We have to be right on point.

"You have to be smarter on the back end."

In order for the defense to play at a high level, the communication has to improve. Muschamp has singled out the communication, especially in the Florida secondary, in recent weeks as the part where it needs to improve the most.

Without much returning experience, that's understandable. Matt Elam is emerging as the leader of the group, and he is becoming more vocal as fall practices continue.

"We're pretty young on the back end, but it's coming along pretty good," Watkins said. "In the past few days, we've had great communication and great adjustments. The more we get the defense, the more vocal we get. All of us are staring to get it, so that's when we talk more."

The defense this year is fitting together as a group. Muschamp has pounded into the players' minds that they need to understand what the defense as a whole is trying to do on each play, not just the individual player's position.

That's especially true for the secondary. Watkins has split time between cornerback and safety, but it's that safety position where the most vocal players need to be. They're trusted with the calls on defense, as they can see the entire defense in front of them.

"This year, we all have to be in synch for it to work," Watkins said. "If a defensive lineman messes up, it can effect the secondary. We all have to be one and know the same calls. The communication is just big in this defense."

It has also helped to learn under someone like secondary coach Travaris Robinson. He played in the defense under Muschamp at Auburn, making the players more comfortable talking to him about the defense.

"When you've got a guy who played in the defense, he knows the little kinks in it and where spots might be weak," Watkins said. "It's good to have someone who has played in it and can relate to you."

Watkins hasn't been the only player splitting time between corner and safety. Pop Saunders did it before being cemented in at safety in recent practices. The freshman's ability immediately caught Watkins' eye.

"He looks pretty natural," Watkins said of Saunders at safety. "Pop is a good tackler. If you can tackle, you can play corner or safety. He has taken on the safety role, while also playing the nickel and cornerback. That's three positions, and it takes a lot to do that."

Fightin Gators Top Stories