Spring Preview: The Safeties

The Florida secondary improved dramatically as the season wore on in 2011. A very young and inexperienced group adjusted, matured, and learned over time to become a pretty strong unit. The play at safety was probably pretty good throughout but also saw some improvement and a few guys step up as the season progressed. The good news is everyone returns from that improving squad.

Secondary coach Travaris Robinson has to be feeling much better about his troops going into this spring as compared to the last one. He has all his starters back after having to replace all of them in his first year on the job in Gainesville. His group at safety should be pretty good as we move through spring practice that starts on Wednesday.

Florida likes to play an even secondary where either safety could play the strong or free safety but it didn't seem to work out that way a lot last season. For the most part, Matt Elam played the strong safety spot, which allowed him to play up in the box. Josh Evans was the main starter at free safety which allowed him to play in the middle of the field and deep. Then, Pop Saunders emerged as a nickel and really helped make the secondary a team strength.


Elam is an All-American candidate.

Matt Elam (JR, 5-10, 206) He has played in all 26 games of his career. He has 100 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles. By the end of the season he was arguably the best player on a top ten defense that was pretty tough to throw on.

Elam is a pure tackler and loves playing where all of the action goes down. He always seems to be in on tackles near the line of scrimmage and brings a hammer when he makes contact with the ball carrier.

Elam is usually the quiet type but knows in his junior year he will be asked to help lead this defense and even the team as a whole. He will need to raise his voice to his teammates and that is something he really needs to work on this spring and summer.

Valdez Showers (R-FR, 5-11, 198) did not play as a freshman. A quick move from cornerback before the season even started meant Showers wasn't going to see the field. He has very good size and athleticism and will probably be bigger than his reported weight. He should get a lot of reps as he appears to be Elam's main back up this spring.


Saunders gets to the ball.

Pop Saunders (SO, 5-8, 195) had 26 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. Small in stature, Saunders is a real play maker with a serious aggressive nature to his play. In high school he was a ball hawk and always made plays on the ball. He hasn't strayed far away from that early on in his college career.

Saunders has to play a little smarter overall, but we saw his improvement dramatically as the season progressed in his freshman year. His aggressive style also makes him a prime candidate to back up Elam at the strong safety spot when he isn't playing nickel.


Evans has all the tools.
Josh Evans (SR, 6-1, 204) He has played in 34 games with 11 starts and has 71 tackles and two interceptions in three years. In his first year as the reported starter, Evans had a bumpy road before finishing strong like others in the secondary. Blessed with great size and tremendous speed, Evans can also hit, but needs to be that guy that cleans up the back end when necessary.

Early on he was solid before hitting a stretch that left something to be desired and also included an injury that kept him out of a few games and left him less than 100% when on the field at times. By the end of the year he was playing very well and seemed to be that guy the Gators needed.

It is his last hurrah and Evans should be ready to be that guy in the back end to make plays. This spring is a great time to show it.

Jabari Gorman (SO, 5-8, 195) he had eight tackles and played in 12 games, mostly on special teams. Even without superior tackle numbers, he was a star to the staff on special teams. As a free safety he doesn't need to be big, but he does have to cover a lot of ground, play smart and instinctual, and be able to tackle when he gets there.

This spring should go a long way in defining Gorman as a player on the Gator roster.

That is it for the spring roster. Five isn't a great number, but it is a solid enough number for the spring and there is enough work to do with the backups to make it an important spring moving forward.

In June a pair of dynamite safeties will show up on campus with Rhaheim Ledbetter (FR, 6-0, 200) the hard hitting play in the box type and Marcus Maye (FR, 6-1, 195) more of the cerebral, athletic free safety type. Size is something this staff is aiming for and these two certainly will bring that in the fall.

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