Familiarity Breeds Success For Watkins

When fans and media were allowed to watch a couple of Florida Gator football practices last week, they were treated to a few welcome sites. One of those was the play of junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins. Watkins has settled in now at the position after jumping back and forth a year ago between safety, corner, and nickel, and seems to be coming into his own.

Jaylen Watkins would be happy wherever they put him on the field at Florida, he just wants to play. A player that stands 6-0 and 190 pounds, he is an ideal fit at cornerback or safety with his size. He has a good football awareness and is intelligent, which makes him a great candidate to play different positions and be an asset to the team by being able to sub anywhere.

However, as we saw the Florida season progress a year ago, Watkins came out of his shell as a player when he was able to concentrate on just playing cornerback and he finished the season strong. Right now he is just playing the cornerback position and things have happened like last weekend when fans and media watched him pick off two passes in practice.

"Just cornerback," Watkins answered when asked how many positions he is playing in practice right now. "I feel like I can handle both, but right now this is where the coaches feel like I am best at."

He likes both, but life is easier when he only has to learn one position.

"You don't have to focus on one thing so you can narrow everything down and focus on corner," he said. "I am pretty agile at both. Obviously at safety you have to tackle more and that is probably the only difference."

The moving back and forth may have been an issue last year. Near the end of the season he settled at cornerback and he looked to be a lot better player.

"My low point was probably the Georgia game," he said. "I could have made a few better plays to get us in better situations in the game and I didn't. Toward the end of the year I thought I started to pick it up with more experience and games under my belt. Maybe the Florida State game, around that time I was doing pretty good as far as tackling and playing smarter."

This year, spring has been a bit more fun than last year when he was trying to soak in so much under a new coaching staff and learning different positions. He is also getting rewarded when he plays well.

"More fun because of instead of thinking I am just reacting," he said. "I get a shirt for interceptions."

The Florida staff has a reward system based on big plays in practice and one of the rewards is a shirt marking a big play in practice. Watkins has earned his fair share in practice already. He said the shirts are a motivation, but more so, it is just knowing that they can be better and learning how to be better.

"During practice we get shirts… a little prize to make you get a turnover," he said. It's also the style of defense we want to play. We watched film from last year and it was disappointing seeing the ball hit us in the hand and dropping it."

Watkins learned from a year ago and has been working since the last tick on the clock of the Gator Bowl win to make himself better.

"I need to get more physical and I need to try and create turnovers, those were the two things that I didn't do last year," he said. "At times I wasn't physical and other times I was right there and just didn't make the play. That is all I focused on and is what is working well for me (now)."

Turnovers have been the big thing the staff has preached to the defense this offseason. Florida gained only 14 turnovers last year despite the overall good play of the defense. That was good for 112th in the country and just not good enough for what head coach Will Muschamp and the defensive staff want from their group.

Watkins is working hard to make sure the staff knows he is in line with that thinking.

"You have to go out and create turnovers," he said. "That is what I am trying to do is create turnovers and separate myself. That is why I am being physical, but the other guys are doing the same thing too and it is real competitive. I like it like that because every day you have to come out and do your thing."

Travaris Robinson has come in and made a big impact on the secondary in year one of the Muschamp regime. Muschamp wants his guys to do it all and learning press and bump and run has made both techniques better for Watkins.

"Before Coach Robinson came we were a press team and not bump and run," Watkins said. "Now that he is here he is teaching us to bump and run. I like it because now even my press technique has increased much more than it was."

Senior safety Josh Evans has seen Watkins grow from the start of last season and knows what an asset Watkins is to this defense.

"He's doing a great job," Evans said. "From seeing him last year and developing as a veteran coming into this year as far as his press technique in man coverage. That is one thing as a safety it helps us… whenever you have a shutdown corner, it helps the safety cover the field."

And it all starts with familiarity for Watkins. He is playing just one position in a defense that he knows a lot better than a year ago. Things are going pretty good at this point.

"I think with a new defense you are going to be a step slow," Watkins said. "Going into this spring everything is second hand now. We don't even have to put in a new install, it is our defense now. Everything is much faster. Now we are in the spots where we can intercept the ball.

And when everyone is on the same page, it allows them to go after that elusive turnover. Watkins says you can really see it in the film of practice where the guys are absolutely looking for the ball.

"We have emphasized it as far as getting strips on the ball," he said. "When you watch film all you see is guys trying to rip the ball out. That was our biggest problem last year." Watkins on Purifoy and Taylor When the spring started a surprise was listed at the top of the depth chart at corner. Sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy had a great offseason and pushed himself right to the top. That has changed a little, but Watkins says Purifoy and sophomore linebacker Michael Taylor have made noise on defense this spring.

"Loucheiz Purifoy has really improved from day one when I met him," Watkins said. "He's starting to understand the defense, he is making plays on the ball, and he is real physical. Michael Taylor is doing a good job at MIKE linebacker. He is striking people like they want him to."

Fightin Gators Top Stories