SAFETY:There isn't much of a doubt about the starters here. It would be an upset if anyone other than Matt Elam and Josh Evans were the two starters listed on the depth chart at safety. The two upperclassmen proved valuable in 2011 as they learned how to be the vocal leaders and make calls in the secondary.
"Those guys have got a lot of turns back there," Dan Quinn said. ‘The communication has been good on the back end. I'm pleased with that."
Elam and Evans anchor the safety positionThe coaching staff also moved Cody Riggs to safety at times in practice to get more reps this the offseason. He'll split time between cornerback and safety this fall and gives the secondary another veteran that knows the defense.
He would spend one full day at cornerback. The next day at practice, he would switch to safety. Other times, he would line up at the nickel. The offseason for Riggs was focused on learning every spot in the secondary.
"We felt like at corner he was comfortable and knew the stuff," Quinn said. "We wanted to put another layer on him with safety.
The returning depth at safety allowed the Gators to give some extra reps to younger players they're trying to develop. With Evans graduating after the year and Elam a possibility to head to the NFL, the progress of Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers is important. They might not see time on the field in clutch situations this year unless someone gets hurt, but both players are important parts to the future.
"They've gotten a lot of turns," Quinn said. "I'm pleased with the group."
CORNERBACK:Quinn went through five names competing for the two starting cornerback positions—Brian Poole, Loucheiz Purifoy, Riggs, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins.
Roberson is a team leaderRoberson started as a freshman last season, but he didn't play in the final three games because of a neck injury. That added Purifoy to the position where Riggs and Watkins were already seeing plenty of time. The extra time on the field helping Purifoy, and with Roberson back and a high school All-American in Poole, there's depth at the position.
"All of those guys have had good work," Quinn said. "It's good to see them taking the stuff we talked about, getting the corrections and going. I'm pleased with the amount of balls they've got their hands on—whether it's one-on-one for a pass breakup, which has been a big emphasis for our group."
The starters that are named might not be that important at the beginning of the year. Quinn said that the early tape they watched on Bowling Green and first-year Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin's offense at Houston showed two offenses that like to spread the field out and throw the ball.
If that holds in the early matchups this fall, the Gators will be playing a lot of their nickel package early in the season.
That could benefit Poole. The freshman also got some reps at safety in the fall, but Quinn only mentioned him as a cornerback on Thursday. He has practiced as the nickel and spent time outside at corner. His physicality is what could help him stick as the nickel if the Gators need him.
"That's the first thing I think of him," Quinn said of Poole's strength. "He's got really long arms and is strong. He's strong at the line of scrimmage. When you're playing press or bump, he can really get his hands on and lock down."
The main work with Poole has come when he is played as the cornerback on the outside. He isn't always playing close to the line of scrimmage in that setting and can't always use his physicality to his benefit.
"Off the ball is the area we'll continue to work with," Quinn said. "With a lot of DBs, it's about where you put your eyes. When you play outside, there's not as many calls. It's all about your eyes and knowing where the split is with the receiver. That's the next phase with Brian."