Safety battle building depth

Jabari Gorman and Cody Riggs were on top of the depth chart at safety to start spring practice, but the goal was to build depth and add bodies capable of playing safety during the fall. An injury to Riggs gave extra reps to younger players, and while the Gators wait for three freshmen safeties to get to campus in the summer, this spring gave an opportunity for the returning players to win the job.

"It's starting to take more shape," Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "It's probably consistent with most spring balls (in the past). The guys that have more experience are playing well, picking things up pretty good and we feel good about where they are.

"The guys that haven't -- some of the younger guys -- they're making strides. There's still a ways to go."

The hole left from last year's combo at safety is tough to ignore. Josh Evans and Matt Elam, both two-year starters at the safety position before leaving, went out with a strong season. Evans will be taken in this month's NFL Draft while Elam is expected to be a first-round pick.

Evans led the Gators with 83 tackles in 2012, adding 4.5 tackles for a loss, three interceptions, three pass breakups and one quarterback hurry. His play on the back end of the Florida secondary allowed Elam to creep up and play near the line of scrimmage.

That's where Elam excelled.

He was second on the team with 11 tackles for a loss last season. Elam also totaled two sacks, four interceptions, five pass breakups and a forced fumble. His presence from last year's defense will be tough to replace -- and the returning safeties know it.

"That's kind of like the feeling you get -- everybody want to kind of want to replace him," said redshirt sophomore safety Valdez Showers. "At the end of the day, he was one of a kind. You've just got to play your role, you've got to do what you can, not try to be everybody else. Play to the best of your abilities."

The open spots are serving as motivation for the players on campus this spring. They sat on the bench and watched the impact Elam and Evans had on the Florida defense last season. The Florida defense puts plenty of emphasis on production and communication from the safeties, and they're trying to live up to that expectation so far.

"It's a big motivation," redshirt freshman safety Marcus Maye said. "You just work hard every day and try to get better. That's what we're doing."

Jabari Gorman has stayed at the top of the depth chart throughout spring and made multiple plays in the two open practices at the beginning of spring. Listed at 5-10, 186 pounds, Gorman doesn't have ideal size to play safety, but he has a knack for being around the ball.

He showed it during the first open practice of the spring. Gorman jumped a short throw by quarterback Jeff Driskel and returned the interception for a touchdown. Later in the 11-on-11 portion of practice, Gorman was downfield, snagging a jump ball out of the air for his second interception of the day.

The size isn't important. Gorman still finds ways to get involved.

"Physicality. That's one thing I hadn't realized looking at Matt Elam -- undersized safety and being very physical," Gorman said. "Being physical is one part of the game that separates you from other guys.

"The main goal is to win the job, to be the leader of the secondary. That's all I'm looking for right now."

The current safeties claim it isn't on their minds right now, but looming in the future is three high school All-American safeties coming to campus this summer. Marcell Harris, Keanu Neal and Nick Washington are viewed as immediate impact players by the Florida coaching staff.

The Gators were able to build depth at the safety position this spring, but there aren't two safeties that have emerged to secure the starting jobs in the fall. That means the three freshmen will be given the opportunity at the jobs when they show up for summer workouts.

"We're here now, so we just are pushing now," Maye said. "We're worrying about what's here at the table now. We're competing with each other. When those guys get here in the summer, it's just going to be more competition. We're just competing now, trying to get a heads up and a head start on everything.

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