Watkins experienced in secondary

Jaylen Watkins is heading into his third year in Will Muschamp's defense and knows all the positions in the secondary. It's that flexibility that could force him to move from cornerback to safety in the fall. The Gators return three experienced cornerbacks, and after losing two safeties, Watkins is the logical choice to move to safety, adding another experienced player to the group.

The loss of Matt Elam and Josh Evans has changed the plans in the secondary for Florida. With those two experienced players starting at safety last season, the Gators could keep their three-man cornerback rotation of Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins on the perimeter. All three of those cornerbacks return this season, causing the Gators to get creative in the secondary.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp said during the final week of spring practice that Watkins will likely start fall camp at safety. The Gators have added depth in the secondary with sophomore Brian Poole starting at the nickel and five-star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves coming to campus this summer.

The move to safety isn't much of a challenge for Watkins, who has played the position earlier in his career.

"I'm comfortable just because I'm going into my third year in the defense," Watkins said. "I'm just comfortable in general. Watching Matt (Elam) and Josh (Evans), I know pretty much every call. I've been in LSU games, South Carolina games and other big games."

His move to safety also gives the Gators a vocal presence that knows the defense. He's a senior that has learned the entire responsibilities in the secondary. The safety position is one that Muschamp and the defensive staff put a lot of emphasis on. They want a vocal player that can communicate the calls and checks through the rest of the defense.

Elam and Evans learned to do that last season. Watkins is learning to do it now.

"Whenever I'm at corner, I try to give them the leeway to make their calls because you don't want to step on any toes," Watkins said. "If they're struggling, I'll give them the calls. When I'm at safety, I try to take control. I remember our first year in this defense, and (the other safeties are) light years ahead of that."

The secondary took over the Orange and Blue Debut on Saturday and shut down the Florida passing game. All through spring, players and coaches raved about the improvements in the passing game during the second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

That didn't surprise Watkins. The secondary wanted to take over the big stage and make a statement that they're still an elite unit with Elam and Evans gone.

"That's our goal -- every game, every practice," Watkins said. "We defend the deep ball. I feel like we do that better than anybody in the country. Coming out here today, that was the main goal. We thought we got that accomplished. We knew there would be some double moves to get the crowd pumped. We didn't let it happen.

"We don't really have a problem with a lot of teams. That's a compliment to our offense. They get to go against us every day. We have their number, and they have our number on some plays."

One of the few players that have given the secondary issues is freshman wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. He made an impressive catch during the one-on-one portion of open practice, going over Purifoy to bring in a ball that was underthrown. It wasn't the first time he made an impressive play.

Robinson injured his ankle in the fourth practice of the spring and was held out of eight practices, but when he was in there, he caught Watkins' eye.

"Instead of backing down, he took on the challenge of going in the training room and getting better," Watkins said. "He pushed it out there when it was hurting.

"I've seen him getting better every day. We play press technique, and when a lot of guys come in, they can't get off it. He was one of those. By the third day, you could see him making those strides to beat it. He's really smart."


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