Watkins could play everywhere

One of the main themes we are finding with this 2013 squad of Florida Gators is that quite a few of them are going to be asked to play more than one position. A player makes himself more valuable to the team when he can play multiple spots and if that is the case, defensive back Jaylen Watkins' stock has to be soaring.

Jaylen Watkins played corner in the spring after spending his first four years playing all over the secondary. When fall practice started, he was thrust into a starting role at safety, only to be moved back to cornerback a week or two into camp.

The emergence of other players playing well at safety has allowed Watkins to ease back to the position he is most comfortable with and suited for. At the same time, the defensive staff knows he is a guy they can call on to play any spot in the secondary if they want.

With all of this moving around, Watkins has decided what he needs to concentrate on to make this season a good one is to help the guys that are younger than him find their way in the secondary.

"Becoming a leader for the young guys," Watkins answered when asked what he could improve on. "We have a lot of young guys who haven't seen the field. They don't know what to expect, but I kind of take them under my wing and guide them through the offseason and through camp even though I was injured.

After that, Watkins is just trying to improve the finer points of his game.

"Personally, I'm just focusing on the small things I didn't do well last year," he said. "Eye control, finishing plays down the field, tackling."

The Gators open their season Saturday against Toledo in The Swamp and the secondary looks to be another good one for Florida in 2013. Freshman Marcus Maye and junior Cody Riggs both stepped up this fall and took the safety spots allowing for more freedom in the secondary for other guys including Watkins. With a gun slinging offense like Toledo coming to town, Watkins knows he has to be prepared to jump in anywhere.

"Marcus and Cody did a great job," he said of Florida's newest starting safeties. "That's what we're looking for on defense… two guys that go back in and do a good job. I'll probably, in Toledo, be playing corner. Just wherever the coaches need me or a guy does down in the secondary, nickel. I know it all. I'll fill that void of anybody going down or anything."

Watkins could even substitute at nickel, but for now the position will be manned by sophomore bran Poole and freshman Vernon Hargreaves.

"We've been (practicing) the young guys at nickel just because I already know it," he said. "So I've been kind of helping out with them instead of getting reps. I had a lot of reps last year, pretty familiar with that and the safety position. If it came down to that, we could do that possibly. I think it would be pretty good.

Watkins had couple of Florida's best ever help him along when he first got to school in Gainesville. Janoris Jenkins is going into his second year starting for the St. Louis Rams and was an All-American at Florida in his time here. Mat6t Elam was a first round draft pick after the 2012 season.

"My freshman year, before the games I roomed with Janoris, so just watching him prepare for the game kind of gave me a head start of what I should be doing," Watkins said. "Then the following year, Matt Elam was my roommate, so just watching him prepare for games, it kind of just motivates you and it kind of just transitions to these guys watching me and talking to me in the meeting rooms."

Watkins says that Hargreaves is a different breed.

"His knowledge of the game is pretty up there for being a freshman," Watkins said of the Hargreaves who was considered the top corner in the country coming out of high school. "He's pretty much grasped the entire defense, and he's embracing all the roles the coaches are giving him and he's in his playbook trying to get better every day."

Florida also has a junior that is expected to have a big season. Loucheiz Purifoy will play a little on offense, but should be a star on defense and special teams this year. Watkins says that Purifoy has upped his game quite a bit.

"He's going harder than he did before," Watkins said of Purifoy. "I thought that wasn't possible, but he still does. He's just trying to bring his game up to another level by finishing plays down the field.

Purifoy has been on a lot of preseason all-star lists for various things. Watkins says that the junior from Pensacola has been taking all the attention in stride.

"He's embracing it and trying to get better," Watkins said. "He knows the spotlight is going to be on him and he's always working on his technique knowing everybody is going to be watching him so he can try to get better and show he is worthy of this."

With a new season here, the Gators are looking to forget about a poorly played game at the Sugar Bowl vs. Louisville to end the 2012 season. The secondary was torched really for the first time all season and the group wants to atone for itself.

"It was disappointing just because we had a great year and left a sour taste in our mouth," Watkins said. "We had to play through whole spring and going through the whole camp remembering that's the last show we had in front of everybody. As a secondary we didn't play our best too, so it's definitely motivation to go out and pick up where we started before the Louisville game and get this thing going again."


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