Spring Forward: The Secondary

In spring ball the numbers are never expected to be great. Still, there is shortage of numbers in the defensive backfield for the spring. Only nine total scholarship players in the secondary dot the Florida roster. Still, there is anything but a lack of talent, and we should see that when the 2014 season starts.

The losses at cornerback could be crippling for most programs. The two early season starters from 2013, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, left early for the NFL. Jaylen Watkins started at corner in 2012, but was moved to safety to get the best players on the field. He will be drafted in the first two days of the draft in April. Jeremy Brown didn't see the field but provided leadership as a senior in 2013… he is gone. That leaves a lot to learn in the defensive backfield.

The lone upperclassman at cornerback is junior Bryan Poole. Poole has played well in his time at Florida and is certainly a good player. He has been slotted at the NICKEL for most of his time and he is a physical player at that position. He had 32 tackles a year ago and hauled in two interceptions while also registering two tackles for loss. His experience could very well land him outside out if necessity, but he is best suited at the nickel where he can use his strength and bully the slot receivers and also help put in run support.

Bryan Poole

Poole gets a bad rap for being slow, but he isn't that slow. He does weight 205+ pounds and may not be quite as fast as some, but he can play outside. Having him at NICKEL is such a bonus.

Of course the star of the secondary is sophomore Vernon Hargreaves. The Freshman All-American last year led the team in interceptions and showed just how fearless he was, even as a rookie playing tough man-to-man defense from the start of the season. He led the team in interceptions with three and passes broken up with 11.

That fearless attitude got Hargreaves in trouble a little bit later in the season when some teams decided to use it against him. He will learn from that and know how to back off at times and go hard at other times. Regardless, he could be a preseason All-American candidate at the position in 2014.

Red-shirt freshman Nick Washington was set to play last year when he suffered an injury that made him miss most of the early part of the season before they finally decided to have him sit for the whole year. The fact that he was getting on the field a year ago with this squad loaded in the secondary tells a little bit about what kind of talent the staff thinks he can be.

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Washington is somewhat of a tweener. He can play safety or corner, and like Poole is probably best suited at NICKEL. At 6-foot and 190 pounds he has the size they are looking for to play anywhere in the secondary. He's also a heady player, so he will pick up on things very quickly. He has a chance to jump out in front of some guys if he can really play corner in every type of scenario.

All eyes will be on true freshman Jalen Tabor this spring. The Washington DC native was a last second switch to Florida in January and enrolled early for classes. An Under Armour All-American, The 6-foot-1, 188 pound Tabor is big and physical for the corner position and a true athlete as well.

Tabor has every chance to come on and get that starting spot opposite Hargreaves and he certainly has the ability to do so. The experience isn't there, but like Hargreaves, he comes in with all the swagger and belief in himself to win that spot.

Jalen Tabor

Don't sleep on Duke Dawson. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds he is a barrel chested cornerback that is ultra-physical and isn't afraid to mix it up. Because of the style of play, a lot of people have him headed to safety or nickel, but he will get a shot at the cornerback position as well.

Dawson is another terrific athlete and he often times was inserted on offense in high school when his Dixie County team really needed a big play. He showed elusiveness and power depending on which was needed. The point here is, don't discount his athletic ability just yet.

The safety group again has just one upperclassman. Senior Jabari Gorman comes into spring as a likely starter at one safety spot. He seems to go unnoticed sometimes, but he actually finished sixth on the team last year with 48 tackles and also started five games. He has quite a few big hits in the game, and to this observer, he seems to make a lot of plays when inserted in the game.

His aggressive style led him to two tackles for loss, seven pass break ups, an interception, and a forced fumble in 2013. The former Under Armour All-American has had a quiet career at UF, or so it seems, but this may be his year.

Jabari Gorman

Sophomore Marcus Maye was a starter at the beginning of the year and was burned in the Miami game on a touchdown pass and relegated to the bench for most of the rest of the year. He's actually a heady player and so that was somewhat of a surprise I am sure to the staff. Still, Maye is expected to be big time before he is done at Florida. He's a hard hitter with good size at 6-foot and 208 pounds.

Sophomore Keanu Neal earned his stripes on special teams as a true freshman playing hard on every play, and garnering five tackles on the season. Another hard hitter with good size at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, Neal will play prominently in the rotation at safety and will get a shot at a starting spot. There is talk that he needs to pick it up in the off-season, but we will see how that has affected him next week when Spring practice starts.

Finally feeling 100% after a second surgery to his knee, red-shirt freshman Marcel Harris is a different kind of safety in the mix. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds he has primo size for the position, but his athletic ability is off the chart. Reminiscent athletically of Will Hill, Harris brings the athletic intangibles without the off-the-field baggage. He has yet to play a down for Florida and this spring is a big one to see how he fits in.

The Bottom Line: The Gators have recruited very strong in the secondary. Every single player at corner or safety in the spring appeared in one of the various All-American games after high school. Poole, and Washington played in the Army game. Hargreaves, Tabor, Gorman, Maye, Neal, and Harris all played in the Under Armour game. Dawson played in the Semper Fidelis (Marine) game.

Experience is varied, but certainly less than a year ago. The coaches will have to really press for some young guys to do some work, especially with only two upperclassmen among the nine players this spring.

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