Practice observations: Defense

The Florida defense remains ahead of the offense early in spring practices, and it showed in a big way on Friday. Some familiar faces led the Gators on the defensive side of the ball in their second spring practice, but it was a freshman cornerback that stole the show.

Jalen Tabor's late flip from Arizona to Florida turned into a gem for the Gators. If the early indications of spring practice are a predictor of the fall, the freshman will be heavily involved with the defense in 2014.

Tabor has the length to hang with taller receivers and the speed to keep up down the field. He showcased that during one-on-ones on Friday, staying with Florida's best receiver Quinton Dunbar down the field stride for stride before elevating at the last minute and swatting the ball away.

The play caused an eruption from Florida defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson and veteran defensive backs on the sideline. You can tell the other players respect the freshman and his work ethic.

He was covering Demarcus Robinson on a play during 11-on-11 work and didn't fall for a fake to the outside, staying in his hip pocket as Robinson cut to the middle of the field. Tabor jumped the route and almost came away with an interception.

You don't need me to tell you that Vernon Hargreaves is really good. That hasn't changed in the offseason. Freshman Duke Dawson also took some first team reps at cornerback, splitting them early in the practice with Tabor.

Nick Washington officially got a medical redshirt from the NCAA earlier this week, and the redshirt freshman moved all over the field on Friday. It's safe to say he will see the field a lot more this season. He played more safety on Friday since Keanu Neal was out after tweaking his hamstring on Wednesday.

The first team secondary included Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye at safety with Vernon Hargreaves and Tabor at cornerback and Brian Poole playing the nickel. Poole can play outside, but the early practices make it seem like the coaches would like to keep him at nickel for as long as possible to utilize his physicality.

Without much hitting on Friday as the Gators still don't have pads on, it's hard to judge the standouts at linebacker. Most of their work came in pass coverage from the nickel formation with only two linebackers on the field. Florida opened practice in nickel, and the two first team linebackers were Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison.

Daniel McMillian and Michael Taylor were the two second team linebackers in the nickel. Taylor looks a little slimmer than he did last season, and that weight loss seemed to benefit him some in pass coverage, an area he has really struggled in recent years. Taylor made a nice pass breakup of a Skyler Mornhinweg pass at the line of scrimmage.

The Florida defensive line opened practice Dante Fowler moving all around the defense. He had his hand in the dirt sometimes while standing up as a rusher off the edge during others. Bryan Cox split starter reps with Jonathan Bullard later in the practice.

Fowler looks like he's in unbelievable shape and taking his role seriously.

It blows my mind to figure out how Alex McAlister is still as skinny he is with a long, 6-6 frame. I stood right next to him on Wednesday and was surprised by it, but seeing him on the field next to thicker defensive ends makes it really obvious.

The surprise came on the inside. Leon Orr is out for the spring, giving some of the younger players a chance to take reps. The productivity was tough to see because pads weren't on and contact was limited, but practice opened with Jay-nard Bostwick and Joey Ivie on the field as the first team defensive tackles. The groups changed plenty throughout practice, but those two were the starters early in practice.

Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles were the victims of a long, loud tirade from Florida coach Will Muschamp after they both jumped offsides before a snap. We'll see more about their production when the pads go on, but the young defensive tackles look ready to make an impact on the interior with their increased reps this spring.

Fightin Gators Top Stories