Uptempo offense benefits Florida defense

The Florida defense spent its game weeks scrambling last season. With multiple teams on the schedule going to an uptempo offense, the defense tried to recreate it during practice snaps to help the players understand what they would see on Saturdays. It was difficult to help them understand in one week. Florida's new offense is already helping the defense prepare for games this fall.

The uptempo style of offense has consumed college football in recent years. Defensive coordinators spend time every offseason trying to figure out how to stop it, but they usually get only one week to teach it to their teams. The Gators had one week to prepare for the challenge Missouri provided last fall, and it showed when they tried to have success against it on the field.

"You look at college football as a whole the way it's going and really our conference now, we were probably the last ones to be leaning towards that," D.J. Durkin said on Thursday. "More and more there are teams in our conference that are doing that that we're going to face."

The challenges started in week two of the 2012 season when Florida tried to prepare for Texas A&M. The Aggies were throwing an unknown quarterback named Johnny Manziel on the field to start his first collegiate game with the fast tempo of Kevin Sumlin's offense.

The Gators had one week to prepare, and even though they had success against the Texas A&M offense in the second half, their lack of conditioning was obvious as multiple Florida players dealt with cramps. It wasn't a knock on the offseason program. The Gators simply hadn't seen an offense in practice that wanted to go that fast.

This spring, they're seeing it. First-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has implemented the speed he wants to the offense, and the Gators now sprint to line up on the ball after the previous play ends. It can only help the defense get in better shape for the fall.

"It's been great," Durkin said. "Our offense, they're doing a great job and I really feel like they're preparing us for things we're going to see.

It also puts the Gators in a different situation. This fall, they'll have to reteach the defense what it looks like to face a traditional two-back offense that doesn't use tempo when they face a team that runs that style of offense. However, it'll be a lot easier on the defense's preparation to slow down than play up to the speed they're facing this spring.

"Now it's going to be the flip side," Durkin said. "We're going to have to formulate how we're going to practice against some two-back teams and power running games because we're still going to face that too. You've got those handful of games every year where you've still got to face that."

SECOND CORNERBACK: There's not much of a doubt that, barring injury, Vernon Hargreaves will be a starting cornerback for the Gators this fall. The questions come on the other side of the field. After losing defensive backs Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins following last season, Florida is spending this spring trying to find out who will start at the other cornerback position.

Brian Poole returns after getting reps at nickel last season, but freshmen Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor are also standing out this spring.

Tabor stands tall with long arms and has the prototypical body for what the Florida coaching staff wants at the position. He has a different body than Hargreaves, but he'll likely be on the field just as much this fall.

"Jalen is doing a great job as a freshman; he's going to play and help us," Durkin said. "I'm really excited about him. He's a guy we feel really good about, we can go out and play with right now and win games."

Dawson is also turning heads. He doesn't have Tabor's height, but he makes up for it with his thickness and strength. The decision on the other cornerback won't be made until the fall, but spring practices give the coaches an indication of who can handle the position. And if the first half of the spring is any indication, the freshmen are ready.

"Jalen and Duke Dawson, man, we're thrilled about them," Durkin said. "They don't look like freshmen out there right now. They look like older guys."

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