Necessary Improvements: Secondary Growth

This is the first of a five part series on the things that Florida football needs the most work on before the 2014 season. We will work toward the area of most need and the fifth biggest improvement needs to come from the secondary. The Gators under Will Muschamp and defensive back assistant Travaris Robinson have always had talent in the backfield, now youth is an issue they must conquer.

The Gators may have more high school All-American talent in the secondary than any team in the country. Under Armour All-Americans include Jabari Gorman, Brian Poole, Marcus Maye, Vernon Hargreaves, Keanu Neal, Marcell Harris, Jalen Tabor, J.C. Jackson, and Quincy Wilson. Nick Washington was an Army All-American and Duke Dawson also a Semper Fi All-American. There is no denying the talent in the secondary.

But, the experience factor is a scary thought for a coaching staff that likes to play a little on the edge on defense and play a lot of man coverage. This is why the secondary will have to grow and grow fast, even without coaching in the off-season.


Hargreaves

The success of the secondary will start with the play of sophomore Hargreaves. Hargreaves finished as a freshman All-American in 2013, led the Gators in interceptions (3) and pass breakups (11). By mid-season teams weren't throwing to him and the staff got comfortable. A couple of pass happy teams at the end of the season did test him with success, but Hargreaves is the heart and should of the secondary at Florida and will be leaned on in his second year of college.

The next most experienced player would be junior Brian Poole as a NICKEL. The Gators played in NICKEL personnel about 80% of the time in 2013 and that number looks to increase in 2014. Poole finished second on the team with two interceptions, had three pass break ups and a quarterback hurry to go along with two tackles for loss on the season. Pool started six games, but played in 11 on the year. He is a guy that could get moved outside if the new players at cornerback don't stack up to what they expect out of them.


Poole

Senior Jabari Gorman started five games a year ago and was able to finish sixth on the team in tackles (48). Gorman is an active player and appears around the ball a lot, but he got 80% of his playing time on defense in his first three years during his junior year. The senior will have to help replace starting safeties Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins.

The other leading candidate at safety heading into the fall is Maye. The junior was the starter last season before giving up a big play at Miami and losing that position. His first two games were his only starts after red-shirting as a freshman. He had just 16 tackles and one interception on the year, but the sophomore enters 2014 as the second most experienced safety on the roster. He is very capable of playing at an elite level and will work hard to fend off other talented newcomers.

The only other player in the secondary with even minimal time on the field on defense is sophomore Keanu Neal. He had a total of five tackles a year ago and all came on special teams. Neal also missed a ton of spring practice after injuring his leg on the first day of drills, but he came on very strong at the end of spring and will push hard for a starting spot at the two safety positions.

Red-shirt freshmen safeties Marcell Harris and Nick Washington both had solid springs. Harris really came on strong after a terrible first day in March and he is likely going to also push very hard for a starting spot after sitting out all of last year recovering from knee surgery. Washington is a guy that can add depth at safety and NICKEL and also at corner if necessary. He is skilled all the way around, but a little bit of a tweener in the defensive backfield.

After Hargreaves, the corner spot is completely devoid of experience. We mentioned that Poole could fill in there, but that isn't optimum. Tabor had a pretty strong spring as an early enrollee and likely enters fall camp as the starter at one corner spot. They want him to be more aggressive with his size and quit chasing down receivers, keeping them at the line of scrimmage with his physical ability.


Tabor

Dawson also came to camp early out of high school and he gave Poole a run for his money at NICKEL. The coaches constantly labeled him with "heavy hands", which is a strong trait to have covering slot receivers and trying to keep them from getting into their pass patterns. Tabor and Dawson have certainly showed they will play early and a lot as freshmen.

J.C. Jackson, Quincy Wilson, and Deiondre Porter will all get a shot at cornerback where the Gators need numbers and Florida needs at least two of the three to play a lot as a true freshman, the numbers are just that low.

Jackson comes in with the best pedigree, but will still be recovering from a labrum injury when fall camp starts, although he is expected to be recovered full half way through August and fight for a depth chart spot then. Jackson is ultra-physical at the point of attack and he has recovery speed when he needs to show it. He will push hard for a starting spot from the day he is 100% healthy.

Wilson is big for the corner position (6-1, 200), prompting some to say he will end up at safety. Those that have coached him at the high school level and in camps say that he has the skill to play corner, and he will get that shot. He's another physical type that the staff likes.

Porter is super athletic and should be groomed behind Hargreaves. A track star and super football player as well in Tampa, Porter brings great speed and length to the corner position. He's athletic enough, but it remains to be seen if he is physically ready for the rigors of college football.

The Gators can field four of the five secondary spots with some form of experience, yet none of those four have more than six starts to their name. No matter what, there will be highly inexperienced players in the secondary that will have to play a lot of minutes and even start for the Gators.

There is some comfort level in the talent that is on hand and that Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson are terrific secondary coaches, but there are so many unknowns on the back end that it will be tough on the psyche of these coaches as they head toward the 2014 season.

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