Early enrollee impact: Cornerbacks

Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor are built differently but both have a chance to make an immediate impact during their first seasons in Gainesville. The Florida secondary was cleaned out by early departures to the NFL and graduation, opening up roles at safety and cornerback for young players to make an impact. The freshman duo can help out right away at cornerback.

Both players handled the recruitment different. Duke Dawson knew where he wanted to go early in the process and committed to Florida before the spring of his junior year, the second commitment in the class behind freshman quarterback Will Grier. Dawson never waivered or thought seriously about going anywhere else.

Jalen Tabor wanted to enjoy the process, take his trips and come to a decision after his senior year. He thought that happened at the Under Armour All-American Game when he committed to Arizona, but the Florida coaches stayed on him hard and managed to flip him to Florida. Tabor enrolled early with eyes on the starting cornerback job opposite of Vernon Hargreaves.

The first thing you notice about the two freshmen is their opposite builds. Tabor has the long, lanky frame listed at 6-1, 188 pounds. He has long arms to give him a wider reach to make a play on the ball in the air. Tabor's speed allows him to stay stride-for-stride with quicker receivers, too.

"I love Jalen," Hargreaves said. "He's a good guy, he works hard, always works hard, always trying to get better. He's coming along. It's hard at first, it's tough. You're going to get beat, you're not going to know what to do but he's coming along."

Dawson has the strength that Tabor needs to add in his time at Florida. Dawson lacks height, but his 5-10, 190-pound frame is ready to get on the field in the secondary during his freshman season. He's strong enough to play in the box and could even use his strength as a future nickel back, if Brian Poole moves off the position this season.

"He has shown up a bunch and obviously his teammates have taken notice, too," defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "He has shown up to be a guy with coverage ability and play physical. He does well in live situations where there's tackling and hitting going on. He's done a great job with it. We're excited about him, too."

Both players had their moments in the spring, splitting first team reps throughout a majority of practices. The Florida coaches know they're going to lean on both for important snaps this fall and didn't want to waste any reps during the spring that they could be improving and getting more comfortable.

"I like Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor," defensive end Dante Fowler said. "I like that they're really physical. Duke is really physical. He'll come and hit you. He has heavy hands. And Jalen reminds me of Joe Haden."

Freshmen in the secondary have already made an impact under this Florida coaching staff. In Will Muschamp's first season as a head coach in 2011, the Gators specifically made a run at Marcus Roberson late in the recruiting process with hopes of him starting in 2011. He handled that role, and Loucheiz Purifoy had his breakout during bowl practices and started in the Gator Bowl against Ohio State.

Last year, it was Hargreaves that had the big impact in the Florida secondary as a freshman. The coaching staff has proven it wants the best players on the field regardless of age, and Dawson and Tabor look ready to become the latest freshmen in the secondary to make an impact this fall.

Fightin Gators Top Stories