Camp preview: Cornerbacks

There’s no question which player will be Florida’s best cornerback heading into the year and lined up against the opposition’s best receiver on Saturdays this fall. What happens after that at the cornerback position is anybody’s guess.

It all starts with Vernon Hargreaves III. One of the best cornerbacks in the country, his freshman year was better than anyone expected, and the expectations were very high for him going into last fall. He joined a secondary with experienced cornerbacks like Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, but it wasn’t long before Hargreaves pushed himself into a starting role.

Opponents tried to attack him, but it didn’t pay off. He had three interceptions in the first four games of the 2013 season, and teams started throwing the other way. By the end of the season, Hargreaves had 11 pass breakups, tying the school record for a freshman. Those numbers came despite opposing offenses keeping the ball on the ground most of the time since they were usually winning and didn’t fear the Florida offense.

His role changes this fall. Even though he’s only a sophomore, Hargreaves will be counted on to lead a young secondary. He’s a film junky, spending time on his own during the offseason to memorize every step of the defense. That expertise will be used to help other young cornerbacks and safeties along this fall.

The only scholarship cornerback with more than one year of experience is Brian Poole. Most of his experience with the Florida defense has come at the nickel position in his first two seasons, and that could very well end up being the case again in 2014. He’s a physical player, and at 5-10, 206 pounds, he has the build to reroute players off the line of scrimmage.

Last season, Poole was ninth on the team with 32 tackles despite missing one game. He added two tackles for a loss, two interceptions, three pass breakups and one quarterback hurry.

Nick Washington was listed in the safety preview, but he’s in this one because of his versatility. Wherever the Gators need bodies in the secondary this fall, he can play. He spent time during the spring at safety when Keanu Neal was out with a hamstring injury, and when Neal was healthy, Washington worked at cornerback to stay fresh if needed there.

Then there are five true freshmen.

Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor were the only two to go through spring practice, and both looked ready to compete and help Florida this fall.

Dawson has a similar build to Poole, a stocky defensive back that can still run and keep up with receivers down the field, but his strength is one of his best attributes. He isn’t afraid to hit. He came to Florida without the fanfare of other cornerback signees -- likely since Dawson committed early in the process and stuck to it -- but showed he is more than capable of making an immediate impact this fall. The Gators will need him.

Will Muschamp described Tabor accurately in the spring, saying simply that he is “what they look like” at the cornerback position. At 6-0, 193 pounds, he has the look that the Florida coaches want at the position. They want tall, lanky cornerbacks with long arms that can play physical at the line of scrimmage but still have ball skills.

That’s Tabor. He showed it on day one of spring practice and had as consistent of a spring as could’ve been hoped for by a true freshman that should’ve still been in high school. He’s my pre-fall pick to earn the second starting cornerback position.

The three freshmen that enrolled in the summer are J.C. Jackson, Deiondre Porter and Quincy Wilson.

Jackson was the most well known through the recruiting process and could make an impact on offense, defense or special teams, but he’ll start his career at cornerback. Florida flipped Porter from USF late in the process, and the 6-0, 165-pound corner needs to add weight this season. Wilson has ideal size at 6-1, 196 pounds, and he could help immediately on special teams.

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