“The great thing is we've got a lot of competition at the position, so it's going to make those guys work harder,” Will Muschamp said. “I think they have done a great job with Jeff and our quarterbacks this summer. I'm excited to see those guys go out and compete. I certainly feel like we have improved ourselves at that position.”
Two seniors have turned into the leaders of the group. Quinton Dunbar heads into his fifth season, and Muschamp called him “one of the most improved players in our program over the years.” Andre Debose is back for his sixth season and provides the talent to make an impact in multiple ways.
“Andre Debose -- missed his playmaking ability last year,” Muschamp said. “The guy is the leading kickoff returner in UF history, but a guy I think offensively we'll probably fit him a little better. He'll play on the outside and also play in the slot some, utilize him with some of the speed sweeps and things.”
Latroy Pittman had a strong spring and ended it as a starter in the slot.
Three sophomores are getting plenty of focus at the position this fall. Demarcus Robinson was immature and unable to handle his chance last fall, but his teammates and coaches are happy that he has grown up this offseason. The expectation is for him to have a big year.
“I think he had very good spring,” Muschamp said. “The game is slowed down for him. Those guys -- it's not add water, instant player. Sometimes it takes guys a little more time to adapt to the college speed of the game.”
Ahmad Fulwood was a key topic at media day. Muschamp reminded everyone that he had a shoulder injury coming to camp last fall and got started later than the other healthy players. He still managed to make an impact and lead the freshmen in receiving yards. With a full, healthy offseason, he was able to lift weights and get stronger.
His 6-4 frame makes him an intriguing target for the Gators.
‘He's a matchup issue because of his length,” Muschamp said. “He's gotten stronger, he's gotten much more crisp in his route running, snapping routes off. He catches the ball extremely well. But because of his length, he's a guy as a defensive coach when you line up, you are a little leery of lining up a smaller corner versus him because he does have exceptional ball skills and he catches the ball at the highest point very well. Because of his length, he presents some issues.”
Gainesville native Chris Thompson only caught two passes last year, but he added weight in the spring and still kept his speed.
“Chris Thompson has been a guy that's got really good top end speed,” Muschamp said. “He needs to continue to develop being a consistent catcher of those sort of things.”
NO DISCIPLINE ISSUES: Offseasons in Gainesville used to cause the coaches to hold their breath. That wasn’t necessary this summer. Jalen Tabor was cited for marijuana possession, but that was the only run in with the law a Florida player had this summer.
It’s a sign of the change Muschamp and his staff have instilled in the Florida program.
“It's a daily continual education for your players, and I think it goes back to recruiting, part of the evaluation process and taking the right guys, number one,” Muschamp said. “Then number two, doing a good job as far as your structure is concerned on your campus to guys understand there is going to be consequences. And they understand to stay within the lines of what we need to do and how they're going to act and represent the University of Florida.
“I always tell players they're going to make mistakes. They're going to make some poor choices and decisions, but help me help you. If you are willing to work with me, I'm willing to work with anybody. I'll give you the shirt off my back to help you. And it's through a growing process as a college student. So our guys, in my opinion, have bought into that. They understand that we're here to help them. They don't buck at that very much and I think they have done a nice job for the most part.”
SECONDARY OPEN JOBS: Florida opened fall camp with only one starting job locked up in the secondary. Vernon Hargreaves III has one of the cornerback spots, and the rest continue to be up in the air.
Muschamp went through the lists of players at both positions that could compete for the starting jobs, but it ended with him talking about the inexperience. No matter who wins the three jobs, it will be someone without much starting experience.
“But I'll take talent over experience any day,” Muschamp said.
He sees plenty of that talent in the secondary. The track record of young players in the secondary under Muschamp and in recent history at Florida is impressive. Marcus Roberson and Hargreaves have excelled since Muschamp took over, and Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins jump out as other examples in the last seven seasons.
The struggles come in consistency at the position. Freshmen have to be able to handle all the new information they’re receiving but continue to play fast while processing it.
“I always feel like your position further away from the ball, you can play earlier,” Muschamp said. “It's always been my experience. We've had a bunch of guys come in and play as freshman, as secondary players and play winning football for us. I have confidence in those guys' abilities. Their work ethic and what I've been able to see this summer, I've been very pleased.”