Marcus Maye is expected to return this weekend and take over the starting job at nickel, pushing Brian Poole out to cornerback. Vernon Hargreaves III on the other side of the field gives the Gators two experienced cornerbacks, but behind them, it’s only freshmen.
Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson worked out at cornerback since coming to campus. Duke Dawson spent the spring at cornerback but was at safety during most of the fall. He returned an interception for a touchdown against Eastern Michigan from the safety spot. The Gators could move Dawson or even Nick Washington from safety to cornerback if they need to, but Durkin isn’t concerned about the depth at the position right now.
"Obviously we're down one guy,” D.J. Durkin said. “We were rotating, all those freshmen that we brought in played in that game and they're going to continue to play for us. They're in the rotation, they're going to play in the forseable future for games. Obviously that's one guy less, one guy down, but we have enough bodies back there to be alright.”
Jackson’s fall put him in position to get on the field as a freshman, but that will have to wait until 2015. Durkin mentioned that he’s a quick healer who will handle the rehab well.
The focus now turns to Tabor and Wilson at the position, and Durkin was optimistic with the way both played on Saturday against Eastern Michigan. They’ll be thrown onto the field early against Kentucky, continuing to see how they respond to a game atmosphere before making decisions about which players get the most reps.
“They played well,” Durkin said. “Both of those guys did some things well, did some things they need to improve on like you would expect from freshmen. But overall, I think it was good that they felt good getting out there and playing and seeing it at game speed. That’ll be a continual process. Those two guys are going to continue to compete for who’s getting what snaps and all that. It’s good for both of them. They’re going to make each other better."
The constant battle for a freshman defensive back is eye control. The coaches work with them on the practice field and through watching film, but it mostly takes time and experience to improve. For a young defensive back, it’s easy for their eyes to wander in coverage and leave the target they’re supposed to be on.
"That’s an ongoing, continuous, day-to-day snap-to-snap thing for us as an entire defense,” Durkin said. “We’ve got to be looking and the right things.”
MAYE EXPECTED BACK: While Jackson goes down, the rest of the Florida secondary will get a boost as Marcus Maye returns and will start at the nickel.
“He’s been practicing more, practicing well,” Durkin said. “Obviously I’d love to have him as much as we can.”
MCCALISTER GETS FIRST SACK: The Gators took Alex McCalister in the 2012 recruiting class, knowing that he wouldn’t make an impact for at least one year. He was barely over 200 pounds, but they saw in his high school film that he had natural pass rushing ability.
On Saturday, he got his first sack in a Florida uniform.
“It was great to see the smile on his face,” Durkin said. “I know it felt good for him, too. Alex is a guy that we knew bringing in was a developmental guy. Body type he looks like a basketball player. We also knew his ability and what he could do in terms of pass rush. He’ll grow into it eventually.
“You can see he’s grown into that. He’s another guy that we need to get out there more and more in one-on-one pass rush situations we know he can win.”
HARRIS BEING COUNTED ON: Marcell Harris didn’t have a big game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, but Durkin made it clear that he’s still a big part of the future. Harris made one tackle and came off the bench to get reps in the secondary. He’ll also be an important part of the special teams units.
However, Durkin still sees his talent. An injury kept him off the field last season, but now healthy, Harris can be an important member of the Florida secondary in the future.
“He’s got to keep developing,” Durkin sad. “Marcell is doing a really good job. He’s a physical player. He had a great spring. He has made great strides in his time here and I think he’ll continue to do that. He’s going to get a lot of playing time on special teams. I think he’s starting to show up in those areas. He’s just got to be assignment sound and be where he’s supposed to be. Marcell will be a great player before all is said and done.”