It comes at cornerback. At the start of the 2014 season, the Gators were inexperienced and didn’t know what they had around All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. The secondary was an issue early in the season, giving up busted coverages and big gains against Kentucky and Alabama early in the season.
The coaching staff had to move some pieces around, but the improvement came when they trusted the freshmen to play. Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson started to see more playing time across from Hargreaves as early as the Tennessee game, and that’s when the secondary started to play its best ball of the season.
The Gators will likely have one more year of Hargreaves to lock down one side of the field. He led the team with 13 pass breakups, adding only two interceptions because teams rarely threw at him. Hargreaves made two tackles for a loss and added two fumble recoveries.
The season didn’t come without some issues for Hargreaves -- his struggles covering Alabama’s Amari Cooper come to mind -- but it was another strong year for the Florida cornerback in his first season as the leader of the unit. His leadership is important in 2015, but he won’t have to help four freshmen cornerbacks in fall camp like he did this past year.
The only question at the position going into next year is Brian Poole. A better fit at nickel, Poole admitted that he would at least seek advice from coaches and the NFL about whether or not he should leave school early. If he returns, Florida’s depth at cornerback allows Poole to stay at nickel. His physicality with slot receivers makes it tough for them to get open.
The defense took a big step when Poole slid inside in 2014, and the freshmen cornerbacks lived up to the hype.
Tabor broke out as a freshman
Jalen Tabor was the one that turned heads around the league, as the SEC coaches voted him to the All-Freshman team. He ended the year with one interception, seven pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Tabor made a big impact on corner blitzes, recording two sacks and four total tackles for a loss on the year.
His breakout came in his first career start. In front of a sold out Neyland Stadium with 102,455 people in the stands, the freshman was everywhere. He made five tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and recovery, adding one pass breakup to earn co-SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
Tabor continued to play well for the rest of the year, but fellow freshman Quincy Wilson came on and improved, earning more time every week. He had three pass breakups and one interception. The statistics don’t blow you away, but he was in good position and played well for a true freshman.
Wilson made an impressive interception at Florida State
The scary part for opponents is that Tabor and Wilson weren’t viewed as the best freshman cornerback in fall camp. That honor went to J.C. Jackson. However, Jackson needed shoulder surgery to repair a labrum issue from high school and took a redshirt. He doesn’t have the size height that Tabor and Wilson do, but he makes up for it with physicality and was once viewed as a potential starter at cornerback to begin the 2014 season.
Deiondre Porter also redshirted last season. A freshman from Jefferson High School in Tampa, Porter played quarterback in high school and needed a year to adjust to the position. He did look capable of playing the position during open practices in fall camp.