The safety position at Florida may be more important than ever with new coordinator Geoff Collins. Collins likes to use five defensive backs in his system including a hybrid linebacker / safety in some spots. The top three returners at the position offer the kind of experience from last year that can help make the transition to a somewhat different defense a little easier.
The biggest loss is graduate Jabari Gorman who had some certain highlights in 2014, but didn’t stick out as a guy that will be sorely missed.
The biggest play maker returning is junior Keanu Neal (6-1, 209). Neal played in 10 games in 2014 and notched eight starts. 45 of his career 50 tackles came in 2014 and he had one tackle for loss, three interceptions, four passes broken up, a fumble recovery, and a forced fumble. Neal is big and physical and a likely preseason All-SEC choice.
Redshirt junior Marcus Maye (6-0, 205) played in 11 games played with nine starts in 2014. 62 of his 78 career tackles came a year ago where he also had three tackles for loss, one interception, five passes broken up, and two forced fumbles. Another physical player, Maye has had his issues with wrapping up at times and at others was a real play maker.
Sophomore Duke Dawson (5-10, 200) was a real surprise in his first year on campus. He arrived in January of last year not sure of exactly what position (corner or safety) but he settled into a role as a nickel / safety and played in 11 games with one start. On the year he had 14 tackles, a tackle for loss, an interception for a touchdown, and a pass broken up. He’s another physical player with really good ball skills.
Redshirt sophomore Nick Washington (6-1, 193) never got much of a chance to show himself on defense but played a lot of special teams. He was in on 12 games and notched five tackles on the year after redshirting in 2013. Washington has some ability to cover and could be a valuable nickel player moving forward.
One of the more intriguing players at the position might be best suited for the hybrid position mentioned earlier. Redshirt sophomore Marcell Harris (6-2, 208) is the tallest of the group and has lost some weight already so we know he can add it. Another special teams guy in 2014, he played in 12 games a year ago and had seven tackles on the season. Harris’ game is a very physical one and he playing in the box may be the answer here.
The Florida secondary overall may be the best unit on the roster in 2015 and the safeties will go a long way in making that the case.