Spring preview: Cornerbacks

The cornerback position is not only the deepest group on Florida’s roster, but it might be one of the best cornerback groups in the country.

All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III leads the unit and will be one of the top corners in the country. As a sophomore last season, Hargreaves led the team with 13 pass breakups and had only three interceptions as opposing teams threw away from him through most of the year.

His most important role this spring will be leadership. Florida’s doesn’t have many inexperienced players in the secondary this year, but Hargreaves is the unquestioned leader of the group.

As a junior, Hargreaves will see similar treatment from opposing offenses. His reputation grew throughout his freshman season and teams have tried to test the other cornerback position.

That worked early in the 2014 season.

Brian Poole started the year as the cornerback opposite of Hargreaves, and the Florida gave up 369 passing yards to Kentucky and 449 passing yards to Alabama in the first two Southeastern Conference games of the year. The previous coaching staff made changes before the next game, moving Poole back to the nickel, the same position he excelled at during his first two years at Florida.

Poole will head into his senior season with experience at multiple positions in the Florida secondary and could be used in different spots by new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. He’ll be one to watch this spring as the coaches try to figure out where he’s best.

When Poole moved to nickel last season, it opened a spot for two freshmen to battle for the starting spot opposite of Hargreaves. Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson split starts for the remainder of the season, and both proved they were capable of handling starting job against SEC competition.

This is still an important spring for both players. It probably doesn’t matter much who is named the starter because both a lot for Florida, but they need to show consistent growth during the spring.

Tabor made a huge impact in his first start last year, forcing and recovering a fumble that spark Florida’s late run to win at Tennessee. He ended the year with eight pass breakups and one interception. Wilson’s statistics weren’t as impressive with three pass breakups and one interception, coming against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but he got his playing time late in the season and showed he’s ready for a bigger role.

The cornerback that will garner a lot of attention this spring is J.C. Jackson. His physical style of play stood out in fall practice last season before a shoulder injury forced him to take a redshirt. Even with the depth the Gators have at cornerback, the 5-11, 196-pound cornerback is talented enough to earn playing time.

Deiondre Porter will be another interesting cornerback on the roster. The former high school quarterback at Jefferson High School in Tampa, Porter took a redshirt last season as he learned how to play the cornerback position. At 6-0, 176 pounds, he has the size to handle the position, and he’ll have to put together a strong spring to earn time on the field during the 2015 season.

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