The depth at Florida kept that from happening. Dawson split time at cornerback and safety heading into the 2014 season before settling in at safety. He even returned an interception for a touchdown during the season opener against Eastern Michigan. As the season went on, the depth in the secondary kept him from seeing more time with Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal all proven commodities at safety.
Sitting behind the trio allowed Dawson to watch them closely and learn the nuances of the safety position.
“It was a lot,” Duke Dawson said. “I actually got to get my feet wet freshman year. I expect a lot more things out of me this year to become a better ballplayer. There’s a lot of things I have to work on like my eye control, my pad level. That’s pretty much it.”
The interception he returned for a touchdown was the easy highlight of his freshman year. Adjusting to the speed of the game, especially the receivers he was covering, served as the toughest change at the college level.
The focus of the offseason has been about his tackling. Dawson struggled to take the proper routes to a ball carrier and spent time watching film and walking through drills to improve it. Covering receivers is his strength.
“There’s a lot of fast backs, fast receivers in the SEC, so I’ve got to learn how to take better angles,” Dawson said. “Every day before practice or during practice, we have this one deep-ball drill that we do for the safeties and the cornerbacks to take better angles.”
This season, Maye and Neal return at safety. However, Maye is suspended for the first game of the season and Neal is battling leg injury suffered in a team scrimmage on August 21. With Maye for sure out, Dawson could be the next man up at safety.
“It’s a big role,” Dawson said. “I know those two guys are great players. I learned from those two. Coming from corner to safety, they really took me in, so I really appreciate the things that those guys have done. And it’s showing now, this year. It’s a big role, playing safety. You have to make calls and checks and everything back there.”
The unit has grown close during the offseason. They built that bond last year when Dawson and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson were freshmen. This offseason with most of the pieces returning, the unit continued to build on their relationship and has noticed improvement in communication during their time on the field.
“We hung out every day,” Dawson said. “We always talked ball. We always watched ball. Even when we all planned to do something else, it always came back to ball, so I felt like that was a great thing that we done this year.
“We always preach (communications). Right after the season last year, we set goals for ourselves, expectation for one another. We always came together, watched each other, tell each other what we did wrong and what we did good. I felt like that really helped us.”