Collins impressed by Gators’ competitiveness

Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins knew there was talent on the defensive side of the ball in Gainesville when he took the job.

What he didn’t know was the group’s inner drive to be the best defense in the country. Meeting with the media for the first time since the spring, Collins has seen how hard his defense works at film study and on the practice field to be the best unit possible. When the lights in the practice facility come on and there’s a competitive situation, they play their best.

“It might be the most competitive group of kids I’ve ever been around,” Geoff Collins said before Wednesday’s practice. “If you put a ball down or say there’s a winner or loser or some kind of competitive situation, these guys just thrive and shine. That’s been a great thing to be a part of and be around. They’re highly intelligent, hard workers and they compete every single day.

“They’re competing to get reps on that field and it fluctuates every single day. They do a great job earning their spots and playing time.”

Collins has built a reputation as an aggressive defensive coordinator. Last season at Mississippi State, he estimated bringing pressure of some kind on about 35 percent of his defense’s snaps. With the best secondary he has ever coached lining up as a part of his defense this fall, he can take even more chances at pressuring the quarterback.

The most noticeable attribute of Collins’ defense in Starkville was that it stepped up in key moments.

The Bulldogs were the best red zone defense in the country last season, allowing opponents to score points while in the red zone just 63.6 percent of the time. They had the seventh best touchdown percentage allowed (43.2 percent) while in the red zone.

The Mississippi State defense was the 21st best in the country at third-down defense, allowing conversions 35 percent of the time. On fourth down, they were the 29th best in the country while allowing conversions on 41 percent of plays.

Collins credits frequent substitutions for keeping the defense fresh. When the opponent got into the red zone, the defense’s best players were on the field and weren’t worn down.

“When it got down to the red zone, the guys that needed to be in were sill fresh because the reps had been adjusted,” Collins said. “I think we kept the package simple. I think we ran four or five defenses that really complemented each other and the guys understood them and knew them and really could focus on what the opponent was doing to us.

“In the red zone and on the goal line, that’s a difficult situation for certain kids to be able to embrace and handle, so we always try to talk to them and stress to put the ball down regardless of where we are on the field you’ve got to step up and you’ve got to be ready to play.”

That kind of mentality is what has the Florida defense believing it will be the best in the nation this fall. Collins, who is big on social media and hashtags, is using #BDN as a topic of conversations with players to talk about their high goals.

Veterans players like defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard and linebacker Antonio Morrison haven’t been afraid to talk about it publicly. They’ve seen how well the defense has played in recent years and see no reason it shouldn’t maintain that high standard this year. Collins is on board with his group using that as motivation.

“That’s just something that I believe in -- setting high expectations,” Collins said. “The kids have those expectations in themselves. Why shy away from it? We want to do our best every single day to try to personally be the best we can possibly be.”

The secondary will anchor the Florida defense and be one of the best groups in the country. Anchored by All-American Vernon Hargreaves III, the Gators have experienced pieces at cornerback, nickel and safety for whatever coverages they want to run. Collins joked that the cornerbacks would like to play man coverage on every snap, but they understand the defense he wants to run.

"They just want to play man-to-man every single play and I love that mentality,” Collins said. “They're an aggressive group. They're a confident group. The thing that we always talk about is confidence based on demonstrated ability. And they have that.”

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