Collins notes: Gators preaching versatility

Geoff Collins learned early in his career as a defensive coordinator that he had to prepare for the worst scenario possible.

For him, that meant cross-training everyone on the defensive side of the football. Collins served as the defensive coordinator at Western Carolina from 2002-05, and he lost his starting middle linebacker during one of those seasons. When he called on the next player on the depth chart, it was the linebacker that Collins felt was actually the sixth best on the team. None of the other healthy, more talented linebackers on the roster had been trained to play the position.

To make sure that never happened again, Collins decided to cross-train players and make sure they always had the best players on the field when injuries occurred. The Florida defensive coordinator said that every player on the defense has to learn the entire defense and what makes it work.

“We really don’t care about positions -- Mikes or Wills or Sams or nickels or safeties -- every single day, they’re lining up everywhere,” Collins said. “We’ll have guys lined up all across the board. We have very interchangeable (parts). We learned just to cross-train them to make them learn and play a lot of different positions so we can just roll them in and out. In practice, there’s different guys playing the nickel, different guys playing safety, some safeties are playing corner. That’s really not a concern.”

HARGREAVES IMPRESSING: Collins, along with most college football coaches and fans across the country, knew who Vernon Hargreaves III was when he took the job at Florida. Watching him up close in recent months has shown Collins that it isn’t just talent for the All-American cornerback.

He’s such a dominant player because of how he works off the field.

“One of my favorite things about Vernon is the things that he does that people don’t see,” Collins said. “He’s one of the first ones in the meeting room to watch film. He takes notes. He studies. He does little things extra that people don’t see. He might even be mad I’m sharing this, but that’s one of the things the great ones do is the extra little things that other people don’t see or aren’t willing to do. He does those things and he kind of does them on his own.”

Not only does Hargreaves do that by himself, he’s also bringing the younger, inexperienced players with him. When he’s in the film room putting in extra work, Collins has seen Hargreaves grab redshirt freshman Deiondre Porter or true freshman Chris Williamson and bring them into the film room to watch what he’s going over.

When the cornerbacks sit in their meeting room together, Hargreaves makes sure Williamson is always sitting next to him.

“He’s not just on his island as you people think corners might be,” Collins said. “He’s wanting to help this young man fall in line to the expectations that we have around here. You can’t say enough good things. Athletically, technique wise, all those things are awesome, but I think those little things and those intangibles are what set him apart.”

ANZALONE LEARNING: When Antonio Morrison was out during the spring, Collins and the defensive staff put the pressure on Anzalone to learn the defense and be more vocal before the snap. Morrison said after Tuesday’s practice that his role is reduced to echoing Anzalone’s calls, but Collins chalked that up to Morrison downplaying his actual role.

Despite that, Anzalone has taken on a bigger role this offseason and should be more noticeable on the field this fall.

“He’s done a great job,” Collins said. “He’s an intelligent kid. He communicates well. During the spring when Antonio wasn’t going, Antonio took it upon himself to instill that confidence in Alex and talk him through and teach him how to do the things that Antonio’s done so well since he’s been here.”

POWELL IMPRESSING ON THE EDGE: Jeremi Powell is a name that’s often forgotten at the linebacker position, but listening to Collins, it sounds like that could be about to change. The 6-2, 224-pound redshirt junior had made 10 tackles throughout his career while battling injuries throughout it.

However, the new staff is using him more as a pass rusher, and he has shown up in that area during practice.

“He’s a special kid as far as being able to come off the edge and generate pass rush, and he’s done a great job in coverage for us,” Collins said. “Coach Shannon’s done a great job with him, simplifying it for him and making it where he’s able to run fast, makes plays. The presence he brings energy-wise has been phenomenal.”

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