Vernon Hargreaves III was the Florida cornerback with the most recognition this season. The junior was the first unanimous All-American at Florida since Joe Haden in 2009, but there’s an argument that he wasn’t even the best cornerback on the Florida roster this fall.
Jalen Tabor had a breakout sophomore season. The cornerback filled the stat sheet, posting 33 tackles, one sack, four interceptions and a team-high 14 pass breakups -- 10 more than Hargreaves. Despite the numbers, Tabor was nowhere to be found when the All-American honors were released. The sophomore didn’t point the finger at the voters. He still managed to find fault in his own game as the main reason for the lack of praise.
“I missed out on some plays this year I feel like,” Tabor said. “If I’d made some of the plays I’m supposed to make, I would have been on that. Just fueled my fire for next year. I made a couple of plays. Not as many as I should to my standard. I did OK this year, though.”
There are a number of memorable plays from Tabor’s first two years in Gainesville. As a freshman, he altered the game in his first career start while helping the Gators to a 10-9 win at Tennessee and earning co-Freshman of the Week honors. He added a one-handed interception at Vanderbilt that signaled the potential that was to come.
His sophomore year showed it on a bigger stage. Tabor returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first six games of the year, and his fourth interception came against Florida Atlantic when he ripped the ball out of the receiver’s hands. Those plays helped Florida’s defense to a dominant season, but they
“The best, and obviously I didn’t achieve that this year,” Tabor said of his expectations for himself. “I didn’t get a Thorpe (Award). I’m not first team All-American. (That’s) my goal next year.”
His versatility has been appreciated by the Florida coaching staff. They’ve moved Tabor between cornerback, dime and nickel this season, keeping him moving around the field and able to take any receiver out of the game.
“Jalen’s a great player,” said McElwain, noting that Tabor is talented enough to leave early after the 2016 season if he chooses. “This guy’s not only played corner, but he’s come up with some huge plays. Sometimes he peaks and maybe guesses a little bit, but he’s sure become a disciplined player. Not only as a player part but studying to be a player and what he’s done to just help himself off the field, he’s really grown up.”
Bowl practices are usually reserved for unproven players to make big jumps, but Tabor doesn’t see it that way. He pointed to a few missed interceptions this season. He had four, but he thought he should’ve been leading the Southeastern Conference with six.
Those stick in his mind as he looks at things to improve on heading into the spring.
“Just continuing to work hard and focusing on the details and make those plays when they come,” Tabor said. “I dropped two, like in my hand, backyard catches that I make every day when I was a kid. Just got to lock in when those plays come, just to make those plays. So focus, continuing to work hard, continuing to study the game, just continuing to be me. I don’t have to do nothing more or nothing less.”