Florida had a tremendous, top ten defense in 2015 and returns enough talent to stay at that level in 2016. That will require guys like Washington to step up, but also to get some young guys to join in on the havoc that the Gator defense has known to create.
Although the players have been conducting player only workouts for a while now, official practice started this week and things are rolling along.
It’s been going very well,” Washington said following practice Friday. “We‘ve been getting the early enrollees accustomed to everything that’s going on.
Washington knows replacing Neal is going to be difficult. Neal is in a current battle with fellow junior Marcell Harris for the starting spot.
“I’m going out every day doing the best that I can, watching film and giving 100% effort,” Washington said. “Keanu was a great player for us and made a lot of plays in the three years he was here. I’m looking to fill it, that spot can be filled, and it will get done.
Working with Maye is something he is used to, to a certain degree, but ready to do more of it.
“He’s a vet and back there always communicating and getting the job done,” Washington said of Maye. “He’s always talking and making sure we are in position, so I like playing back there with him.
Likewise, Maye is starting to feel really comfortable working alongside Washington or Harris, whichever is out there.
“I got used to it for 2-3 years, but guys like Nick Washington and Marcell have come a long way,” Maye said about playing alongside Neal for so long. “I feel just as comfortable with them out there as I did with KeKe. Those guys are doing well communicating with me. We’re all on the same page.”
Both guys understand their roles as leaders and they need to step up their game this year in that area.
(Jarrad Davis) is definitely a vocal guy,” Washington said. “Alex (Anzalone) is really vocal. Maye is a vocal guy. We’re all trying to be vocal. We’re all trying to fill that spot instead of one or two guys trying to lead everything.”
Maye had the opportunity to test the professional ranks and along with fellow senior and linebacker Jarrad Davis, he returned to play his senior year of college football. He understands that means they may expect even more from him as a leader.
“It’s something we knew coming back, with us being the experienced guys,” Maye said of him and Davis. “Just the small things like breaking down the huddle, calling the team up. Mainly just being an example in the weight room and off-season conditioning. Just working and getting everyone else to come along.”
A big part of that leadership is the mentoring of the really young guys on the squad. The Gators had a record 13 players that enrolled in January. The early enrollees come with expectations as well as they skipped half of their senior year in high school or graduated early from junior college to get a jump on the competition at Florida.
In the secondary there are two cornerbacks in McArthur Burnett and Chauncey Gardner that fit in this group. Both have the attention of the older guys.
“They are doing well,” Washington said of the freshmen. “They’re holding their own. They’re willing to learn, listening, trying to take in everything, so they are doing real well right now. They are both very aggressive. They can talk a little bit. They are fast, physical, flexible and agile.”
“They are very aggressive,” Maye agreed. “You can tell they’re freshmen, but when the ball is in the air, they play it just like anybody else. They are gamers. Just to have them come in right away and take these early steps is really good.
“You get some freshmen that are pretty nervous. For the most part, they’re not, and that’s good.”
Likewise, sophomore Chris Williamson is another young guy that saw a little action last year. He was not too quick in getting ready to really make a mark, but has been picking up his game quite a bit this spring.
“He’s doing well,” Way said of Williamson. “He’s in the rotation with the ones and twos, to see him finally not injured and up to the pace and running full speed. That is definitely good to see.
With any of these guys, Maye and Washington are always there to help.
“In the offseason we met twice week just to go over different plays on the board. If they have any questions they can ask me and I answer, no problem,” Maye said.
Friday, Maye and senior receiver Chris Thompson were matched up quite a bit in practice during drills. With Maye playing out of position and a little corner, he was able to hang with Thompson, who may be the fastest plyer on the team.
“He’s a speed guy, a deep threat, he can catch the ball going through the middle,” Maye said of Thompson. “You can do a lot of things with him like Jet Sweeps. You can put him out wide or in the slot, special teams, and the return game.”
Maye held his own in coverage against the speedy Thompson and felt accomplished after the matchup.
“It felt good,” he said after hanging with Thompson on a fly pattern and breaking up the pass 40 yards down field at the goal line. “We compete every day. I was playing corner and we were both competing on a deep ball and going up and making a play. It felt good when I broke it up. But it was just good competition.”
The moose at running back…
Florida head coach Jim McElwain joked on Wednesday about his new big back on campus. Mark Thompson measures in at 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds and runs just about as fast as anyone on the team. McElwain commented that he got a quick handoff in practice Wednesday and when the first defender came to meet him in the hole, there was some real hesitation.
Maye agrees that Thompson is a different beast in the backfield.
“He’s huge,” Maye said. “You just watch his stature. It’s just something you don’t see running around every day, especially at the running back position. For us to have that on our team, it’s definitely a plus.
“You can tell with his size, he has the ability to go left-right, and hit downhill very fast. He can catch the ball, so when he gets a little more comfortable it will be exciting to see.”