Tabor ready to showcase his skills

TAMPA – If the front seven do their part Monday when the Florida Gators take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl, then third down will be showcase time for Jalen “Teez” Tabor.

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There is no mystery to the Hawkeyes’ offense. They have a great big offensive line and a pair of backs who do their best work between the tackles. The Hawkeyes are like a heavyweight boxer who knows how to use both hands effectively in combinations. LeShun Daniels Jr. (6-0, 225) is the overhand right who pounded away at opponents for 1,013 yards and 10 touchdowns while Akrum Wadley (5-11, 195) is the left hook who was good for 966 yards and 10 TDs.

It Daniels then Wadley, Wadley then Daniels. One after another until they beat opponents into submission. That’s the plan, at least, but even the best plans come up short sometimes and if the Gators can force Iowa into third and five or longer situations, it means quarterback C.J. Beathard will have to throw against one of the top two or three secondaries in the entire nation and perhaps the best cover corner in Tabor.

"We've got a great interior defensive line,” Tabor said Wednesday after the Gators (8-4) finished their practice at Jesuit High School. “If we stop them on first and second down, they can't run the ball on third-and-nine, third-and-ten, third-and-eight, so..."

So that’s when Tabor gets to shine. A first team All-SEC selection, Tabor has shown up on nearly every All-America list at the very least on the second or third team. He has intercepted 4 passes and run one back for a TD plus he’s knocked down five others.

Those numbers would be much better except teams do their best to avoid throwing his way. Of course, when teams go to the other side of the field, they have to contend with Quincy Wilson, who has 3 picks with 1 returned for a TD along with 6 pass breakups.

Individually, these two are among the top 6-7 corners in the country. As a tandem, they might just be the best period. And it will all be proven on draft day this spring. Both are projected to go in the first round.

And if the Gators get the job done stuffing the run Monday against Iowa, it will be showtime out on the edge where Tabor will lock up with either Riley McCarron (41 catches for 506 yards and 4 TDs) or Jeminic Smith (23 catches for 314 yards and 2 TDs). Some of college football’s brightest stars are sitting out their bowl games while others will do their best trying to avoid any injury that could hurt their draft stock. As for Tabor, the bowl game is just one more chance to show off the skills that have the NFL scouts thinking he can step in and play on Sundays as a rookie.

“This is a perfect opportunity,” he said. “That's how I looked at it when we first got the bowl game. It's just another opportunity to show who I am and what I'm about."

What Tabor is and what he is all about is continued improvement. He has an outstanding work ethic that creates an inner sense that each practice, each game is a chance to take vital steps toward a childhood dream of playing professional football. Think of him like a sculptor who takes a rock and envisions something special. The sculptor chisels away each day, then sands out the rough spots until they are smooth. Each day the sculptor’s vision takes shape.

It’s the same way with a football player whose goal is to play at the highest level and it has translated into Teez Tabor transforming into a corner who can handle even the most talented receivers alone on an island without the need of a safety over the top on every play. He backpedals swiftly, effortlessly. The hips swivel and he changes direction in a flash, recovering ever so quickly from that first move. The moment the ball is in the air he has that extraordinary sense of timing to know when to make his break.

He’s so good at what he does that receivers rarely get an opportunity to see the ball thrown their way. When they do make a catch, it’s earned because against Tabor there are no easy catches.

You could call him the total package. He’s good and he knows it. Call it arrogance if you will, but it’s something nearly every great corner has if he intends to continue to move up from one level to the next.

“I'm a pretty confident guy in my ability,” Tabor said. “I feel like I can play with anybody at any level. I feel like I'm one of the best at my position in pro, college, high school, whatever. I'm just perfecting my craft."

Although it’s a foregone conclusion that Tabor will leave early for the NFL, that’s not his focus this week. He says the time to make that decision will be after the Gators face Iowa.

For now, he’s simply looking forward to showing what he can do if and when the Hawkeyes decide to throw the ball his way and doing whatever else he can to make sure the Gators finish the season on a winning note. He’s also making sure that there is some fun mixed in with the focus and preparation for Monday’s football game.

“I’m just going with the flow right now, enjoying this process, enjoying this bowl game,” Tabor said. “It could be the last with my teammates, so I’m just soaking it all in.” 


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