Placed in a different role in his sophomore season, Chauncey Gardner has been pressed into starting duty at cornerback for the Florida Gators. The MVP of the Outback Bowl in January at safety and as a freshman will now be asked to play head up on receivers and mirror them down the field while working on keeping the ball from them.
With a new role and maybe a little more stressful circumstance, Gardner is planning on letting his play do the talking and not his mouth. He’s got to stay focused on what is in front of him.
“Just listen more and be open to everything instead of just trying to go at individual battles,” Gardner said when asked what his approach is now. “Like coach Mac says just go out and compete - that’s what we’re doing.”
Florida head coach Jim McElwain has constantly praised Gardner’s intensity on the field, which includes his vocal approach to the game, but they have asked him to tone it down just a bit.
“Me and Coach Shannon sat down, and he told me, ‘You gotta listen. You can’t be more of a vocal guy, because vocal guys don’t make it far. So, just open your ears and pay attention and do what you gotta do.',” he said.
He has taken the words to heart.
“I’m doing well,” he said. “I’m listening to older guys. I’m listening to coaches more, and just going out there and having fun.”
Everyone saw what Gardner was capable of in the Outback Bowl appearance. Starting because of injuries, Gardner picked off two passes including one that he ran back 58-yards for a touchdown. The true freshman was MVP of the contest for his effort.
He believes that it has allowed others to believe in him more.
“It was really giving confidence to my teammates,” he said about his performance. “They see we’ve got somebody back there who can do it. So they’re trusting me and I’m trusting them. That’s why I’m putting my process in working and getting everything better so I can help my teammates and get better.”
As far as where he stands among the best defensive backs in history at what many call ‘DBU’, Gardner has no want or desire to even consider that at this point.
“I’m not really thinking about being the next great, I’m really just thinking about the next day and how I can get better,” he said. “It’s not really about me. It’s about my teammates because they’re putting in work just like I’m putting in work. That’s why I’m not really focused on being the next great. I’m really just trying to get better every day.”
We will likely see Gardner line up all over the field in the fall. It seems he will be primarily at corner, but nickel and safety are also on the agenda. He is busy learning all the spots in the secondary.
“Right now we’re just going through the thing,” he said. “Wherever I fit in best that’s where I’m at, I mean, not a specific position. We’re just out having fun right now at spring just getting better and learning new things.”
He blows off the differences of playing safety or corner.
“It’s the same thing,” he said about playing corner rather than safety. “You just got to keep your eyes and feet in the right position and you’ll be good. There’s nothing different out there, it’s the same thing.”
Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon is getting his guys to buy into the 11-man principal on defense, that it isn’t just the secondary that needs to be big time at Florida, the whole defensive unit needs to play as one.
Being the best defensive back he can be, to help with the best defense, is what Gardner intends to do.
“Just lock in, good feet, good eyes and just do your job,” he said. “You can’t do everybody else’s job on the backend. You’ve got to do your job and keep it moving.”
“We understand what’s expected, but at the same time it’s a team thing. We’re not trying to get individual things. We’re not worried about the draft. We’re not worried about – I’m not worried about a championship right now. We’re about focusing on what we can do.”
The Gators will be without at least seven from last year’s defensive squad that will play in the NFL in 2017. Most predict a big drop off for Florida on that side of the ball.
“I mean every year the Florida Gators are overlooked,” Gardner said with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. “We just wanna go out there. We don’t do any talking. We don’t go on social media, don’t talk to nobody. We know what’s expected of us, and coach knows what’s expected of us… We know what we’ve got to do to make everybody notice us. Us losing eight (starters) is not going to matter. We’ve got eight more that can do the same thing those eight can do.”
How good can the defense be?
“No drop-off at all,” he said.