Maybe nowhere on the team are we expected to see trouble in 2017 than in the Florida secondary. With three starters possibly going on the first day of the NFL draft, the Florida secondary looks nothing like it did to start the season a year ago.
Sophomore cornerback / safety Chauncey Gardner will play a key role this season. He’s getting his first shot at corner because of the lack of players at the position and is expected to start in 2017. Gardner started in the Outback Bowl to finish last season and was the MVP of the contest. He says the guys know what has to happen this year and they made big strides this spring figuring out what each other is supposed to be doing on the football field.
“It’s a lot,” Gardner said immediately following the Orange and Blue Debut of the strides they took in the spring. “From a communication standpoint to coming together as a team and becoming a smarter defense, because like coach Shannon said ‘in order to win games you gotta be a smart defense’. Not just to know what you’re doing but know what the next guy is doing. So this spring, it went good for us.
“From day one, we’ve been improving. You could see from the D-Line to the linebackers to the safeties to the corners. And we all play as one. No DBU, no LBU. It’s just all together as a Florida defense. Everybody’s caught up in all this hype with the defensive backs, but like I said there’s more to our defense. There’s linebackers, d-line and our safeties. We’re doing a good job of coming together not focused on outside things. Just getting everything done and make sure we do (well).”
Gardner says that the players that have been here this spring are going to make it really easy for the young guys coming in out of high school that are going to have to play because of numbers, because they know what is supposed to happen and can help pass it on
“Very confident,” Gardner says of the plan for the new year “I mean when guys come in second half of the summer they’re gonna see how easy it’s gonna be. Like I said, it’s just one big family. We’re working every day, communicating every day and making sure we’re on the same page.”
Gardner says that starting at corner has been a pretty smooth transition for him.
“It was easy,” he said. “I mean, just the flow of the game was real fast. It was quick. I mean I’m learning the game more. Like I said, spring for me started slow but picked up from the first day all the way to the last day. Today we were just out there having fun, making sure the guys were doing the right assignments and just go out there and put on a show.”
A natural safety, Gardner knows what his skill set is and understands why he needs to play corner for this squad.
“I mean it’s just something to help the team out,” he said. “Wherever they put me, I’m just gonna go 100 percent and go all out and just make sure we get the W no matter where I’m at.”
Couple of freaks in the Front Seven…
On display Friday were a couple of guys we haven’t seen a lot of, but flashed some of the potential we have heard about them in the past. Sophomore defensive end Antonneous Clayton and redshirt freshman linebacker Jeremiah Moon have some of the freakiest attributes you will see on the field.
Moon can run sideline to sideline as fast as anyone, he is huge size wise, and can cover smaller receivers when asked to do so because of his athleticism and long arms that he can use to his great advantage against an offensive opponent.
“Jeremiah Moon?” Gardner quipped when asked about the linebacker who missed almost all of last season because of a thumb injury. “Pshhh the guy’s athletic. He’s a freak. Last year we didn’t see it because of the injury but this year Jeremiah is definitely gonna be a factor. He’s a great player. He can cover, he can also come off the edge. And he can also get off blocks, that’s the key playing in the SEC.”
Clayton came to Florida with a ton of hype and was probably only slowed because of the learning curve and because he needed to gain some weight and muscle to play big time SEC ball. Now he’s at 250 pounds and Gardner says the guy is also a leader in terms of getting his teammates fired up.
“Clayton, I like his energy. He’s like a hype guy. But Clayton also knows how to channel it down, know when to go and know when not to go. But he always dive in to make sure he’s making the right play and all those things.”