VETTEL: Gators Again Looking for Corners

About a year ago at this time one of the biggest questions surrounding the Gator football team was, "Who would man the corner opposite Dee Webb?" Well, the answer turned out to be Vernell Brown who became one of the best stories of 2005. Now as the Gators begin the second half of spring football practice, corner again is a major area of concern.

Vernell Brown was a senior last season, and Dee Webb elected to turn pro. That leaves Florida with starters Avery Atkins and Reggie Lewis who combined for just eight pass break ups last year. Behind them you have two fifth year seniors in Tremaine and Jermaine McCollum whose contributions have been almost exclusively on special teams. That depth took another hit when Jermaine got injured this spring, sending oft-moved veteran Nick Brooks back to corner where he's an instant second-teamer.

Starters Appear to be Fine

I've been telling you since last fall that Avery Atkins was the Gators' top coverage man, and this spring he's proven that to be the case. Atkins is the guy who makes every one-on-one drill must see action. I believe he'll be better than Webb was a year ago. Reggie Lewis is a competitive guy who made the move to corner a year ago and has made gradual progress, earning him the starting nod at this time. Lewis played a good bit last year, and made perhaps the most important play of the year, intercepting Jay Cutler to finally clinch Florida's overtime win over the Vanderbilt Commodores. Care to think what this off-season would have been like had Vandy won that game? It's not a pleasant thought.

Checking in with "T-Twin"

I recently talked with Tremaine "T-Twin" McCollum about his getting a real chance at playing time at corner in this, his senior year.

LV: Tremaine, how do you feel about your chances to compete for playing time this fall?

TM: I real really good about it. I'm working really hard to win a job, but if I don't, I know I'm pushing the other guys.

LV: With Dee Webb's departure for the NFL, did you see that as an opportunity for you?

TM: Yes I did. But I also feel like I could have learned a lot more from him or whatever, but it is what it is. It's time for me to move on and get better.

LV: How would you assess your progress as a player at this point?

TM: Well right now because it's spring I'm a little rusty but everybody is moving along. I feel like I'm making progress and working hard to get better every day.

LV: How do you like the one-on-one drills with the receivers? It seems tough for the defensive player, how does it help you?

TM: It helps a lot because as corners we're put out on an island a lot. It's good to show you can cover your man even if the quarterback has all day to throw it.

LV: Does it help facing receivers like the Gators have?

TM: Oh yeah because it's like Coach Meyer talks about making practice harder than the games. We know if we can cover guys like Dallas, Andre and Jemalle every day then we can get the job done this fall.

It struck me as somewhat odd that Jermaine McCollum is not all that charged up about trying to win a job this spring, but maybe that's just his personality. Personally, I like guys like Atkins and Lewis who openly admit they want a job as soon as they can claim one. That's why I believe they will remain the top two corners until opening day.

Coach Heater on the Cornerbacks

Florida secondary coach Chuck Heater spoke with me about the current state of the cornerback position at this stage of spring ball.

LV: Chuck, there's not a lot of guys right now at the corner position, how do you feel about the situation there?

CH: Well, I like the guys I have, but there aren't enough. We'd like to try and replenish the numbers there and we're working on it. Reggie Lewis and Avery Atkins got some experience and helped us win some games last year, and we're trying to develop Tremaine McCollum to see if we can get some depth this spring.

LV: What about Tremaine? He's a fifth year guy who has really mostly seen action on special teams. How would you assess him?

CH: He can run and do some things, but he just needs to play and develop consistency. That's what we're trying to get out of him this spring because we're going to need some help at that position. We've got some freshmen kids coming in but you'd rather fill you needs from within and let them guys fill in where they can. So Tremaine is going to get a lot of reps and a lot of opportunity and hopefully he'll meet the challenge and get ready to play at a championship level.

LV: Let's talk about Reggie Lewis who you moved to corner a year ago. How much has he progressed in the time you've had him?

CH: Well he went to corner first thing last spring and he's really gotten a lot better. He's got talent and he can do everything that needs to be done there at a very high level. He just needs to develop consistency, and that comes with confidence and a lot of good repetitions. He wants to be a really good player before he leaves here and that's probably the most important thing… that HE wants to do that.

LV: Avery Atkins played more and more as the year wore on and seems like he has every attribute to be a special one back there.

CH: Avery is a talented kid and he has a lot of football in him. I mean he has football in his blood. He walks across those white lines and plays the game the way it ought to be played. He's a young player that needs to keep developing, but he brings a lot to the table.

LV: We've seen Reggie Nelson excel at the nickel and he's seen some time all over the secondary. How do you plan to best make use of him this fall?

CH: We're asking Reggie to do a lot this spring and obviously we'd love to have about eleven Reggies out there. He's a guy that's getting some safety work because that's an important position for us. But he's also a guy who has coverage abilities so we want to take advantage of that because he could be a third corner as well. We're going to see this spring what we can get done and how far we can with it and make some decisions as we enter the fall. We're just trying to give him as many reps as we can before we make a decision.

LV: But one way or the other he'll be out there won't he?

CH: Oh he'll be on the field, that's for sure.

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