Two Walk-Ons Look For Their Chance In August

Even with a number of starters and experienced backups returning, Florida's defense has several questions heading into the 2006 season. The Gator defense finished ninth nationally and fourth in the Southeastern Conference in total defense in 2005 the top 10 nationally in total defense in 2005 so expectations are high for the defense to produce this season even though walk-ons and incoming freshmen may have to fill some critical backup roles.

During the spring, the Gators got significant contributions from a pair of walk-ons, sophomore safety John Curtis and senior linebacker Darryon Robinson. Because of injuries and depth problems, they actually got more snaps than most of the starters on defense in the spring. Although it's not known how far they'll climb up the depth chart once two-a-days begin in August, the experience they gained in the spring will be invaluable and it's almost certain that both will make contributions on the special teams.

For Robinson, a local product out of Gainesville Eastside, just getting on the field to contribute any way he can is the goal for the fall. He opened some eyes in the spring by making some big plays nearly every full contact day and in the Orange and Blue Game, he picked off a Chris Leak pass in the first quarter.

"It's been a good spring," Robinson said after the Orange and Blue Game. "I am trying to come out and help the team however I can whether it be special teams or at linebacker."

Florida's coaching staff liked what they saw of Robinson in the spring. He was a hustler that didn't take plays or drills off. He didn't shy away from contact either. When spring practice ended, he was Earl Everett's backup at the weak side or Buck linebacker position.

"They [the coaches] want me to get better," he said. "It's my last year and we have a good senior class. I want to come out here with a bang and get better."

He admits needing to improve both speed and strength in the off-season but there is one other thing Robinson could do to improve his chances of seeing the field in the fall. During spring practice he was in position to make at several interceptions but until he picked off Leak in the Orange and Blue Game, he dropped every single chance for an interception.

"I probably dropped four or five balls this spring and Coach [Charlie Strong] told me I would have to be on the JUGS machine," he said.

In the mean time he will try and learn from one of the best linebackers in the country and one of the big leaders on the team.

"Brandon Siler is a natural born leader," Robinson said. "He is a great guy to know and he knows his stuff. We are all brothers and he's an unbelievable athlete."

At mid-spring, starting free safety Kyle Jackson went down with a back injury that caused him to miss several practices. In his place, Curtis stepped in and showed he's got some ability as a playmaker. Curtis transferred over from wide receiver in the spring but he used his athletic ability and natural football instincts to make a push up the depth chart.

What made Curtis' rise up the charts more impressive was he spent the spring playing with a cast on his wrist and hand. Even though he had problems making interceptions with one hand and wrapping up ball carriers, he showed the ability to get into position to make plays. The cast came off just last week.

"It [wrist] feels a little better but it's kind of sore," he said.

Because this is a new position, Curtis will spend the off-season studying film and learning everything he can. In August, he'll be 100 percent physically so he has to be ready to complete the plays that he missed because of the injury in the spring.

"I am just trying to learn and get better and do the best I can," Curtis said. "They say I have a lot to learn and every day I need to get better. Switching from the receiver mentality to defensive mentality was tough."

The injury to the wrist was the second big injury Curtis has suffered. He showed playmaking ability as a wide receiver in the spring of 2005 and again during two-a-days in August before he went down with an ACL. It was somewhat of a surprise when Curtis showed up this spring on the defensive side of the ball. The fact is, the 6-2, 210-pounder is a good enough athlete that he can play just about anywhere on a football field. That's why Coach Urban Meyer approached him in January about making the move.

"I made the switch right after the bowl game," Curtis said., "Coach Meyer came up to me after the bowl game and said he needed someone and so I switched."

Curtis thinks he has one distinct advantage over the other safeties on the roster. He's played wide receiver so he's accustomed to going up for the ball and coming down with it. If he comes down with the ball, he knows exactly what to do with it --- take it to the end zone. If the opportunity comes, he says, "That's all me."

With a heralded recruiting class on the way in the fall, it is a wait and see how Darryon Robinson and John Curtis will fit in this fall but given their spring experience, it looks like they will have a good shot at earning some playing time.

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