One starter returns from last year's secondary, but the Gators have a lot of young bodies to test and see what works. No decisions have been made yet on starters at cornerback or free safety, but a final one should be made by Saturday a week before the Gators take the field for the first time this season.
Head coach Urban Meyer
listed four possible candidates for cornerback after Tuesday's practice, but no one has yet to lock down a starting spot. Sophomore Markihe Anderson
looks to be the leading candidate of the group, but freshman Joe Haden
can grab a starting role as well if he can become more consistent in practice.
"He didn't have a good day yesterday," Meyer said after Wednesday's workout. "He had a typical freshmen day yesterday, so we came out and busted his tail. He's in the mix to play, maybe start."
One benefit for Anderson is his experience from last season. He saw action in every game but one, posting seven tackles.
"He's one guy that did play, so obviously I've got some film on him from last year and I can see him in there for 8-10 snaps a game in some critical games," cornerback coach Chuck Heater said. "That helps you when you don't have anyone back there who's played much, so that's a positive for sure."
Two other players are in the mix, including junior Markus Manson and sophomore Wondy Pierre-Louis. Heater is trying to find the best combination before making a final decision on the two starters.
"We're starting to put together the guys who we are going to work with and invest in," he said. "We've got a lot of guys shuttling in and out. We've got a lot of different rotations, and we really haven't stabilized a rotation, but by this weekend we certainly have to get this done."
The free safety spot left vacant by Reggie Nelson is still looking for someone to grab. The leading candidate is senior Kyle Jackson who started 12 games during his first two seasons.
"Kyle struggled yesterday, but he had a good day today," Meyer said.
Jackson is being pushed by redshirt freshman Jamar Hornsby and true freshman Major Wright.
"[Wright is] making a push for some playing time," Meyer said. "He's doing a nice job."
The Gators have a starting day kicker and a new player on scholarship.
"Joey Ijjas has just been put on scholarship, and he's going to kick in the first game," Meyer said. "He had a heck of a day, and I'm happy for Joey."
Ijjas had 11 touchbacks in 65 kickoffs last season.
There's only 10 seniors on scholarship for the Gators compared to 23 last season. But they're working together to bring veteran leadership to the team.
"It's been a process, but we kind of sit together and depend on each other with our responsibilities," senior tight end Tate Casey said. "So if one senior jumps on someone and tells them they have to work harder or if they did something wrong, then another one jumps in and backs his decision. It's tough to replace 23 of them. It's something that we've kind of coped with and learned to step up and do."
Freshman tailback Chris Rainey has been slowed this week with a sore foot, but Meyer's confident he'll be a contributor this season. He's in the mix at kick return with Brandon James, Chevon Walker and Jarred Fayson.
Based on what he's seen out of freshman quarterback John Brantley, Meyer thinks former Gator and Trinity Catholic head coach Kerwin Bell will do fine at Jacksonville University. Said Meyer, "I love Kerwin. I admire him. I've studied him and I know him real well. He knows the game of football real well. He loves this school and he's an honest person. That's a good sign of a good coach and he obviously knows the game of football. Johnny Brantley is a testament to that. He's a developed quarterback."
The Gators practice everyday through Saturday this week before having Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday off. Meyer said they'll go hard next Monday before lightening up. Said Meyer, "[We'll] back off big time and get them walking on air by game time."