The Secondary Issue

The old college football mantra during the summertime is no news is good news, but that hasn't been the case for Florida's secondary. The safety spot has taken quite a hit over the last few months, but there's still reason to be optimistic heading into the fall.

Last season, the Gator secondary was the Achilles heel of the team. Florida ranked dead last in pass defense in the SEC and ranked No. 98 in the nation. They failed to make plays, didn't cause turnovers and allowed big play after big play. But a coaching shakeup and a trace of experience at the cornerback spot should contribute to a cautiously optimistic attitude despite the off-the-field issues.

Ironically, head coach Urban Meyer said on National Signing Day back in February that Florida had a too few many safeties on the roster. With the departures of Jerimy Finch and Jamar Hornsby, the delay of Dee Finley's arrival to Gainesville and now the recent injury to Dorian Munroe, the Gators are looking for bodies to fill in the holes.

The biggest blow came in learning that Munroe would miss the season because of torn ACL in his right knee that needs to be surgically repaired. But most Gator fans expected highly-touted safety Will Hill who made his arrival in Gainesville for Summer B a few weeks ago to compete for the starting position anyway. The bigger blow might be the loss of depth at the safety spot and the lack of competition in practice for playing time.

New cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford said switching Ahmad Black back to safety from corner should ease the situation in the middle.

"We moved Ahmad Black to safety in the spring," Bedford said. "He had an outstanding spring. We have Will Hill coming in. I think we have a very talented group of safeties especially with the guys that have started for us. Major was a bigtime player coming out of school and I think he had a good spring, so I think we're very solid at that position. As far as any of the other corners moving inside for us, I don't think any of them can do that right now."

The two likeliest candidates are Moses Jenkins who has the height more fitted for a safety and Wondy Pierre-Louis. But with Pierre-Louis, he started all 13 games at corner for the Gators in 2007, and Bedford likes the way he looks and the experience he brings to the table.

"I want to hopefully keep moving forward from that point," Bedford said. "Those are the things that I want to stress. People say they're young players, but I tell them that I look at them as veterans."

Both of Florida's starting corners from last season are back as only sophomores and Joe Haden who started alongside with Pierre-Louis adjusted well as he became more comfortable with the position. Haden's competitive edge and work ethic are second to none, and he should grow into a star in the Gator secondary.

In addition to Haden and Pierre-Louis, Bedford was able to get an advanced screening of freshmen Janoris Jenkins and Jeremy Brown. Both freshmen early enrolled and were able to get acquainted during the spring workouts. Both young corners are coming off of trips to state championship games in their senior years of high school, so they know what it takes to win.

"We have two young freshmen that we played this spring and have high expectations for," Bedford said. "They can push the older guys and we have some competition, but other than that, we have some veterans that are ready to go."

The Gators have been known to play man-to-man under Meyer, but with two new starters last season, they were tentative at times. Bedford has made it his goal to become more aggressive at the cornerback spot this fall.

"When you get up there, put your hands on them, tackle them," he said. "It's something I tell our guys when we're recruiting, if they can't tackle, we don't want them here. To me defensive football is being able to tackle."

The outlook may be somewhat glum for the near future at the safety spot, but there is certainly reason to be optimistic about the cornerbacks in the fall. And with a year under Major Wright's belt at safety, it could be worse for the defensive back side.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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