Safety Position Playing Consistent

Coming into the season the safety position at the University of Florida was a big concern. Nine games into the season, consistency and playmaking have been the key words to describe the play at safety. As of now, the safety position looks like another strength on a very good team and the position is getting deeper and better.

The Gators returned Major Wright at one of the starting spots from the end of the 2007 season. Wright brings a hard hitting and tenacious personality to the field. He is also a team leader of sorts and someone that the younger and less experienced guys really look up to.

One of those less experienced players is his side kick and co-starter at safety, Ahmad Black. Black is a true sophomore that was moved over from cornerback this past spring. He was someone that fans never thought would see much playing time after the move due to his size and other measurables. As it turns out, Black's instincts have really played a big part in the way the secondary has rounded out and the way the entire team has played this season.

Black's average of 36.8 yards per interception return ranks second nationally. He recorded his team-leading fifth interception of the season against Vanderbilt. Last year, the team was led by senior safety Tony Joiner and sophomore cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis, who had two each. Black's two interception returns for touchdowns are tied with six others for most in the nation by any player this season.

"He is a guy that has really good instincts and awareness," Safety Coach Chuck Heater said earlier this week. "He's a good athlete. You have a really athletic guy playing inside. He (plays well) in space and his tackling, he just has good awareness. Those are things you don't teach, they are more instinctual than teachable."

The entire Gators' defense had eight interceptions last year while the starting two safeties already have seven between them. The safety position accounted for two interceptions total in 2007. It has been a maturation process that has had a bump here and there.

In the fourth game of the season, the Gator defense gave up a few big plays. Most notably was the game winning 86-yard touchdown completion from Jevan Snead to Shay Hodge that ended up being the game winner for Ole Miss. That play has been on the minds of the secondary ever since and they have done one heck of a job making sure that doesn't happen far.

"About a month ago we were getting asked about why we gave up big plays," Heater said alluding to that Ole Miss game. "In the back end it can go south on you in a hurry. The guys have worked hard, they have good focus and concentration. We are just trying to get better...that's the goal."

The Gators are starting to add a little depth at the position. Coming into the season with really only one experienced player, there were a ton of questions. True freshman Will Hill has now started to play more and is getting more and more comfortable in the rotation. In the nickel package, Hill has been inserted into the nickel back position and was responsible for a quarterback hurry against Vanderbilt last weekend that led to Ahmad Black's fifth interception of the year.

Hill, who missed a couple of days of practice during the week due to a family illness, is currently ranked sixth on the team in tackles. He is a major force on special teams where he earned the right to get more and more playing time.

"Once he came along and got past the hamstring issue and got healthy," Heater responded when asked about how well Hill has been playing. " We are just trying to get the best guys out there. He has play making in him and we are trying to get those kind of guys on the field for sure."

At 6-3 and 210 pounds Hill is an imposing force and has been lined up at the line of scrimmage a lot in his nickel position. His big body and tenacious play allows him to play in the tackle box and this aggressive defense is all about getting more people closer to the ball.

"He's a big safety for sure," Heater said. "He is down in that run box. He is certainly capable of doing that."

The Gators have one SEC game left against Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks before finishing off the season with The Citadel and arch rival Florida State. They have remained focused on the weekly task at hand since the Ole Miss loss and more than game by game, they seemed to have approached the season play by play. They are dominating their opponents on both sides of the ball and the defense has been the side that needed to mature and seemingly has.

"It's been a pretty consistent deal," Heater said. "We have been consistent on defense and not giving up the big play. We've been running around, defensing people, and keeping it out of the end zone. It's a week to week gig and we are facing a really good coach and really good team this week so we will have our hands full for sure."

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