Spring Breakdown: CBs with Vance Bedford

The Florida Gators set a school record in 2008 with 26 interceptions and although the cornerbacks were not the recipients of most of those, they played a huge part in the resurgence of the pass defense for the Florida Gators in 2008. Coach Vance Bedford returns every player at the position from the end of last season and is just looking to improve from where they left off as national champions.

Vance Bedford came to the University of Florida last season with a wealth of coaching experience from the high school level to the NFL. He also coached the only player to win the Heisman Trophy that was primarily a defensive star in Michigan's Charles Woodson. After a season of turmoil in the secondary in 2007, Bedford teamed with assistant defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater to reign in the secondary and make them a better unit.

What came about was maybe the greatest turnaround by any unit at Florida in recent memory. The secondary went from probably the team's biggest weakness to a big team strength jumping from a 98th ranked passing defense in 2007 to 20th by the end of the 2008 national championship campaign. All of this despite actually being younger in the secondary.

The improvement in the secondary was remarkable as the Gators went from giving up 259 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air to just 180 and 12 touchdowns.

For Bedford, he had his work cut out for him. Sophomore Joe Haden would be one returning starter and Haden had a Freshman All-American year in 2007. The other starter would be junior Wondy Pierre-Louis at the beginning of the season.

Little did Bedford know when the season started that he would be relying on a true freshman and true sophomore to start all season for him at cornerback and that is exactly what happened as true freshman Janoris Jenkins stepped up and made a name for himself as yet another freshman All-American.

Now, Bedford has the luxury of having two established All-American type starters at cornerback and a couple of seniors in Pierre-Louis and Markihe Anderson just behind them providing veteran experienced depth. Despite the luxury, Bedford knows this group can get even better.

"We have a lot of room for improvement," Bedford said last week. "Joe Haden was a true sophomore and Janoris Jenkins a true freshman so their futures are still ahead of them as far as learning the game and understanding the game. They can get better at tackling, playing zone coverages better, and bump and run a lot better."

While this spring will be used to fine tune the starters, Bedford is going to use the time to really motivate his seniors to challenge the two youngsters ahead of them. Bedford knows that competition breeds success and makes everyone better.

"Wondy Pierre-Louis has an NFL type body and athlete, he just has to mature and grow up," Bedford said. "He just needs to understand it takes hard work to have success in what he wants to do. If he ever understands that there is no telling what he might be able to do. If he learns to ficus and go hard all the time, he has a lot of potential. He has shown flashes of being a very good player and hopefully that comes to the forefront this year.

"Markihe Anderson is going to be a senior. We have to get a lot more production out of (him too)."

The Gators were in a position last year where they could actually redshirt talented depth at the cornerback position. Sophomore Moses Jenkins played sparingly in 2008. Freshmen Jeremy Brown and Adrian Bushell redshirted and were able to get a little more comfortable with college before being asked to make a contribution on the field.

According to Bedford, it is now time for these young players to show what they have and make a name for themselves this spring.

"Moses Jenkins is going into his junior year and needs to start doing something," Bedford said. "He played some special teams for us this year and showed some signs but needs to start being more productive."

Brown injured his back during two-a-days last season and has spent most of the last eight months recuperating the injury. Bedford believes that Brown is ready to go and from earlier reports he can be a guy that pushes some of the other more established players.

"We have a couple of freshmen, Jeremy Brown who was injured last year and Adrian Bushell is another unknown guy," Bedford said. "They are both moving around pretty good. Jeremy is ready to go for the spring. We have readjusted his off-season program and we think it made a tremendous difference. We are now doing the things we need to do to keep him healthy.

"Adrian Bushell appears to be a very confident young man. That's one of the most important things in playing cornerback. He has that air of confidence a lot like Janoris. Now we are going to find out (how good he is)...he is just so unknown."

Bedford will use his young guns to push the older more experienced guys into making themselves better. He hasn't recruited a single one of the guys he is coaching, but he has a great luxury of having talent and depth at the position, at least for this year.

"They will compete and that's the best thing," Bedford said about Jenkins, Brown, and Bushell. "In order to play for a national championship we must have depth. Right now going into this year we have some depth, our concern is for the following year where we won't. For this football season coming up we will have some good competition and that will push us to be a pretty good football team.

What I want to see this spring...

The goals should be individual in nature as it will be hard to produce all of the interceptions they did last year as a complete secondary. Still, the corners can be more productive in the interception category as they only had eight of the 26 interceptions on the season.

Joe Haden needs to work on playing bump and run and we saw him get beat quite a few times when lining up in the slot and having to turn completely around to cover a guy that he is covering. Haden has had a remarkable 24 pass breakups in two seasons and he should be able to turn more and more of those into interceptions. He should set a goal of eight interceptions and that would triple his current career total of four.

Janoris Jenkins will work on facing the quarterback more and making a break on the ball. The best man defender on the team, he keeps receivers from making a play on the ball. Now, he should learn to bait quarterbacks into throwing his direction. Still, he had 12 pass breakups and three interceptions, which is remarkable for a true freshman.

If Wondy Pierre-Louis keeps his head on straight he will play a bunch this season. He is the most physically talented of the bunch. He may be the fastest, he is second only to Jenkins in height, and he has tremendous strength. He doesn't have the body control of the two starters, but he can use his other attributes to overcome that most of the time. Keeping his head up and playing hard will make him some money some day if not put him on the field by outworking someone or if someone gets injured.

Markihe Anderson is your consummate team player and the kind of guy you want on your team. Anderson could start for more than half the teams in the SEC and has started in the past with the Gators. He may be the best player the Gators have to cover a quick receiver in the slot position. He has excellent change in direction and speed, but could use this time this spring to work on being a bit more physical.

Moses Jenkins will just have to be more fluid. Safety size, Jenkins displays some attributes that could make him a fine corner. Working on his agility and quickness will go a long way with getting him on the field at Florida.

When Jeremy Brown was healthy last spring, he was ahead of Janoris Jenkins, if ever so slightly. He is a different player than Janoris and plays off his man, much like a Keiwan Ratliff. This allows him to make plays on the ball a little more. The number one goal for Brown is to be healthy this spring and then he will probably need to work on being a little more physical. I think the latter will come with his health.

The real unknown to most of us is Adrian Bushell. He missed most of last fall workouts getting eligible at Florida so we never got to see him play. Bushell is a physical player and a real compliment to Brown's finesse style at the position. As Bedford is a little more of an aggressive coach, look for Bushell to be a guy he will like to get on the field when he can. I just want to see any kind of consistency from Bushell, which is what is usually missing from younger guys.

On the recruiting front...

With the Gators not really losing anyone from last year's roster at cornerback, signing a cornerback was not a priority. However, after this season there will be some definite attrition from the unit, so a big priority will be spent on recruiting cornerbacks for the class of 2010.

"We are looking to sign four corners," Bedford said. "We didn't sign anyone this year. We lose two and are concerned that another may come out early. We are concerned that our numbers might be depleted."

It is easy to understand that Bedford is talking about a possibility of Joe Haden coming out early for the draft and that they aren't sure yet whether 2009 prospect Josh Evans will work out at cornerback early on. The uncertainty lends itself to think big at the position for the class of 2010 and the recruiting board mirrors those thoughts.

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