Rotation of Excellence

Sometimes there are problems nobody wants and other times there are problems everyone would like to have. In the case of the Florida secondary, the Gators have three safeties that could play for anyone. Getting them all on the field has been easier than the staff might have thought coming into the season. With the defense playing at such a high level, all the playing time has paid off.

Against South Carolina last week we saw the worst and best of the Florida Gator defense all in one game. The worst, wasn't that bad but the defense surrendered 14 points in the first half due to some assignment errors. When the light went on in the second half they were special. The Gators logged two interceptions, four sacks, and continuous pressure in the fourth quarter alone. They allowed only 41 yards in the second half.

"It was a combination in the first half of (South Carolina) doing a good job and in situations us not doing well, and in the second half we got it working the way we wanted it to work," assistant defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chuck Heater said. "We didn't get lined up a couple of times and didn't execute a couple of defenses. It was uncharacteristic (for us)."

The Gators aren't afraid to mix it up on defense and in fact three of the six sacks on the night came from members of the secondary. One of the sack masters was Will Hill who has learned to play three positions in the Gator secondary, free safety, strong safety, and nickel back.

"(Hill) is playing at three positions and that isn't easy," Heater said. "He is getting reps at each and he goes out there and performs at a high level...All the safeties kind of cross train a little bit, but he plays all three spots. I try to cross train them all but ultimately he is the one getting the reps at all three spots."

Hill, just a sophomore has a lot on his plate, but the Gators are comfortable with their two juniors also. Ahmad Black and Major Wright are returning starters from last year's national championship team and both can play either safety position in this defense. Heater loves what he has with the rotation at safety.

"You get three productive players," he said about the group. "They are all three guys that have the ability to make plays. They are all key components and our defense is characteristic that way. All three are playmakers and the more often you have those kinds of guys on the field, the better chance you have of that happening. That's what you have in those three guys."

The three safeties are all talented and play makers in their own right. Heater knows it is important to get them all on the field as much as possible and all three will line up on the field at the same time a lot. If so, that means Hill at the nickel with the other two manning the safety spots.

"Markihe Anderson plays in there (the nickel) some, but it's just a matter of getting everyone on the field," Heater said. "Meanwhile you are trying to win games and some positions are a little more difficult to learn than others and you have to make sure you are not compromising that by mixing guys in there. They are all three good players so we want to get them on the field."

It has really worked out that all are playing a lot and that is a function of what the staff wanted to do at the beginning of the season. None of the three are worried about the others taking their time on the field and all of the three are getting plenty of reps.

"That was a plan we have had," Heater said of finding a way to rotate the group. "We need to keep executing that and make sure everyone gets a fair distribution. It gets tweaked every week, one week a guy has a little bit of an ankle problem or you are down a's a week to week deal."

"They respect each other. If we had a guy that wasn't as good a player, then they would have a problem with that. All three guys bring certain things to the table; all three contribute and make plays. They understand the plays have to be distributed."

All three players are aggressive by nature and that plays into the scheme the Gators love to utilize. Man defense is the name of the game allowing the safeties to blitz, or play in the box to stop the short game. Stopping the run is imperative here, so as long as they are getting that done with the front 6-7, then the aggressive play of the three can take over.

"We play defense a certain way and as long as we control the running game, we can play that way," Heater said of the aggressive nature. "If we don't control the running game, it isn't as easy for us. We've been able to do that so we have been able to get in predictable situations and when that happens we can be much more aggressive."

The three are on the field only when teams are in somewhat of spread formations.

"If a team play a lot of three or four wide receivers set, its kind of our structure," he said. "If they are two back offense, or two tight end offense, then we will play more of the other stuff. Really, it is a function of what the offense does."

The Gator defense is ranked second in the country and so is their pass defense. They are ranked tops in the country in scoring defense. They are playing at an elite level, yet according to Heater, there isn't a whole lot of press for his guys. He kind of likes it like that for now; he knows that one bad play by the defense can create a whole new persona for the group in the minds of the public.

"The defense doesn't get talked about much in my opinion," Heater said. "We live with it, but frankly it isn't featured on a daily basis. That's okay. We don't have a problem with that, because all you need to do is go out and play a bad half like Saturday and all of a sudden you aren't as good as you think you are."

"I hope when the season is over they can talk all they want. That is the only time we want to be remembered. Right now we are a work in progress and just one play away from having a bad day."

And a few games away from having an incredible season.

Fightin Gators Top Stories