Florida must replace key starters in both areas of the defensive backfield and that poses a significant challenge. The Gators intercepted 20 passes last season, which was six less than the previous season. It's also significant that six Gators intercepted two or more passes and four of them are gone.
Today we'll look at the cornerback position before wrapping up the series with an assessment of the Florida safeties. As with the other parts of our series we're trying to break it down very simply. We look at what each unit lost, the best returning player, other veterans needed to step up and coming attractions. For these purposes we'll consider the guys who enrolled early as "veterans" if they saw significant playing time this spring.
What was lost ---- The Gators say goodbye to three veteran performers at cornerback, but only one of them will be missed. Wondy Pierre Louis and Markihe Anderson were solid contributors for the Gators, but it's Joe Haden who they have to worry about replacing. Haden was an outstanding corner who could cover, intercept and was an exceptional tackler. You don't go seventh in round one of the NFL Draft unless you are a special talent. Haden did it all, registering 68 tackles including three QB sacks. He also led the Gators with four interceptions and broke up ten passes, also a team best. He certainly is in the discussion as to who is the best corner in UF history. Neither of the other two departed corners had a pick last year.
Best returning player ---- Janoris Jenkins might not have played as well last year as he did as a freshman in '08, but he is still an elite talent with the ability to be an All-SEC performer this year. He has five interceptions in his two seasons in the Gator secondary and it would not be a surprise to see him match that number this fall. Jenkins has all the attributes to be a great one and looked sensational in the spring as he took over leadership of the position.
Other returning corners ---- The battle to be the corner opposite Jenkins may be the most important position battle in pre-season camp. At the end of spring drills the coaches indicated Jeremy Brown who missed most of two years is the leader heading into the off-season with Adrian Bushell (14 tackles, 1 int) right behind him. Well it now appears that Bushell is not behind Brown, but instead behind a decision to transfer from Florida. With him no longer in the picture for the Gators the position is even thinner. Moses Jenkins, who I've always thought should be a free safety, had a good spring and is in the mix, but the guy I'm most impressed with is freshman Josh Shaw. He got burned a couple of times in the Orange and Blue Game, but he has the size and speed to be a real factor out there. While others may peg the veterans, I'm betting Shaw ends up with the job. Jaylen Watkins also showed plenty in the spring and can't be counted out.
Coming attractions ---- Florida is slated to add a pair of corners in the fall when Cody Riggs (St. Thomas Aquinas) and Travon Van (Milford Academy) are scheduled to join the team. Riggs was ranked No. 9 among the nation's best corners by scout.com and was part of a loaded secondary at Aquinas. His victory in the intermediate hurdles at the state track meet shows he has speed and athleticism. Van was seen by some as an offensive player by some in the recruiting field and it's hoped a year in prep school has readied him for the next level on the field and in the classroom. It'll be tough for either guy to pass the many in front of them.
The Bottom Line ---- Whoever wins this job has to be ready for a lot of activity. Opposing teams are bound to want to try the new guy rather than challenging Jenkins on a regular basis. There's plenty of competition for that job as well as the nickel and dime roles in other Gator defensive packages.
Next, we'll conclude our series with a look at a talented but thin group competing for the jobs at safety.
Spring Evaluation: Cornerbacks
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