Predicting the Starters: Safeties

After subbing in three safeties to two positions last season, the Gators head into 2010 with two clear starters. With the possibility of both safeties being gone after this season, it will be important to also build depth.

Ahmad Black probably has the most job security on the entire defense. He was once a player from Lakeland High School who seemed like a throw in offer to make sure the Pouncey twins and Chris Rainey would sign with the Gators. Now, the 5-9, 189-pound safety is the most sure tackler on the Florida defense.

After he made seven interceptions as a sophomore in 2008, Black's role changed in 2009. He recorded only one interception, coming against Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton. Black's role changed though, as he played more often in the box supporting the run. He was second on the team with 70 tackles.

Black will serve as the strong safety in 2010, meaning he will probably see more time closer to the line of scrimmage. With Ryan Stamper and Brandon Spikes gone, plus an open depth chart at linebacker, Black figures to be near the top of the tackle leaders on the team again in 2010.

Will Hill came to campus with all the hype around him. He stepped into the 2008 defense projected as the starting safety on a team that desperately needed it. The transition to college football took more time than expected, but the emergence of Black and Major Wright allowed Hill to learn and not be forced into immediate playing time.

Hill came to Gainesville with whispers of Reggie Nelson following him. He was better in 2009, forcing the Gators to use all three safeties in split duty. Hill ended the season sixth on the team with 42 tackles. He didn't record an interception and had only one pass breakup, but he was used to blitz on many pass plays. Hill recorded 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss.

This season, the Gators need him to be a one-high safety that they can trust to drop in coverage and be able to get from sideline-to-sideline. Hill is projected to be a high pick in next year's NFL Draft, but he still has room this season to grow if he wants to live up to them. It could be that he hasn't been the full time starter at safety since he came to Gainesville, and he will have his chance to do that this season.

Matt Elam is the freshman that will make the biggest impact at safety. He looks primed to take over for Black as the strong safety in 2011. This season, Elam's main role will be as the nickel. He played the position in the spring with the first team, and head coach Urban Meyer claimed multiple times that he will see the field this spring.

He is similar to Black because both are shorter than most safeties, but Elam is much thicker. This helps him jam receivers off the line, making him ready physically to see the field in the fall of his freshman year.

Josh Evans looked set to see big minutes off the bench in the defensive backfield, but he injured his knee in the spring, which slowed his development. Elam likely jumped him on the depth chart because of his breakout spring.

Freshmen Jonathan Dowling and Jordan Haden will provide depth, but their most important roles this season will be to learn the position. If they can become comfortable with the way Florida uses the safeties on defense, they will be in prime position to make a run at what will likely be two open starting positions at safety in 2011.


Fightin Gators Top Stories