Safeties High on Chemistry and Leadership

The storm of two-a-days ended Friday for the Gators. While the physical demands of fall camp will tone down after Saturday's scrimmage, the mental focus will increase. That's what safeties coach Chuck Heater likes about his team. The focus in meeting rooms has helped breed chemistry through the entire team.

"It starts in our units," Heater said. "I like my guys, and most of the (coaches) like the guys in their room. There aren't many distractions in that regard. If you've got good chemistry in your room, you have a chance to have good chemistry on your defense, offense and the team."

The chemistry and leadership from upperclassmen gives Heater a positive feeling about the team. The seniors have spent time working with the freshmen, getting them ready to see the field from the first snap this fall.

However, Heater still doesn't feel like he can judge how close the team is as a unit. That will come during the season when they face a challenge for the first time.

"When you face some adversity, that's where you kind of find out where you are," Heater said. "There is adversity along the way. You find out the character of your football team when you have those tough days."

The Gators will scrimmage Saturday morning and take Sunday off. They will start Monday and practice through the week as if they were preparing for a game on Saturday. The following Monday will then start actual game week preparations.

This is the time it starts to sink in for coaches and players that the season is about to start.

"Mentally for the players, it's better," Heater said. "You start working for the game plan of the first couple games. You shift away from the reps since you only practice once. You steer it towards the guys who are going to play."

The Florida coaches also began to analyze their game plan.

"We start looking to make sure we have the right packages and personnel in the packages," Heater said. "We get an idea of what we're dealing with in the first few games."

Heater said it's still too early for the coaches to put intensive time into their opposition. They will begin the basic overlook of the teams they will play in the first few weeks, looking to see their basic offensive and defensive formations.

"We like to have a general idea if they're a power team or a spread team to get an idea of what we're dealing with," Heater said. "You keep running your defense, but at some point you like to tailor them for who you'll play."

The production of the Florida safeties likely comes down to how Will Hill plays. His size and speed combination screams of an NFL safety. His production, though, has not.

Hill's struggles last season came because of his mind being anywhere other than the football field. He experienced the birth of his child in September. While on the practice field, Hill was trying to learn his responsibilities at safety and nickel back. All things considered, Coach Heater thinks Hill managed his time effectively.

"He came in as a freshman and played as a nickel," Heater said. "We played him at the nickel again last year, but he split time at safety. It was difficult, but that was best for the team. He was our number one nickel and split time at safety. Those are two distinct roles. It was hard to cross train those two roles and get a guy enough reps."

The emergence of Hill would also allow the Florida defense some flexibility. If he is able to play as the one high safety, the Gators cover the back third of the field with only Hill. He has shown signs of being able to take on that responsibility, similar to how former Florida safety Reggie Nelson did.

"He's very much the same way in his talents and gifts," Heater said of Nelson and Hill. "He's got great range and the ability to do a lot of the same things Reggie did."

Matt Elam will be the first nickel back off the bench in five defensive back sets. His physicality off the line against opposing wide receivers makes him the favorite to win that job.

Since the spring, Heater has seen Elam raise the level of his game because he is in better football shape.

"He has a better feel for it and better technique with it," Heater said. "The better shape you get in, the harder you can go and more you can finish plays. He's a young guy though. He's still going through that development stage of, how do you play hard all the time? The play you take off is the play that can hurt you. All young players have to go through that."

Jonathan Dowling may take a little longer to see the field. He has opened eyes with his plays in pass coverage, but he still needs to add more weight before seeing the field.

"He's actually getting better," Heater said. "He's a little further away physically. He's got some natural things that he does. It would be good to bring him up through the special teams."
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