For Florida’s secondary to live up to its DBU reputation this fall, two things likely will have to happen: the Gators have to stay healthy at cornerback and some inexperienced and unproven players are going to have to step up at safety.
We discussed UF’s depth issue at cornerback in an earlier Daily Football Fix. Today, we’re going to analyze the safety positions.
At safety, there’s junior Chauncey Gardner-Johnson — and then everybody else in terms of experience and proven playmaking ability.
Here’s a look at the other safeties:
Jeawon Taylor, Sophomore
Along with Gardner-Johnson, Taylor is the only other safety who has started more than one game. He started five of the last six games last season and showed great promise.
“I started feeling comfortable and the game started slowing down for me the second half of the season,” he said.
The problem is Taylor injured his shoulder in the FSU game and could not participate in any contact work this spring.
If he is fully recovered by August and does not have a setback with the shoulder in camp, Taylor figures to be the other starting safety.
Taylor said it’s time for him to get healthy and become a leader in the secondary because he is one of the veterans now.
“It’s my time to step up and make sure the young guys know what they’re doing at any aspect of the game,” he said. “Also, my role is to take control of the defense and I feel like I just got to do that.”
The safeties will be playing multiple roles in Todd Grantham’s attacking defense, Taylor said.
“We’re going to be very aggressive,” he said. “We’re going to be coming on a lot more blitzes. We’re going to be in the run game a lot. We’re going to be real aggressive
“We know we’re not going to be sitting back. We’re going to be in the game.”
Brad Stewart, Sophomore
This former four-star high school cornerback played in 11 games as a true freshman last fall and recorded 13 tackles and an interception.
He had a solid spring and will be competing for the starting spot opposite Gardner-Johnson in preseason camp.
“He’s athletic, he can move around and stuff,” safeties coach Ron English said. “He’s got to learn what to do a little bit better so he can really play.
“He’s a good-size guy who can run and cover. He’s got really good in coverage eye discipline. Brad’s a guy who is going to be able to cover and as he gets more reps and learns better technique, he’ll be able to strike you, too.”
Donovan Stiner, Sophomore
Stiner played in 11 games as a true freshman last season, recording nine tackles, three in the loss to Missouri. He was also a productive player on special teams.
He’ll be competing for a starting role in August. He figures to see significant playing time whether he starts or not.
“Donovan is conscientious,” English said. “He does a good job. He cares about what he’s doing. I like Stiner.”
Shawn Davis, Sophomore
He played in nine games as a true freshman in 2017 and earned his first start in the FSU game. He recorded 11 tackles on the season.
He showed a lot of promise last fall, but his inexperience also was obvious at times and he was beaten for some big plays.
That experience should only help in his development.
Davis had a solid spring.
“Since last season, I’ve gotten way more comfortable,” he said. “I have a better feel for the game. Last year I was just coming in and I needed to get my feet wet. Now, I feel like I am more comfortable and I can play fast and make a lot of plays.”
Quincy Lenton, Sophomore
Lenton played in four games last season, all on special teams, where he’ll likely be getting most of his playing time in the fall.
He showed some promise in the spring and will try to work his way into the playing rotation in the fall.
Amari Burney, Freshman
The true freshman made some impressive plays in the spring, but also made some mistakes that come with inexperience. The coaches think he has a huge upside. The question now is what position will he end up playing?
At 6-foot-1, 224 pounds, Burney is already at just about linebacker size. With UF’s lack of depth at linebacker, he could eventually end up there, or possibly even play both linebacker and safety.
John Huggins, Freshman
This hard-hitting three-star prospect doesn’t arrive on campus until late June. He’ll compete for playing time in preseason camp, but his playing time likely will come on special teams.
David Reese, Freshman
He was rated a four-star linebacker coming out of high school, but UF listed him as a safety on the school’s signing-day list. He’ll probably end up at linebacker, but he also could get a look at safety in preseason camp.