Gators hit with depth issues in secondary

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Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. catches a pass in front of Florida linebacker James Houston IV, left, for a 54-yard touchdown in the second half Saturday. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Injuries have put the Gators in full scramble mode in the secondary.

The latest player to go down is standout sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson, who injured his knee early in the loss to Kentucky on Saturday night.

UF coach Dan Mullen confirmed Monday that Wilson sustained a torn ACL and will undergo season-ending surgery.

“You feel terrible for Marco, a guy that has worked really hard, a star player in our secondary,” Mullen said.

The loss of Wilson leaves the Gators with only four scholarship cornerbacks on the roster — CJ Henderson, Trey Dean III, Brian Edwards and C.J. McWilliams, who missed the first two games with an unspecified injury but is expected to be ready for Saturday’s game against Colorado State.

“If you asked me coming into the season, ‘Who are your best players? What’s the strength of the defense?’ I would’ve said our two corners,” Mullen said. “To lose one of them, one of the absolute best players on your roster, is obviously a big, big loss for us. Combine that with our lack of depth in our secondary and it’s going to make it a little bit challenging for us moving forward.”

The Gators also have taken a hit at safety. Quincy Lenton is out for the season after rupturing his Achilles, while Shawn Davis continues to be out with an unspecified injury. He missed the first two games.

Mullen said the Gators are down to four healthy safeties — Donovan Stiner, Jeawon Taylor, Brad Stewart and true freshman John Huggins.

The overall numbers are so low in the secondary that the Gators are looking to possibly move some offensive skill players to defense this week to see if they can help provide some much-needed depth.

“The other guys are going to have to step up,” Mullen said. “We are going to give a couple of guys some opportunities. We’ll just see. I don’t want to get into too much of that right now, because I don’t want to make a big deal out of something we might or might not do, but we are going to see who can maybe play some DB for us, too, to help out, if we have to move some guys from the offensive side of the ball, move some people around.”

The likely replacement for Wilson at corner is Dean, a true freshman who stepped into his spot Saturday night and played the remainder of the game. He’s an early enrollee who moved his way up to the No. 2 defense in the spring.

Edwards, who saw playing time as a true freshman last season, will compete with Dean for the starting role this week. He played in the loss to UK after being suspended from the opener.

“Next guy’s got to step up and play,” Mullen said. “You’ve got Brian Edwards, you’ve got Trey Dean. They are the guys who are going to have to step up (at corner) and do that right now.”

Dean, for the most part, seemed to hold his own when his number was called last week. He also saw extensive playing time in the win over Charleston Southern.

“We’ve just got to keep playing,” said junior Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, the starter at the star position. “We have a freshman that is ready to step up and just hope he recovers fast and just get ready to get out there and play another game.”

Gardner-Johnson said Dean has earned the respect of his teammates and the coaches.

“Lengthy, aggressive, and very fast. He fits right in,” Gardner-Johnson said. “He came in early, so he has been around the guys for almost a year and he knew what to expect when he got in. He made plays and he held his own out there. Whatever happens, he is getting prepared for this week and is ready to play the whole game.”

15 COMMENTS

  1. One day, hopefully, the Florida Gators football team and Mullen will once again have adequate depth and much more than adequate skilled talent to compete in the SEC again. Seems not likely this year no matter what coach and player speak one hears right now. Teams compete for and win championships with outstanding talent and depth on the offensive and defensive fronts, along with exceptional talent at the skill positions. Alabama has a ton of that. So does Georgia. Auburn has that. LSU seems to have that. Texas A&M certainly exhibited that on Saturday. Mississippi State has a bunch of that, thanks to Mullen. Mississippi has great skill but is lacking on the defensive side with that. Missouri might even have that to some extent. Vandy is showing some of that. Tennessee is lacking that. Arkansas and Florida do not have much of that. I would say, right now, Florida is only above Arkansas right now in talent level they exhibit on Saturdays. But not by much. How did that happen at The University of Florida?

    • Tampa your point is well taken. The other day the CBS broadcast stated a freshman five star offensive lineman was coming in to play for Georgia when another player came out with a possible injury…As far as the secondary goes, what about moving Gardner Johnson back to corner and Clement to a back up at safety….?

      • Ben. Trey Dean is good enough to start right now and will be a star corner in the SEC. Gardner-Johnson is playing very well at the nickel position. Leave him there. Depth is the issue in the secondary, not skill. The major problem on defense is with the front seven not getting any push after snaps and being horrible wrapping up tackles. But, frankly, Florida does not have the type LBs needed to play in Grantham’s 3 – 1 – 2 – 5 defense. You need much bigger LBs in the middle than what Florida has. And you need them to have excellent quickness to go along with excellent tackling and gap coverage skills. They do not have all of that or much or that skill set.

      • I agree Brett, he abandoned the running game with some great running backs! You got to establish the run game to help the passing game. Hey, use two running backs for extra blocking. Poor play-calling and clock management! Gators wasted so much time towards the end of that game! So much hype for this team, but no action! Where is the Gator standard? If you are a quality recruit, come to Florida for some playing time! Go Gators!

        • You abandon the run when there are NO HOLES for your RB’s to run thru! An announcer mentioned our top RB Scarlett dancing in the backfield rather then hitting the hole. Well, when you see that it’s because there is NO HOLE!!!!

  2. The coach who looked like he’d been eating butter all day was not very good on the recruiting trail; no top ten classes in 3 years with only 2 consensus 5* players in Jefferson and Ivey. UF has to get back into recruiting top 5 classes, if Mullen had Taggert’s roster the Cats would most definitely be licking their 32nd Wound!

    • Ivey has never lived up to that 5* label. He is not a very good left tackle. When he did perform well it was at guard. Jefferson has not lived up to that 5* label either. If either of these guys had lived up to their potential they would not e back for their senior years. The pros love and need the positions these two play. Both the OL and DL are not mentally tough.

  3. THAT FRESHNMAN DB WHO CAME IN FOR WILSON GOT SUCKERED ON THE OLDEST PASS PLAY IN THE BOOK. DOWN, OUT AND DOWN. NOT ONCE DID HE LOOK BACK AT THE QB AND ONCE THE WR REACHED THE SIDELINE HE IS SUPPOSED TO DROP BACK 2 STEPS AND LOOK. NOTICE THE WR NEVER LOOKED BACK FOR THE BALL ON HIS OUT ROUTE. THAT WAS THE GIVEAWAY. MY SON WAS A DB IN HIGH SCHOOL IN FLORIDA AND CALLED THAT IMMEDIATELY–AND HE WAS RIGHT. LONG WAY TO GO FOR THIS TEAM. 4 WINS MIGHT BE A GOOD SEASON. FRANKS? AND WHY WASN’T THAT FG REVIEWED? IT DID HOOK BETWEEN THE UPRIGHTS BUT THE IDIOT REF NEVER LOOKED UP. TACKLING? WELL, THE LIST OF ISSUES COULD GO ON AND ON AFTER LOSING TO A MEDIOCORE ky TEAM THAT COULD ONLY RUN. AND THEY DID RUN WELL. MISSED TACKLES? I STOPPED COUNTING AFTER 25.

  4. How can the Gators have so many weaknesses? Weak on the lines on both sides of the ball, weak linebackers, and weak at the QB position. We have good running backs and receivers, but lousy blocking that inhibits the use of our weapons. In one word: RECRUITING! Now we must develop these weak links to improve overall team play! It all starts at the LOS! Spread it out from sideline to sideline and use an extra back that can BLOCK and establish the run game! Tell the linemen, if you cannot block get them out of the game and put somebody that will do the job! Put pressure on all the players who does not perform to the gator standard that they will not play period! I know maybe the depth chart is weak too! Stronger and faster, but cannot tackle or block!!! Basic fundamentals of 🏈! Gator players, get a grip! All players look yourself in the mirror and ask if you are playing to the Gator standard? Take pride in your skills and be grateful for the God given talent and fine tune those skills to the GATOR STANDARD! 🙏

  5. We should not forget that Henderson was garbage all game as well. Could not cover and was even worse at tackling. I agree with the above comment about Ivey and Jefferson. Both huge disappointments. This team really shows the lack of development, training, and coaching that occurred in Mcelwain era. As for Franks he has improved but is way behind due to Mcelwain and staff’s inability to develop a player. I think perhaps the rest of the team suffered from Mullen and staff having to place the majority of their off season focus into getting a QB ready to play. Mullen has to get HIS recruits ready to play ASAP. As for Mcelwain’s recruits they had their time and chose to not put in the work necessary to play in the SEC. Time to move on.