Haden and Jenkins have had Gator opponents cornered
Published: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 3:44 p.m.
Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong tried his best last week to get into the heads of Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden. He kept telling the cornerbacks they hadn't really done anything yet, they hadn't been tested, but that they would against two future NFL receivers on the LSU roster.
"All week, Coach Strong said, 'You guys haven't covered anybody yet,' " Haden said. "Coach Strong said those taller LSU receivers would be eating peanuts off the top of my head all night. That's all he talked about all week."
It was a motivational ploy on Strong's part, of course. And it worked.
Haden and Jenkins did not just pass their test in Baton Rouge on Saturday night, they aced it.
They stayed in the faces of LSU wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Terrance Toliver all night long and shut them down. Almost shut them out. Take away a 26-yard reception by LaFell that came over nickel cornerback Markihe Anderson, and LaFell and Toliver combined for only five receptions for a mere 32 yards in UF's 13-3 victory.
In perhaps the most critical matchup of the game — the UF corners vs. those two LSU receivers — Haden and Jenkins won in a landslide.
"First of all, I love those two cats," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "They're great kids and they work their tails off. They prepare like professionals.
"Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins are playing as good a football as we've ever had at cornerback since we've been here. They prepare the right way. To hold those two first-day NFL Draft picks to basically 30 yards ... that was a big part of the game."
Toliver and LaFell are two of the best (and most dangerous) wide receivers in the SEC, but Haden and Jenkins locked them down, and knocked them down. They turned the LSU threats into non-factors.
"They were still going hard, they never quit or backed down," Haden said. "But it got to the point where we knew exactly what they were doing and where they were going. We felt we knew exactly what was going to happen."
Haden said he played the best game of his career at corner. It wasn't by accident.
"I feel very natural now at corner," said Haden, a high school quarterback who was converted to cornerback early in his freshman season in 2007. "The only thing I did different is watch a lot more film, and pray a lot more. I studied my film and came out there and played my best game.
"I feel like we're one of the best cornerback tandems in the nation after that."
Haden certainly has a strong argument. He and Jenkins have been locking down opposing wide receivers all season — and not giving up any big plays. Their ability to cover man-to-man has allowed Strong to open up his defensive playbook, which is filled with a variety of formations, blitzes and stunts.
The corners have played an integral role in UF's defensive success.
"Those guys are playing with a lot of confidence," cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford said. "They believe in the system. That's the whole key right now. They did a great job (against LaFell and Toliver).
"It really does (open up what UF can do defensively). Coach Strong feels more comfortable calling a lot of different things. He doesn't mind putting those guys on an island (in man-to-man coverage)."
Two years ago, the Gators were almost afraid to plan man coverage because they had almost zero experience at cornerback. Haden was a true freshman playing a new position and Jenkins was in his senior season at Pahokee High School.
Two years later, Haden and Jenkins are giving UF the corner play the coaches have always wanted.
"It (playing man-to-man) has been kind of our premise since we've been here," safeties coach Chuck Heater said. "Those guys (Haden and Jenkins) can actually do that.
"That allows you to be aggressive in the run game, on down-and-distance when you think they're running the ball. That's what you like to be able to do. It's predicated on the ability of your corners to cover. It's fundamental to our defense. When that happens, we can play it the way we want to play it, and play if pretty well."
Haden and Jenkins can cover. There seems to be little or no doubt about that.
"They just get better every week," senior wide receiver David Nelson said. "They really make each other better. They really compete against each other and that makes them better.
"They communicate very well. One will say, 'Against this kid, he'll do this, or he'll do that.' They're real smart players and they really care about each other. What they did (against LSU) was phenomenal. But we see that every day in practice."
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or at email@example.com.
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