Banged-up secondary holds own

With Elam and Roberson out with injuries, a host of others stepped up vs. the starting offense.

Florida Gators running back Mike Gillislee is pushed out of bounds by Josh Evans (9) and Jelani Jenkins (3) during the first half of the Orange and Blue Spring Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday in Gainesville. Blue defeated the Orange 21-20.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, April 9, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 8, 2012 at 11:29 p.m.

The best way to describe Florida's secondary heading into the spring game Saturday was banged up.

But even with returning starters Matt Elam and Marcus Roberson out, the secondary held its own against UF's first-team offense on Florida Field.

Junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins had a nice pass breakup in the end zone. Senior Josh Evans had five tackles while starting for Elam at strong safety.

Elam was held out of the game with a groin injury, while Roberson is still recovering from offseason neck surgery. Florida coach Will Muschamp said he expects Roberson to be cleared for contact in August. Cornerback Cody Riggs also left the spring game with an undisclosed injury.

The injuries gave opportunities for other players to step up. Sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy displayed his coverage skills for coaches throughout the game.

“When I first came here I was an offensive player so adjusting to defense was hard,” Purifoy said. “The coaches worked with me and I've gotten it pretty fast.”

Purifoy also has the distinction of being the first player assigned to jersey No. 15 since Tim Tebow left for the NFL.

“To me, it's a number,” Purifoy said. “I'm proud to be wearing it. I'm glad he wore it. But the number don't make the player.”

Purifoy wore No. 5 in high school. Asked what his friends told him when he got No. 15, Purifoy responded: “They just say I've got big shoes to fill.”

Purifoy said Elam, Evans and Riggs all have served as mentors early in his career. He's in competition with Watkins and Riggs for the starting job opposite Roberson at cornerback.

“Whatever I can do to help the team, that's what I'm here for,” Purifoy said.

Backup safety Valdez Showers finished with five tackles Saturday, while cornerback Willie Bailey had four tackles, including half-a-tackle for loss. Starting free safety De'Ante “Pop” Saunders finished with one tackle and one assist.

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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