Notebook: New safeties looking good for Gators


Florida coach Will Muschamp talks with Jabari Gorman after the 27-20 win against Louisiana on Saturday, November 10, 2012.

Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.

Florida's concern about replacing its two starting safeties from a year ago seems to be diminishing the deeper the Gators go into preseason camp.

There are three main reasons for that: the strong performances of Jabari Gorman and former cornerback Cody Riggs, the emergence of redshirt freshman Marcus Maye and the encouraging play of true freshman Keanu Neal.

“I have great confidence in the guys we have,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said Wednesday. “Marcus Maye has had an unbelievable camp. That guy has the talent to be as good as anyone around. His thing, like any other young guy, was learning the defense and all that. He's proven he's done that.

“The strides he's made from the spring until now have been great. Jabari Gorman's having the best camp he's had since he's been here. Obviously we have Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins that are in the mix there.

“Keanu Neal is really standing out as a young guy that can do some things. He plays fast, he plays physical. I feel good about where we're at. Obviously there were some question marks going into camp with that but those guys really — they're competing really well to answer those questions and now it's not a matter of confidence, it's a matter of who we're going to use in what situations.”

Neal has been one of the surprises of camp.

“He's a very physical player,” Durkin said. “He plays fast, he reacts fast. That guy has all the things you want a safety to have. We're thrilled to have him.”

Hargreaves meeting expectations

Another true freshman also is having an impact in the secondary. Vernon Hargreaves, rated the No. 1 cornerback in the nation coming out of high school, has put himself in a position to see significant playing time, Durkin said.

“Vernon's doing a great job. He'll be playing for us this year,” Durkin said. “You see him out there and I can't say he's a pleasant surprise to us, that was our plan with him going in, but he has lived up to the expectations of him coming in here.

“We think he's a phenomenal player. He takes the game very seriously, he understands the game, he learns defense well, he's a smart player and a very talented player. So he'll be out there."

Linebacker shaping up

With starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison suspended for the first two games, Durkin said the top three linebackers in camp (and probable starters for the opener) are Michael Taylor, Neiron Ball and Darrin Kitchens.

“Mike Taylor and Darrin Kitchens are guys with experience that are playing really well,” Durkin said. “Neiron Ball is a guy that has played some football for us. We moved him to a different position.

“He's playing inside right now and doing really well. He's adapting really well to it. He's been a pleasant surprise for us in that regard.”

Durkin said true freshmen Daniel McMillian, Jared Davis and Alex Anzalone are pushing for playing time.

“Those guys are in the mix,” Durkin said. “They're doing a great job competing. They're kind of all splitting reps right now and getting their turns. We're excited to see what they can do.”

Durkin seems especially high on McMillian, an early enrollee who's been battling for a starting spot.

“D-Mac's a guy that competes and loves football,” Durkin said. “He's in the film room all the time, he's always trying to get better, asking questions on the field, off the field. He really wants to be great. He wants to contribute and he will.”

“You mix that with the ability level he has, you've got something pretty special right there. We saw that going into the recruiting process with him and that's what we got here.”

Durkin said McMillian is similar to Morrison, who made an impact as a true freshman last season.

“They really want to learn the game, they're hungry for it,” Durkin said. It's not they're just out there practicing and move on and not think about it. They're both in their playbooks a lot, watching film.

“They don't want to be on the field and not know what they're supposed to do, because they're competitive. They want to be in the spot where they're going to go succeed, so they put the time in and do it.”

Praise for the OL

Durkin said he's been impressed with the play of the UF offensive line in camp.

“I really like what we have on the offensive line, with the guys we have coming back and also the new additions, the guys that weren't able to play last year,” he said. “We're a deep offensive line. You take seven or eight guys that could be starters anywhere in the country. It's good to have that.

“They've battled well with our D-linemen. They're making each other better. They're really a tight-knit group. Coach (Tim) Davis has done a great job with those guys. They believe in one another. They're a tight-knit group that trusts one another. They take pride in their unit. I think they'll do great.”

Pass rush coming on?

After struggling with consistency last season, the Gators should have a stronger pass rush in 2013, Durkin said.

“I expect our pass rush to be very good this year,” he said. “Our defense, a lot of things go into that with what we're asking our guys to do and how we're doing it. We do different things coverage-wise as well, where it may not be the scheme for a certain guy to be off the edge and all those certain things.

“The guys we have rushing the passer now, they've shown some really good signs in practice with the four-man pass rush. I feel good about it.”

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