Notebook: Freshman corners shine
Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.
For the second season in a row, the Gators could have a true freshman emerge as a standout at cornerback. Only this time, it might be two instead of just one.
Just a few months after Vernon Hargreaves III became a freshman All-America at cornerback for the Gators, two true freshman cornerbacks are pushing for potential starting roles in the secondary — Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson.
Tabor is in the thick of the battle for the starting role opposite Hargreaves, while Dawson is pushing junior Brian Poole for the starting job at nickel.
“(Jalen) and Duke Dawson both have been a quick study as far as the corner position is concerned. Both of them are going to be really good players,” UF coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday. “The willingness is there and the coachability is there with both guys. They're willing to be in the film room extra. They're willing to come up here after hours and meet with our coaches and go over things and go over schemes and watch film and learn from it.
“And the one thing that I would say that they both have a very similar ability (to) Vernon is when you tell them once, they get it. They don't make that mistake again. They're both very talented.
“Jalen's got really good length on the line of scrimmage. Needs to do a better job in his press technique staying on the line of scrimmage, getting his hands on people — that's his strength.”
Receivers starting to emerge
Early indications are that Kurt Roper's new offense is going to produce some playmakers at wide receiver, something the Gators have been lacking in recent years.
Muschamp said six wide receivers have already distinguished themselves this spring.
“There are six guys that are kind of standing out, that have made a step forward,” Muschamp said. “(Latroy) Pittman and (Valdez) Showers in the slot. I think they've done a nice job. Quinton Dunbar, Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson, all of those guys have shown some flashes and done some nice things through four days, and had good offseasons as well.”
Muschamp was asked if this is the most talent the Gators have had at wide receiver since he's been here.
“I don't think there's any question,” he said. “You look right now and Quinton's had a really good spring to this point. Demarcus Robinson's done some really nice things. Valdez Showers continues to do things. Latroy Pittman has played well for us. All those guys. Ahmad Fulwood has done a nice job. We've got six guys right there that have repped pretty well for us at the position that you can roll in and out.”
Ball likely out for the spring
Starting outside linebacker Neiron Ball sprained the MCL in one of his knees during the first practice last week and likely will sit out the rest of the spring, Muschamp said.
“He's going to be fine,” Muschamp said. “He probably will not participate in the rest of spring. He probably could in the latter part, but we feel like some other guys need some reps.”
Muschamp said redshirt freshman offensive lineman Rod Johnson (head injury) and redshirt freshman defensive end Jordan Sherit (elbow) missed practice Monday, but should return soon.
“(Johnson) should be back Friday, I'm hoping,” Muschamp said. “Jordan Sherit should be back Monday. He'll be in non-contact.”
Muschamp also said starting defensive tackle Darious Cummings has missed the last couple of practices due to a health issue with his father.
“His father has had a procedure. He's missed a couple of practices to be with his family at this time,” Muschamp said. “But everything's fine, he's still here. His father is over at UF Health. He's doing well.”
The case for Harrison
Muschamp said preferred walk-on and former Gainesville High standout wide receiver Case Harrison has a chance to contribute this season. Harrison had several catches in the first practice last week.
“I think so,” Muschamp said. “Case Harrison is a guy that's done some nice things for us.”
Cox emerging at DE
Muschamp said a strong early showing by redshirt sophomore Bryan Cox Jr. at defensive end has allowed the Gators to keep Jonathan Bullard at defensive tackle, where UF lacks depth this spring. Bullard started at defensive end last season and likely will play both positions this season.
“Bryan Cox is playing pretty well at defensive end. That allows you to move guys around,” Muschamp said. “Bryan had a great offseason, worked extremely hard.
“But Jon, you're going to need to play both. He's going to need to play both inside and outside. He's a very good inside nickel rusher on throwing downs. He does a really nice job in terms of his athleticism versus the inside players in our league. He has the advantage there. But Bryan has allowed us to do that and get him inside more.”
Muschamp into Madness
Muschamp said he's a big fan of the NCAA basketball tournament — and of UF basketball coach Billy Donovan, who has the Gators in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year.
“I love March Madness. It's a fun time of year,” he said. “Other than the college football season, it's one of my favorite times of the year to watch the basketball tournament. Our team is fabulous. Billy does a great job, obviously. We've got a heck of a basketball team. Really, the word team is what comes to mind. That's what those guys are.
“I've said it before, I think he's the best college coach, period, in the country. I'm not just talking about in basketball, I'm talking about overall for what he's done here. I don't think people realize it's not an easy job as far as basketball's concerned. There's no easy job, but I think he does a great job. Just a great person, first of all, and just a great friend."