UF secondary talent-rich
Published: Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 12:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 5:29 p.m.
Facing the prospect of playing true freshmen in the secondary in the SEC has a tendency to induce lots of anxious moments and sleepless nights for defensive coaches.
So, why does Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin appear so relaxed and rested during these sultry summer days in preseason camp?
“I feel good about our options back there,” Durkin said after Thursday’s practice. “Now, it’s a matter of how we’re going to sort it all out. All those guys have the ability to play.
“Look at the history here. We’ve played true freshmen in the back end about every year. We recruit those type of guys, and a lot of our guys leave as juniors. That happens. We’ll be fine. Those guy are ready to go.”
Those guys Durkin is referring to are the five true freshmen who are competing for significant playing time in the young UF secondary — safety/cornerback Duke Dawson and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, J.C. Jackson and Deiondre Porter.
One of those guys could start. Others figure to be heavily involved in the playing rotation in the secondary. Maybe all of them.
Durkin certainly seems OK with that possibility.
“We’ve had great competition. Competition makes everyone better,” Durkin said. “They’re battling really good. Quincy, J.C., Jalen Tabor, Duke Dawson, Deiondre Porter as well, they’ve all had days where you could say this guy is better than the other. The good news is they’re all competing and playing well. They’re going to help us.”
The starting role at the corner spot opposite All-SEC player Vernon Hargreaves III is still undeclared, and the four freshman cornerbacks have all done some nice things and held their own against UF’s experienced receivers in camp. Dawson, who has been nursing a sore shoulder, is expected to challenge for extensive playing time at safety and nickel, possibly even at corner.
The Gators clearly like their young talent in the secondary, but then that’s something that has been said around here for several years now.
Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins both started at cornerback and Major Wright at safety as true freshmen under Urban Meyer.
Under Will Muschamp, Matt Elam (safety) and Marcus Roberson (cornerback) started games as true freshmen.
And, just last season, Hargreaves not only started, he went on to become one of the best corners in the SEC as a true freshman and now is a preseason All-America heading into the 2014 season.
UF has a track record of having success playing talented young players in the secondary.
“In recruiting, No. 1. There are talented guys that we’ve brought in,” Durkin said. “T-Rob (defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson) does a great job with the DBs. Coach Muschamp is very much involved with our defensive backs.
“They’re getting coached about every step they take out there on the field. You’ve got to have a guy that has the ability to go do it (play as a true freshman), and we’ve been able to have that.”
The freshman corners have been proving themselves throughout camp. In the last two morning practices alone, the freshman corners have combined to intercept five passes.
The kids have also been making their share of mistakes, but that’s also part of the learning process they’re all going through.
"The biggest thing with guys coming out of high school is breaking some habits they may have, things they were doing and got away with in high school technique-wise that we've got to break,” Durkin said. “They're doing a good job with it. They're taking coaching well and getting rid of those habits. The receivers they're going against every day, those guys are pretty darn good. They're seeing game speed right now from those guys. That to me has them prepared well because of who they're going against."
Durkin said the bad habit most of the young defensive backs come in with is improper technique in man-to-man coverage.
“We play a lot of press technique so the way we play is probably different than most,” Durkin said. “The way they played in high school is probably different from what we do. When you do something over and over, it becomes habit. We've got to break that habit and get with the technique we play."
The freshman defensive backs seemed to be getting better and growing more confident with every practice.
“They haven’t given up many big plays, and the plays they have given up, they’ve bounced back and made a play right after that,” senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “So, I have full trust in those guys to be out there behind us.”