Florida’s already thin secondary has taken another significant hit.
Redshirt junior C.J. McWilliams, the backup at one cornerback spot and at the star position, ruptured his Achilles in a recent practice and is out for the season, UF coach Dan Mullen announced Tuesday.
“He’s going to be out for the year,” Mullen said. “That’s a tough one, non-contact injury. That’s a shame because it’s one of those. Early in practice, just planted and drove and felt the pop. It’s a shame. It’s so tough. Guys work so hard. They put in all this work in the offseason and you get sidelined with an injury.”
With the loss of McWilliams, the Gators are now without four players who were expected to see significant playing time in the secondary this season coming out of the spring.
Cornerbacks Chris Steele and Brian Edwards have transferred, while sophomore John Huggins, expected to be the No. 2 star behind Trey Dean, remains in limbo and has yet to join the team for preseason camp.
Mullen has said Huggins is dealing with a family issue. He said he has clarity on Huggins’ situation and knows when he will return, but Mullen would not reveal the timetable.
Last October, Huggins was accused of allegedly choking a female tutor, but the case was dismissed after the alleged victim declined to press charges. Mullen said the incident is not related to Huggins’ current situation.
“No, that’s all been handled,” Mullen said.
After the alleged incident, Huggins did not play in the next five games last season.
“That was part of (why he was held out of those games),” Mullen said. “He was a true freshman, so he was only going to play in some games anyway for us. But his punishment was handled when all that happened.”
Mullen was asked if he’s happy with the way Huggins has handled himself since then.
“Some things, yes, some things, no,” he said.
With Huggins still sidelined and McWilliams out, the coaching staff is considering options in the secondary, especially at the star spot where Huggins and McWilliams were the depth behind Dean.
“There are a lot of different things that you’re doing there,” Mullen said. “(Linebacker and former safety Amari) Burney can do it. John Huggins. You could go as far as putting Marco Wilson there. When you’re within a base defense Burney can be there. There’s a lot of different things you can do personnel-wise.”
With the lack of depth in the secondary, Mullen said the three true freshman defensive backs — Kaiir Elam, Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough — will see playing time this season.
“Situationally, I’ve learned this through the years: freshmen advance a lot faster out off of opportunity,” he said. “You look at some freshmen, like our three freshmen corners. They’re all going to play. There’s opportunities for them to play, and they’re getting moved up to play. It’s crazy.”
The coaches have not moved any offensive skill players to the secondary to bolster depth.
“I love guys to be multi-position guys and have the flexibility for guys to move around and be able to play multiple positions, but we haven’t moved anybody from offense to defense for the depth reason,” Mullen said.
It is apparent that Huggins will return at some point. He’s not the only player who has missed some practice time in preseason camp due to disciplinary reasons, Mullen revealed.
“We had several guys miss the scrimmage (Monday) for different reasons, taking care of different issues, stuff they have to handle personally, stuff they have to handle for me,” Mullen said. “So there were several guys that weren’t in the scrimmage. Nothing that we don’t have a great handle on, on each one of them.”
Other notes from Mullen:
* Safety Jeawon Taylor (shoulder) should be cleared to return to full-contact in practice by end of week.
*Quarterback Feleipe Franks made some really good throws in the scrimmage. Mullen continues to work with Franks on being a leader to make his teammates better.
*Several players missed the scrimmage “taking care of different issues.”
*Three true freshman defensive backs are going to play this season.
*Freshman offensive lineman Ethan White played with the “ones” a bit in the scrimmage.