For the first time this season, the Florida defense will be healthy and whole Saturday. And it comes at a good time for the Gators, with No. 7 Auburn coming to The Swamp for a showdown of top-10 teams.
No injuries, no suspensions. The defense is intact, all players healthy and eligible, for the first time in 2019.
“That’s great, I’m really looking forward to that, having all my brothers on the field with me,” sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson said Monday. “Now we can run as one. With nobody out, we’re deep. That’s great.”
The defense has been missing key players due to injuries/suspensions since the opener. Here’s the list:
- Starting cornerback CJ Henderson has missed the last three games after injuring his ankle early in the UT Martin game.
- Starting defensive end Jabari Zuniga has been out since injuring his ankle in the Kentucky game on Sept. 14.
- Safety Jeawon Taylor has missed two games with an injured shoulder.
- Starting linebacker Ventrell Miller missed last week’s game against Towson after injuring his hamstring against the Tennessee game two weeks ago.
- Safety Shawn Davis missed last week’s game with an unspecified injury.
- Safety Brad Stewart was suspended from the first two games and tackle Luke Ancrum from the second game for not living up to the Gator standard.
- Starting safety Donovan Stiner was suspended from the first half of the UT game after getting called for targeting in the second half against Kentucky.
Those eight defensive players — along with starting wide receiver Freddie Swain, who missed last Saturday’s game with an unspecified injury — are good to go for Saturday’s game.
UF coach Dan Mullen announced after Saturday’s game that the five injured players who missed against Towson were returning this week. He confirmed it again Monday.
“I’m not going to say everybody is 100 percent coming back into it,” Mullen said. “But they are going to be ready to play and us getting them prepared throughout the week to get ready to be as close to 100 percent as possible on Saturday is the most important thing. That’s the concern of getting them to go, but I’m happy to have guys coming back.”
Mullen said the players that still aren’t quite 100 percent will get enough reps in practice so they are ready to play Saturday.
“The guys that are veteran players I don’t worry about as much (needing to knock the rust off),” he said. “The key is just getting them back in the flow at practice and getting them the practice reps they need.
“Freddie Swain got some reps (last week), Jeawon got some reps, Ventrell Miller got some reps. CJ and Zuniga haven’t gotten a ton. Shawn hasn’t gotten a ton since he’s been out. So with all those guys, though, we’ll get them some reps this week leading into the game.”
Henderson’s return is big for a secondary that lacks depth at the cornerback spots. In his absence, three true freshmen — Kaiir Elam, Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough — have been getting extensive playing time. Elam started the last two games against Tennessee and Towson. He had an interception in the end zone in the win over UT Martin.
Henderson is considered one of the elite corners in the SEC
“It definitely means a lot to get CJ back,” Wilson said. “We’ve missed him out there, but the young guys have done a great job of filling his spot. Now that he’s back. … I’m just really excited to have that guy back.”