Florida notebook: Gardner begins practice at cornerback

Charlie Gardner Jr.
Florida defensive backs Chauncey Gardner Jr. (23) and Nick Washington (8) talk to reporters during Wednesday media day. [Brad McClenny/Staff Photographer]

In the spring, one of the goals in the secondary was to transition sophomore Chauncey Gardner from safety to cornerback. By all accounts, the move went smoothly, with Gardner emerging as a starting corner.
A week ago, it appeared the preseason camp goal would change for Gardner. After starting safety Marcell Harris went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, the assumption was that Gardner would go back to safety.
But that’s not going to happen. At least not yet.
Gardner is staying put, for now.
“He’s still going to start at corner,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “I thought he did a great job (in the spring). That kind of was his natural position, and yet what he did obviously moving from nickel and playing nickel and then going to safety was obviously highlighted in the bowl game.
“As of right now, we’ve got to see kind of where that competition is. I know this: We feel comfortable with Chauncey being able to move to nickel, safety, corner, but we still want him early in camp to really focus on the corner because he didn’t get a bunch of it last year.”
Playing safety in the Outback Bowl, Gardner was the MVP in the Gators’ 30-3 win over Iowa, intercepting two passes in the second half, one a pick-six.
Gardner, of course, very likely could end up back at safety. In fact, he lined up there early in Thursday’s practice in one drill.
But for now, the plan is to have Gardner concentrate on corner, which will give more reps to true sophomore Jeawon Taylor and redshirt freshman Quincy Lenton.
The ultimate goal in the secondary, defensive coordinator Randy Shannon said at media day Wednesday, is to play the four (or five) best players, whether they’re cornerbacks, safeties or a combination of both.
“We’re playing the best guys at that particular time,” Shannon said. “By the end of this camp, it may be three corners playing, four corners on the football field. It may be four safeties on the football field. I cannot tell you.
“It’s just whoever is the best fit and can give us a chance to win because sometimes you think about, well, here’s the starting safety, here’s the next safety. With us, it’s who’s the next best DB.”
Lefty coaching lefty
Being a former left-handed quarterback, it would seem a comfortable fit for UF offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier having an opportunity to coach Malik Zaire, who also is a lefty.
But that may not necessarily be the case.
At least at first.
“Golly, it’s interesting, being left-handed, playing left-handed, then you reverse everything to teach it right-handed, and now you get a lefty,” Nussmeier said. “I think it’s almost more difficult now because now I’ve got to train myself to go backwards. But it keeps you on your toes because every time you’re talking and you’re talking feet and eye placement and those kind of things, you’ve always got to flip it for both groups. Having Malik now as a lefty, it’ll be interesting.”
Healthy start
It was an uneventful first practice Thursday in terms of injuries. The only one McElwain reported seems minor, and it was to true freshman offensive tackle T.J. Moore.
“His back kind of locked up on him a little bit,” McElwain said. “Other than that, we came out of it good.”