Taylor time: Florida sophomore ready to fill void at safety

Florida defensive back Jeawon Taylor
Florida defensive back Jeawon Taylor (29) forces Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson out of bounds during the second half in last year's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Matt Stamey/Correspondent]

Being a good friend and teammate, Jeawon Taylor went over to Marcell Harris’ house a few weeks ago to console him after the senior safety had torn his Achilles tendon on the practice field a few hours earlier.
As it turns out, Harris was fine. He needed no consoling.
“He always says God has a reason for everything,” Taylor said. “Me and Quincy (Lenton) were over there at his house. We just chilled with him for a good little hour, talked about stuff.”
During the conversation, Harris delivered a message to Taylor.
“You’ve got to step up,” Harris told him.
That’s what the sophomore Taylor is trying to do right now, step up and fill the void left at safety by the season-ending injury to Harris.
With Harris out, Taylor is next in line. It’s his time.
“Sad for Marcell to go down, but when one man goes down another man has to get up,” Taylor said Thursday. “So I feel like it’s a big opportunity for me to show what I (bring) to the table.
“(The injury) just makes the window even bigger to show what I have.”
Thus far in his brief UF career, Taylor hasn’t had a chance to show exactly what he does have.
A four-star prospect from Montgomery, Ala., Taylor played on special teams as a true freshman last fall, but saw only a handful of plays on defense. When it looked like his playing time might dramatically increase after starting safety Marcus Maye went down with an injury late in the season, Taylor injured his shoulder playing special teams in the first quarter against FSU and underwent surgery the following week.
Taylor not only missed the Alabama and Iowa games, he was held out of spring practice while rehabbing his shoulder.
Overall, it was a disappointing first season in Gainesville for Taylor.
“It was tough,” he said. “Coming from high school you think you’re the man, you think you’re going to be the man in college. Playing that special teams role, just figuring out what role you have to play for the team is kind of tough doing.”
Taylor said he learned a valuable lesson from last fall’s experience.
“Take advantage of every opportunity,” he said. “Never think that you’ll never not play because maybe if I wouldn’t have gotten hurt in the Florida State game, I probably would have been (playing) at safety just like (fellow true freshman) Chauncey (Gardner) was.”
The opportunity is here now. And it’s a big one, an important one — not just for Taylor but for DBU in general.
Taylor said he’s leaning on some of the veteran players.
“They’re just telling me, ‘Play hard, play the system,’ “ he said. “What Coach Mac says, ‘Little me, big team.’ ”
Senior safety Nick Washington said Taylor is fitting in just fine.
“Jeawon’s been doing really well,” he said. “He’s starting to communicate a lot more. He’s physical with his play and he’s making plays on the ball.”
If Taylor comes through at safety, it could free up Gardner to be a full-time cornerback, which was the plan for him back in the spring and summer before Harris was injured.
“I really do think I should step up and play safety so Chauncey can do what he do,” Taylor said. “He’s a great player.”
Taylor said his shoulder is 100 percent and he now has full knowledge of the defense after spending many summer hours in the playbook.
Taylor is ready to go, ready to compete — ready to show what he has to offer to this defense.
Which is?
“Great effort, great ball skills, winning spirit, leadership,” he said.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.