Dan Mullen and his staff intentionally avoided watching tape of last season’s Florida games so as not to prejudge any of the players they would be coaching for the first time this spring.
Once the Gators did take the field, however, it did not take Mullen long to form an opinion of cornerbacks Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson. After one of the first practices, he said they could be two of the best corners in the country.
But, well, they’re not quite there yet. That’s the word from new cornerbacks coach Charlton Warren.
“I’m not sure completely about what happened last year,” Warren said. “All I can say is those guys come every day to practice and work hard. They’re young, though, they’re freshmen. Their football IQ, their fundamentals and technique can grow.
“They’re guys that have had some success and they understand, just like we do, that they have a long way to go to get to where they want to be.”
In their quest to get where they want to go, Wilson and Henderson certainly appear to have a head start.
The two true rising sophomores are already seasoned and battle tested.
As true freshmen last fall, Wilson and Henderson combined to start 16 games (11 by Wilson, five by Henderson) and played at a high level. Wilson led the team in pass breakups with 10, while Henderson had four interceptions, two that were returned for touchdowns in back-to-back games.
Despite the early success, they are still young and they still have a lot to learn now that they’re in a new defense under a new coaching staff.
They have been quick learners so far, Warren said.
“I’ve seen them mentally with the scheme be able to grasp the concepts, which is always good for a young players,” Warren said. “They’re still getting into that. I think technique-wise from being a young freshman, even though they had success, you’re always trying to grow as a young player, you’re always trying to refine your technique, your fundamentals, especially with the different coverage concepts.
“I think for those guys, just learning more and expanding their football IQ is going to be big for them as they go along.”
Given their early track record and potential, Wilson and Henderson seem to be close to a sure thing at the corner spots, bringing some security to those critical positions.
The coaches had a pretty good idea it would be that way heading into the spring.
Where the uncertainty lies is behind Wilson and Henderson. Who will be backing them up?
There are question marks and inexperience lining up behind the two starters.
Depth at corner is an issue Warren and the Gators are addressing this spring.
“Right now, as a group as a whole, we’re not where we need to be,” Warren said. “I’m glad it’s spring practice, right? Every day we’re trying to get better as a whole group. I’m coaching all of them the same and we’re all trying to get to that same level.”
There is no depth chart this spring, but the first corners in relief of Wilson and Henderson have been true sophomore Brian Edwards and true freshman and early enrollee Trey Dean. Behind Edwards and Dean are two other inexperienced players — sophomore C.J. McWilliams and McArthur Burnett.
“Trey Dean and Brian Edwards are making strong pushes,” Warren said. “They’re guys that come to work every day.
“What it’s going to come down to is guys who grasp the playbook, style of play, who is the most productive guy. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for consistency with production.”
Edwards played in 10 games last season, mostly on special teams. Dean, of course, just arrived on campus in January.
Warren said both are making strides this spring.
“(Dean) is very, very intriguing, a guy who can run with ball skills,” Warren said. “The skill set and makeup in what you look for at a corner at this level, he has those tools.
“Now that he’s here, we’ve got to get him ready to play by learning the playbook, growing his football IQ and getting his fundamentals and technique a lot better.”
Warren said it’s the same deal with Edwards.
“He’s a young guy that hasn’t played much, but he’s trying to grasp the concepts, he’s embracing what we’re doing,” Warren said. “He’s just got to keep growing in the scheme.”
It’s a process all the corners are going through this spring, including Wilson and Henderson.
“We’re a group that’s working hard,” Warren said. “We just have a long way to go when it comes to fundamentals and technique and eye discipline. Those are things we’re going to work on each and every single day.”