Injuries have put the Gators in full scramble mode in the secondary.
The latest player to go down is standout sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson, who injured his knee early in the loss to Kentucky on Saturday night.
UF coach Dan Mullen confirmed Monday that Wilson sustained a torn ACL and will undergo season-ending surgery.
“You feel terrible for Marco, a guy that has worked really hard, a star player in our secondary,” Mullen said.
The loss of Wilson leaves the Gators with only four scholarship cornerbacks on the roster — CJ Henderson, Trey Dean III, Brian Edwards and C.J. McWilliams, who missed the first two games with an unspecified injury but is expected to be ready for Saturday’s game against Colorado State.
“If you asked me coming into the season, ‘Who are your best players? What’s the strength of the defense?’ I would’ve said our two corners,” Mullen said. “To lose one of them, one of the absolute best players on your roster, is obviously a big, big loss for us. Combine that with our lack of depth in our secondary and it’s going to make it a little bit challenging for us moving forward.”
The Gators also have taken a hit at safety. Quincy Lenton is out for the season after rupturing his Achilles, while Shawn Davis continues to be out with an unspecified injury. He missed the first two games.
Mullen said the Gators are down to four healthy safeties — Donovan Stiner, Jeawon Taylor, Brad Stewart and true freshman John Huggins.
The overall numbers are so low in the secondary that the Gators are looking to possibly move some offensive skill players to defense this week to see if they can help provide some much-needed depth.
“The other guys are going to have to step up,” Mullen said. “We are going to give a couple of guys some opportunities. We’ll just see. I don’t want to get into too much of that right now, because I don’t want to make a big deal out of something we might or might not do, but we are going to see who can maybe play some DB for us, too, to help out, if we have to move some guys from the offensive side of the ball, move some people around.”
The likely replacement for Wilson at corner is Dean, a true freshman who stepped into his spot Saturday night and played the remainder of the game. He’s an early enrollee who moved his way up to the No. 2 defense in the spring.
Edwards, who saw playing time as a true freshman last season, will compete with Dean for the starting role this week. He played in the loss to UK after being suspended from the opener.
“Next guy’s got to step up and play,” Mullen said. “You’ve got Brian Edwards, you’ve got Trey Dean. They are the guys who are going to have to step up (at corner) and do that right now.”
Dean, for the most part, seemed to hold his own when his number was called last week. He also saw extensive playing time in the win over Charleston Southern.
“We’ve just got to keep playing,” said junior Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, the starter at the star position. “We have a freshman that is ready to step up and just hope he recovers fast and just get ready to get out there and play another game.”
Gardner-Johnson said Dean has earned the respect of his teammates and the coaches.
“Lengthy, aggressive, and very fast. He fits right in,” Gardner-Johnson said. “He came in early, so he has been around the guys for almost a year and he knew what to expect when he got in. He made plays and he held his own out there. Whatever happens, he is getting prepared for this week and is ready to play the whole game.”