Gators insist physical practice is key to improved defense

The Gators run a drill at practice last month. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

Following Florida’s 27-16 loss to Kentucky, sophomore defensive back CJ Henderson quietly stepped to the lectern, a look of anguish across his face.

Whether the look was for what had just occurred on the field, or the loss of his star partner, or both, Henderson didn’t have much to say.

After all, actions speak louder than words, and the 60 minutes of football at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium had summed it up well: Florida’s defense was depleted and vulnerable aside from Henderson, who recorded UF’s lone interception Saturday.

Seeing Marco Wilson, who like Henderson burst on the scene as a freshman in 2017, crumple to the field with a season-ending knee injury on the defense’s second play of the game had hurt immensely to watch, but the Miami native had to focus on the future rather than harp on the losses suffered that night.

“It’s a very tough loss. I’m praying for my brother to come back, a speedy recovery,” Henderson said of Wilson’s injury. “We’ve got guys behind him I hope are going to step up.”

The next man up is freshman Trey Dean III, who turned in a solid performance against the Wildcats in place of Wilson. Despite only arriving on Florida’s campus in January, Dean has already made a strong impression on his teammates, who say he plays the game like a veteran rather than a fresh face on campus.
“He’s growing fast. He’s not acting like a freshman any more,” Henderson said of Dean. “He’s learning the plays and he knows what he’s got to do.”

Dean’s role grew significantly in one play, although they’ll need him to grow as a leader in practice as well.

After the defeat Saturday night, coach Dan Mullen emphasized the Gators would need to attack Monday’s practice if UF hopes to right the ship quickly. It’s a message that the Gators, no strangers to hanging their heads following a loss, were receptive to.

“Everybody came out with the right work ethic and just came out ready to work,” Henderson said of Monday’s practice session. “(Saturday), that’s not us. Defense is what we’re known for. Missing tackles is something we shouldn’t be doing.”

This isn’t NFL free agency, meaning who the Gators have now is who can contribute the rest of the way. Without much experience left in the secondary, the defense is seemingly aware that the best way to accelerate the development of the underclassmen is to continue practicing with Monday’s intensity and let the hard work pay dividends. It’s a message Florida’s coaching staff plans to continue emphasizing throughout the season.

“We’re fine. Everybody has issues. Everybody has problems. Our solutions are the way we practiced today. I think our guys did a solid job with it, continue to develop. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us on (Wilson’s injury),” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “To use that (excuse) is never going to happen. I mean, the guys who are there, available are going to play. They’re going to play their tails off and execute, and we’re going to find a way to be productive.”



  1. Clearly, diving face first into the turf and hoping the runner trips over you didn’t work. Try TACKLING. It has been proven to work. Really, it has. There are videos on You Tube and everything. This is the key. Tackle, rather than just sort of fall down in front of people and hope they stumble.

    Also, please consider the possibility that actions speak louder than words and instead of constantly talking about what you are going to do different, actually DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. It might be a good idea to actually LISTEN to the coaches and do what they tell you. Try it. The results might surprise you, but if you have doubts about how your way works, watch the film.

  2. My whole Fall is ruined, fallen from such lofty hopes it came crashing down with a thud on Saturday. So excited for the Mullen era; I find myself already looking forward to Basketball Season. I guess the upside is my Saturdays are no longer governed by Florida Football. I’ll be watching the games at night thanks to DVR.

  3. Sounds like the constant barrage of strong words followed up by weak actions that we’ve been hearing around here for years. These are largely the same players that laid down and tanked when things went bad last year. Expect more of the same this year. 6-6 is optimistic at this point.

  4. All this talk about getting stronger in the off season didn’t show up, pretty much got manhandled against UK.

    Pre season camp info doesn’t seem to ever hold true. If we are making all this “progress” in practice and scrimmages, what does this say about the talent level on this team? Not seeing any fire!

  5. Defensively, stop over perusing. Aggressiveness is great as long as you learn control. Whoever number 44 is didn’t have the strength to tackle Snell Jr. So maybe more strength work is needed. Blocking and tackling are the two basic fundamentals of football. It looks to me as though this team is basically lacking in fundamentals. Offense can’t block, defense can’t make tackles. You would have thought that would have been addressed in the spring. As for intensity and whether or not the players want to play: “The bench is a coaches best friend” Steve Spurrier. I have an idea for Coach Mullen: this Saturday, only dress and let on the field the players who show they want to play. Let the rest stay outside the stadium. Win, lose, or draw, let them know if they don’t want to play, they can go do other things.

    • I think what might’ve happened was a little too much focus was placed on learning an entirely new offense and defense during the Spring and Summer. Maybe focusing too much on the x’s and o’s caused the basic fundamentals of football to take a back seat. I’m not buying this headline though, cause there were a lot of videos posted this offseason of some pretty physical practices. Especially all the videos of the Oklahoma drills that were run every day. That pic that’s posted was from last month. I don’t see how you get more physical than that, so it’s hard to buy into the claim that physical practices are the key to improvement. I guess we’ll see. Who knows, maybe they’ll just run the Oklahoma drill all practice long.

  6. The simple response is that Kentucky is a much better team than Florida. The season will prove or disprove this statement. Depending on which fan base is talking, the HC of one school is better than the HC of the other school. It will be a long season for at least two Florida schools, perhaps three. We can only hope for three.

  7. On offense, the guard and center play and talent level has to get better for the rest of the season. Not sure that will happen with Johnson and Jordan manning the positions, and not sure Buchanan is an SEC caliber center either. But Heggie is not 100 percent and McCoy has proven that he is not SEC caliber either. So, I say move Heggie to center when he is ready and play the two freshman at the guard positions, Bleich and McDowell, in the future if guard and center play does not improve dramatically vs. Colorado State. I am sure their DL and LBs are salivating watching those three attempt to block without proper technique and execution 50 percent o the time on Florida’s OL And Colorado State has a great offense and Florida does not. And both have bad defenses. I am afraid of that combination going into next Saturday, frankly.

  8. Jonzee. McCoy was mostly dominated on the line of scrimmage last year (very little push) and the communication (the responsibility of the center) was not good until he went down with an injury. Now, with less mobility to go with his not ideal size, he is even more not a top tier center in the SEC, and certainly not a championship or even a winning center that Florida desperately needs on its OL. I have a feeling that Heggie could develop into a top tier OC in the SEC. Time will tell. Or maybe McDowell when he gets bigger and stronger next year. He is Mullen’s type of offensive lineman, as is the guard Mullen has a commitment from Georgia in this year’s class. Mullen will recruit and develop his type of OL and we will see an end to poor OL technique and execution because they will be taught the right way from the beginning. I think Johnson, Jordan, Buchanan, and Ivey have just developed too many bad habits to be effective on the OL. Taylor has looked good to me this year, but he gets frustrated playing next to Johnson with all his mental errors and lack of full effort at guard. Go Gators.

  9. I guess if your bad offensive line goes against your bad defensive line in practice, maybe one of them looks better and gave false hope until they faced a good O line. Maybe they werent exactly truthful in camp about outllok just to keep people interested. They wouldnt do that would they?

  10. I’ll believe it when I see it. I am tired of hearing and reading the Fractured Fairy Tales. Put-up or shut-up. If BS were points or tackles, we would have the number one rated team in the country on both sides of the ball!

  11. I really like Trey Dean & think he’ll have a good game. Tough for a frosh CB but Wilson was one last year as well. I think Burney has a lot of potential at star or safety. We may want to move Chauncey back to CB & put Burney at Star depending on how things go. At least we have options & I think our Gators will get things going on Saturday. I’m thinking UF 31 CSU 27. Go Gators!