Prior to commencing preseason camp, sophomore defensive back Trey Dean III was asked just how good Florida’s secondary can be in 2019.
His praise was succinct, yet the message was clear.
“It’s going to be tough (for opposing quarterbacks). I don’t think you’re going to be able to throw the ball on our defense,” Dean said. “They’re going to just have to try and run.”
While it’s clear a significant amount of Florida’s potential in the defensive backfield hinges on Marco Wilson’s return to full strength, much responsibility falls on Dean’s shoulders, too.
Dean, who started nine games at cornerback for the Gators last season after Wilson’s season-ending injury, is becoming a utility player at Florida; listed as a safety coming out of high school, Dean will now turn his attention to taking over the nickel safety position vacated by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s leap to the NFL.
It’s a transition that allows UF to run out five defensive backs — known as a nickel package — with the most starting experience on Florida’s roster.
But from a football-knowledge standpoint, Dean won’t become Gardner-Johnson overnight, said UF safeties coach Ron English.
“The key to Trey Dean is discipline. Because at the position he plays, you have to do it right, you’ve got to do it right all the time. Discipline with Trey, and I was just telling him walking off the field, because one time he jumped inside on a bubble screen and I said ‘Look, you can not do that on this position now, because there are too many people that are counting on you’,” English said. “So he’s working at it, he’s going to get better at it.”
Although CJ Henderson and Wilson were in similar situations as freshmen, it’s increasingly rare for a true sophomore, especially one as young as Dean, to bear so much responsibility in a vaunted Power Five defense.
Yet the trio know all too well that’s what happens when you start from the jump.
“You can’t replicate that, the reps he got,” English said of Dean. “And you play a vital role, and you played in big games and won big games. And, you more so met the urgency of the season. That’s where young guys struggle, with the urgency, depth and length of the season.
“It’s exponential, in terms of the benefits.”
Now, the Gators hope to reap the rewards from Dean’s early experience. It’s a challenge he seems up for, and one he’ll have to face sooner rather than later.
“I’ve got to grow up quick. The team’s counting on me playing in the SEC, and it’s big-time ball,” Dean said. “It’s a dog-eat-dog mentality. Be a dog, or get eaten up.”