Notebook: Florida safeties ready to also shine in secondary

Florida defensive back Donovan Stiner (13) makes a tackle on running back Malik Davis during the spring game. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

There is little doubt that the confidence is oozing out of Florida’s secondary no matter what the concerns are about a lack of depth because of attrition.

“I think we’re the best secondary in the country,” said nickelback Trey Dean.

Corners Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson are a big reason for the optimism, but the safeties will have to step up their games as well.

Junior Donovan Stiner, expected to start at free safety, has no doubts that he is ready.

“I put on a few pounds, did everything Coach (Nick) Savage wanted me to do, and I studied a lot,” Stiner said. “I know the game better.”

Stiner made one of the biggest plays of last season when he sacked Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to preserve Florida’s win at Mississippi State. He had two interceptions, but at times struggled with his tackling.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Stiner said. “We’re the last line of defense. Getting better at (tackling) can take your game to another level.”

Stiner started 12 of 13 games for the Gators last season.

“Last season I gained a lot of experience,” he said. “I think my knowledge of the game is a lot better.

“All of us (at the safety positions) are veterans now. I think we’ll be on the same page and make a lot of plays back there. We’ll make our mark this year. I’m not really worried about it.”

BIGGER IS BETTER: While the weight lost by freshman offensive lineman Ethan White (393 pounds to 337 according to line coach John Hevesy) has gotten the attention of coaches, one player whose weight gain has been just as startling is Henderson.

The junior cornerback looks like a much different player than the freshman who started five games two years ago.

Henderson said he has gained 20 pounds of muscle since arriving at Florida. He was listed at 185 pounds as a freshman and is listed at 202 pounds on the current roster.

Henderson is projected as a possible first-round NFL draft selection.

“There was no rush for me,” he said of gaining the weight.  “I feel the difference on the field, you know, I’m able to handle the big guys and tackling and stuff. I can feel it.”

FRESHMEN RUSH: With depth shaky in the secondary, Florida is counting on true freshmen to be second-teamers.

Dean said two of them have really stood out to him.

“Chester Kimbrough and Jaydon Hill, both of those two guys are coming along real well,” he said. “If they both had to play, I wouldn’t have to go back to corner.

“They’re willing to compete. Half of football is mental. They got the mental game. They’re progressing pretty fast learning from Marco and CJ.”

BROTHERLY LOVE: Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks was sporting his brother’s jersey in the locker room this week.

Jordan Franks is a second-year tight end with the Cincinnati Bengals and caught a pair of passes in the NFL a year ago.

Franks said he worked out with his brother all summer.

“When we’d be throwing, he’d be out there with us,” Franks said. “We lived together. He knows me best.”


  1. Lots of pressure on these safeties in Grantham’s schemes. It’s not one of those deals where mostly they just hover back and play centerfield. Glad to hear about improved tackling. That was an area that needed to see improvement.