Florida football notebook: Gators have some versatile players on defense

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida linebacker Mohamoud Diabate (11) celebrates a sack during last year's game against Vanderbilt at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Trey Dean. Is he a cornerback, a safety or a nickel?

 What about Brenton Cox and Mohamoud Diabate? Are they rush ends or outside linebackers?

 The answer is yes to all of the above.

 In an upcoming season of uncertainty due to the pandemic, the Gators are cross-training players at multiple positions in preseason camp, especially on defense.

 Take Cox, for instance, the transfer from Georgia who was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. In camp, he's been a rush end, an outside linebacker and maybe a something else before all is said and done.

 "He could go everywhere," UF coach Dan Mullen said. "He's a good player. We play guys at a lot of different positions. You've got to cross-train a lot of different guys. Especially a season like this. You don't know how things are going to shape up, so you better have the depth and versatility.

 "He's a guy that wants to play after college as well, and have the opportunity to play in the NFL. And so in the NFL you want guys; the more versatility you have the better, so he's a pretty versatile guy." 

 The same can be said of Dean and Diabate.

 Dean is getting reps at every position in the secondary.

 "He's playing all over the place a little bit for us back there," Mullen said. "The great thing, he's had experience at multiple positions, so when you have that it creates the opportunity to always keep certain guys on the field and create positive match-ups." ,

 Diabate, who saw significant playing time as a true freshman last season, is a potential match-up problem at rush end and all the linebacker spots. His strength seems to be an ideal fit at the rush end spot.

 "He's a really athletic guy, and he's a great pass rusher," Mullen said. "It's flexibility. We want guys who can play multiple positions. So, he's the guy that we're moving around to different spots on the field to try to create mismatches against the offense.

 "When guys have that position flexibility and the ability to do multiple things (you can do that). The key is making sure they do those things very, very well. Find out what they do well and keep putting him in that position to do well. And he's done a great job of that.” 

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Calm, confident Trask

 After establishing himself as the starter — and one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC — last season, senior Kyle Trask appears ready to take his game (and persona) to a different level in 2020.

 "Before he was a guy that was competing for the job, which he still knows he is every day, but it's different when you've had the job," Mullen said. "There's a confidence that comes with, 'I've been out there, I've led the team in big game situations, I've led the team to big victories and played in all of these different arenas so far.'

 "When you look at Kyle that way, I think that breeds a lot of confidence in him being not just a leader on the field, but you also add his confidence and comfort within our offense, in our scheme and what we're doing, It allows you to spend a lot more time being a great leader and being vocal, holding other guys to certain standards and raising the play of the guys around you, which is what you want to do as a quarterback."

More:Emory Jones primed to take on an expanded role in Florida's offense

Meet the new leaders

 The Gators must replace a lot of senior leadership from last year, and Trask and some others are already stepping up into that role, Mullen said.

“We have some really good leaders," Mullen said. "Guys on our leadership committee have done a great job. When you look at guys like Jeremiah Moon and Ventrell Miller and Marco Wilson and those guys defensively have done a great job. And obviously, Kyle Pitts, Kyle Trask, those guys do a great job.

 "Just all our leadership committee job guys, a lot of them have done a tremendous job in keeping the team together. We always tell our guys worry about what’s important now. You know, don’t worry about what’s not important right now. I think our guys have been really able to focus on that, and by doing that, you really focus on where we’re at.

 "We don’t get spring practice, but we can meet. OK, so let’s be great at meeting. Hey, we can’t work out as a team, but we can send you the different workout programs. You guys need to be kind of committed to do these things. Worry about where we are, what we’re able to do, and what’s important in the moment. That’s a huge thing for us.” 

O-line coming along

 After struggling with so many young players playing last season, the offensive line is starting to grow some cohesiveness and confidence, Mullen said.

 "They're coming along pretty nicely," he said. "Obviously, one of the hard things you go against each other, you don't know. You don't always figure that out until the season starts. But I will say this on the offensive line, obviously you know they were a really young group last year experience-wise. There's a lot more veterans and a lot more experience in that group.

 "You see that in the confidence in what they do on a daily basis, their communication how they work together, that experience. I see a lot more confidence now. What that  leads to when we got to play against other people, we're going to see. But I think they're doing pretty good job right now.”