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Gator notebook: Safeties plan to be big hitters this season

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida safeties coach Ron English has a veteran and physical unit this season.

Simply by showing up at preseason camp in August, Florida’s safeties revealed what their game plan is going to be in 2020.

 They’re going to get physical.

 That was obvious to safeties coach Ron English right from the start.

 “They just surprised me (how they’ve grown physically),” he said. “They’re really physical. I told them because my background has been I like physicality, I preach it. They’re striking linemen and knocking them around. It’s just, they’re finally getting it —the technique of striking.

“Once you understand the technique and what leverage really is and what power really is and what force really is and you can apply it, it works for you. They’re going to be really, really physical.”

  The safeties not only have the technique down now to play physical, they also have the bodies to do it. Veteran safeties Shawn Davis and Donovan Stiner, along with former cornerback/nickel Trey Dean III, have all bulked up, adding weight and noticeable muscle mass.

 Stiner, who played at 203 pounds last season, said he’s gained six or seven pounds. Davis, who was at 202, has added a little more than that, while Dean looks like he’s gained about 10-12 pounds after playing at 194 last season.

 “Trey, he's cut up now. He's cut up,” English said. “These guys, for not having a spring and not being around (Nick) Savage for very long, they look pretty good, they're pretty stout looking dudes. 

 “Trey, he’s jacked up, he looks pretty good. And Shawn, I was looking at him and I’m like, ‘Geez.’ He’s got a big ole back on him, arms and all that stuff. Now DBs don’t use all that stuff, but I guess it’s good.”

 English wants his safeties to be aggressive and play physical. But he’s also been stressing that they need to play smart, play under control. Overaggressive, hard-hitting safeties sometimes are prone to targeting penalties.

 “I just talk to them all the time about lowering their targets,” he said. “I really do because you’re going to get kicked out, so you got to be smart, you got to lower your target, especially when you’re violent and you start knocking guys around and officials respond to that, what they think they see.”

Dean’s transition

 Dean seems to be taking to his new position. His maturation has been more than just physical, English said.

 “He’s getting more comfortable,” English said. “He had his best scrimmage in the last scrimmage. I was really pleased with it. His tackling has improved, his physicality has improved, his technique has improved. He’ll help us this year at both those spots. 

 “What really has improved about Trey Dean is managing his ego. He finally has learned and matured in the sense that he is really not arrogant like he was before. I think we all know when you're arrogant you miss stuff and you don’t grow as quickly as you should if you were more humble. That’s one of the biggest things he’s doing. He’s growing exponentially because he’s listening, which he didn’t always do. And he’s matured and he’s humble. I’m really proud of him and I’m really pleased.”

Nice recruiting haul

 The Gators signed three safeties in the 2020 recruiting class, and all three — Rashad Torrence, Mordecai McDaniel and Tre’Vez Johnson — have caught the attention of the coaches in preseason camp.

 “Torrence just flashes, he makes plays,” English said. “We certainly didn’t miss on him. He’s a really good football player. He’s mature, he’s smart, he’s conscientious, he’s everything you would want. I think our evaluation was right on there. 

 “With Mordecai, he is probably more athletic than I thought he would be. He’s a big guy. He’s going to be a big man, but he’s fast and athletic and explosive — even more so than I thought he would be. And he’ll hit you. I’m happy with him.”

 Johnson, Dan Mullen’s pick for the sleeper of the 2020 recruiting class, is playing the demanding star position.

  “He’s had it the toughest because that position entails a lot of technique and a lot of learning,” English said. “He’s so gifted in terms of his speed. I know you have heard the stories. We never got him over a 4.45 on any clock, any day that we timed him, not only here but on the road. And he’s got some toughness. 

 “So, I like the guys (we signed) and I just feel like we did a nice job of evaluation and we took the right guys.”

 Torrence, an early enrollee, was an instant success in the classroom, recording a 4.0 grade point average for the spring semester.

Don’t sleep on Stewart

 Senior Brad Stewart, who had that big pick-six in the win over LSU in 2018, saw considerably fewer snaps than the other safeties last season, but he started four games and is expected to play a pivotal role in the secondary again.

  “He missed four games, and so that’s kind of where the disparity of snaps was,” English said. “Those three seniors (Stewart, Stiner and Davis) that have played for me, they act like seniors They act like guys who have been around, like guys who understand the system.

 “Brad’s still out there, still making plays. We’re going to move him around a little bit and I think it’s going to be huge for our defense. I’m pleased with him.”

This and that

 Penn State transfer and former five-star recruit Justin Shorter posted on Instagram that he has received his immediate eligibility waiver from the NCAA and will be playing wide receiver for the Gators this season. … When asked which young players have impressed him in camp, Stiner did not hesitate to give an answer. “It would be little Henderson,” he said. That, of course, would be true freshman wide receiver Xzavier Henderson, the younger brother of former standout cornerback CJ Henderson.