Gators appear to be strong in the secondary — again
Who: No. 6 Florida vs. Ole Miss
Where: Vaught Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
When: Noon, Sept. 26
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
We break down the 2020 Florida football team by position group. Today a look at the secondary.
An elite cornerback moves on to the NFL and another potential elite corner takes his place. This is a scenario that seems to play out over and over at the University of Florida.
This year is no different. CJ Henderson left after his junior season and was a top 10 NFL draft pick who is already having an impact with the Jacksonville Jaguars. And yet the Gators don’t seem to be feeling any great sense of loss because of the guy who has moved into his spot — true sophomore Kaiir Elam.
Elam was a highly rated prospect coming out of high school who has already shown he can more than adequately fill the void. He did it last December, replacing Henderson, who opted out of the bowl game, and was one of the Gators’ defensive stars, helping clinch the win over Virginia with a fourth-quarter interception.
That performance came as no surprise to anyone in the Gator camp. Elam had already proven himself earlier in his true freshman season, starting four games and intercepting two passes, and displaying the confidence of a veteran starter.
With Elam stepping in for Henderson, DBU appears stocked and ready to roll again.
And as it is so often at UF, the Gators appear to have star quality at both corner positions, with junior Marco Wilson manning the spot opposite Elam. Wilson has been starting since his true freshman season and has been one of the SEC’s best defensive backs, and one of its most versatile with his ability to also play the star position.
UF has proven depth behind the two corners in Chester Kimbrough, Jaydon Hill and C.J. McWilliams. And behind them are some highly rated true freshmen — Jahari Rogers, Avery Helm, Fenley Graham and Mordecai McDaniel — who will have a chance to develop at a comfortable pace in DBU’s reloading process.
The Gators are in similar shape at safety, where they are two deep at both spots with experienced starters Shawn Davis, Brad Stewart, Donovon Stiner and Trey Dean, giving true freshmen Tre’Vez Johnson and Rashad Torrence the opportunity to come along at their own pace.
The Gators struggled at times with consistency last season at the safety spots, so that’s something that’s been addressed in preseason camp. Now, can the players take the progress they’ve made on the practice field and carry it to the field in actual games? That’s to be determined.
Other than that, this secondary appears to be pretty much as sound as it gets.
Young guy to watch
True freshman safety Tre’Vez Johnson. Dan Mullen named him the sleeper of the 2020 recruiting class, and so far, he’s been living up to the title with the way he’s performed and carried himself throughout preseason camp. He’s one of the fastest — if not the fastest — players in the secondary and he’s shown an ability to effectively play both safety positions. The safety spots are pretty deep and experienced, but Johnson will try to earn his way into the playing rotation. Given his speed and athletic ability, he’ll probably be an instant starter on special teams.
Don’t be surprised if …
Safety Shawn Davis has a major breakout season in his senior year. He came close to having one last season, with his striking ability and his timing breaking on the ball. His interception and big return in the win over Auburn was a highlight. Davis, who has shared playing time with senior Donovan Stiner, may be the hardest hitter on the team. And here’s potentially intimidating news for opposing receivers who venture over the middle: Davis is bigger and stronger than a year ago.
“There were obviously some things that you guys didn’t know that happened last year that we haven’t put out there. I think whenever you look back and evaluate yourself you might see some things that you wish you did a little bit differently. You might see other things or you might want to do this a little more or that a little more. But I feel good about going into this season with these players, because they’ve played a lot of football and they’re mature, they’re physically mature. You watch them practice, they’re pretty physical players right now and they’re smart and they’ve been around. I’m excited.”
— Safeties coach Ron English
Possible depth chart
— Ethan Pouncey
— Avery Helm
— Jahari Rogers
— Fenley Graham
— Mordecai McDaniel
— Tre’Vez Johnson
— Rashad Torrence
Ranking SEC secondaries