Florida football: An early look at the Gators' defensive backs in spring camp
Changes are in store for the Florida secondary in year two under head coach Billy Napier.
It begins with coaching, as Corey Raymond’s duties have expanded from cornerbacks coach to coaching all of UF’s defensive backs. Raymond, who developed several NFL stars, including Eric Reid and Jamal Adams, during his time coaching defensive backs at LSU, will oversee the cornerbacks, safety and star positions.
“It was great that Coach Raymond got promoted over all the DBs,” Florida safety Miguel Mitchell said. “You know, he’s got a lot of experience, he’s coached a lot of good players and he knows what it takes to get all of us to that elite level.”
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Last season, Raymond coached cornerbacks, with former defensive coordinator Patrick Toney coaching safeties. There were some ups and downs. Florida’s secondary created its share of big plays with nine interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.
But there were also coverage and communication breakdowns, leading to big plays surrendered at times during the 2022 season. Overall, Florida’s pass defense ranked 11th in the SEC, allowing 235.8 yards per game, with 17 touchdowns allowed.
Raymond insisted there won't be changes in scheme, but there will be changes in personnel.
“Everything from last year was more being new than anything, and the guys getting in,” Raymond said. “I think being a year in the system and not changing anything, I think you'll see a lot more improvements because we had a good system last year. It's the same system from last year, it was really good, and I think that the guys are growing into it and understanding how to become professionals in it. That's what's going to make them better."
Here's an early look at UF’s secondary this spring:
Kamari Wilson, Miguel Mitchell lead safeties
Wilson and Mitchell have been working out as the two lead safeties in camp and are in line to replace departed starters Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence II, who declared for the NFL Draft.
“Those guys had a lot of experience, you know, I learned a lot from those guys,” Mitchell said. “Just stepping in and taking that role, taking over what I learned as a freshman and bringing it into the sophomore year. I’m excited to see what I can do.”
The 6-foot-1, 222-pound Mitchell showed promise as a freshman with 15 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 forced fumble.
“I like to say I have a nose for the football and getting turnovers,” Mitchell said. “That’s my job”
Raymond has been impressed with Mitchell’s development.
“He’s sharp,” Raymond said. “Big guy that can run, physical. He reminds me of some guys that play on Sundays. He’s got a chance to be really good.”
A five-star recruit, the 6-foot, 207-pound Wilson made two starts in 13 games as a true freshman last season, recording 20 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup and 1 forced fumble. He’s been wearing a non-contact jersey during spring practice.
Two early enrollees – true freshmen Jordan Castell and Dijon Johnson – also are getting reps in the back end at safety. So is JaMarkis Weston, a converted receiver from Clewiston who last played defense in high school.
Jaydon Hill moved to star position
Starting cornerback Jaydon Hill has moved to the star/nickel position, where he is getting reps with Jadarrius Perkins. Last year’s starter at star, Tre’Vez Johnson, transferred to Missouri.
“He gives us that extra guy, that’s a twitchy guy inside that can blitz, that can do stuff to cover inside the slot man to man,” Raymond said, “It fits his body style. I think he’s going to prosper at that position.”
Hill’s move has opened a competition at the other corner position opposite Jason Marshall Jr., with Jalen Kimber and Devin Moore emerging as two possible replacements. Kimber, a transfer from Georgia, returned an interception for a touchdown year against USF despite playing through a broken hand.
“If he could stay injury-free, stay consistent in what he’s doing, I mean he’s a good player,” Raymond said.
Another player that has impressed with his speed and coverage ability is true freshman cornerback Ja’Keem Jackson.
“He has a chance to be special,” Raymond said. “We just got to keep him going, keep him to understand what we want, the details of playing the position."
A four-star recruit out of Osceola High in Kissimmee, Jackson showed big-play ability, recording seven interceptions in his final two high school seasons. Raymond is working on fine tuning Jackson's instincts and cover skills.
“At the end of the day, it’s about your athleticism but there’s a lot of details in the position that you have to learn and it’s going to be changing every play," Raymond said. "Things change and you have to be able to change quick so you got to be a critical thinker.”