The depth chart breakdown moves on to the cornerback position.
This is, in my opinion, Florida’s deepest and most talented position on the field. There is, however, one problem — experience.
For as talented as this group is, they lack experience. The group we’ll discuss today includes just 35 games played and 23 of those are from just one player. In total, Florida will use a junior, a sophomore and five freshmen at cornerback this season; so much of their development will have to be on the job training.
To flip the script and keep things interesting, Gator Country enlisted the help of a former Gator Great, Keiwan Ratliff, to help us break down the position and to give us his take on how the cornerbacks stack up as well as his opinion about each.
The depth chart at cornerback is fluid. Just because a player starts doesn’t mean the backup won’t play. Florida rotates cornerbacks in and out of games to keep them fresh and just because a player is listed as a backup, or in “the rest” category, doesn’t mean they’re headed for a redshirt. I think all of these players will play with possibly one exception.
Without further adieu, let’s get into it the two deep at each cornerback spot and nickel back.
Two starters CB: Vernon Hargreaves (So.), Duke Dawson (Fr.)
Vernon Hargreaves is a no-brainer to start. He may be the best player on either side of the ball for the Gators and he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC and in the country. Hargreaves has won just about every award possible this offseason and he’s going to continue to get better.
Rat’s Take: “Now he can step up and be the man, so to speak. Now that Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy and J-Wat [Jaylen Watkins], those guys are gone, so now he’s gotta step up and take on those challenges, the Amari Cooper’s and the top receivers on every team week in and week out.”
Duke Dawson was the second player to commit to the 2014 recruiting class and he never wavered in his commitment. The physical corner didn’t come to Florida with the most hype — that nod went to Jalen Tabor, who also enrolled early. Despite being slightly overlooked at the start of spring camp, Dawson showed up and competed. He flat-out outplayed Tabor in the spring and looks to be in the lead to earn the starting job across from Hargreaves.
Dawson is a hard-worker, a kid that loves football and a person you won’t have to worry about off the football field; in short, a coach’s dream.
Rat’s Take: “The thing that I love the most about Duke is his maturity. He’s an incoming freshman but he carries himself like a fifth year senior. Duke would drive from Cross City to Orlando every weekend to come and train and workout. He was never late, he never missed, he never complained. He was the first one on the field and the last one off.
The Backups: J.C. Jackson (Fr.), Jalen Tabor (Fr.)
J.C. Jackson has the drive, the determination and the fight of a player that has been told he’s too small, too slow, too this or too that. He attacks training, lifting, running and football with a chip on his shoulder. However, J.C. Jackson isn’t too small or too slow — the opposite, in fact.
Jackson has the body and skill set of a future All-SEC or All-American type of player but he works like he’s the last man on the end of the bench, just fighting to get on the practice field for reps.
Jackson’s skillset is wide. He’s a talented, physical, cornerback. He can return punts and kicks and he was an electric wide receiver in high school. Florida promised him that he would get a shot to play defense and he will. But you bet it won’t be long before Kurt Roper starts pounding on the table, trying to get Jackson some reps with the offense as well.
Rat’s Take: “He’s a guy that every position coach is going to argue to get him on their side of the ball. He can play corner, he can play wide receiver, he can probably play running back and he’ll play on both kick and punt return.”
I was more impressed with Tabor’s high school film and at The Opening last year than I was with him in pads this spring. To his credit, Tabor enrolling at Florida was a turbulent time for the young man. In a month’s time, Tabor committed to Arizona on national television and was taking college classes on campus in Gainesville. He’s happy to be a Gator but he obviously had a lot going on behind the scenes — on top of adjusting to a new playbook and getting into the swing of things this spring.
I think Tabor will be just fine moving forward and expect him to have a very productive season.
Rat’s Take: Jalen is a guy that if you draw up a corner, if you make one up on Madden, that’s how you want him to look. He’s got the size, the height; he’s got everything you want in a corner. The only think that I can say that I want to see a little bit more of is him being a little more physical with that size.
Nickel: Brian Poole (Jr.), Duke Dawson (Fr.)
Brian Poole played some outside cornerback this spring but I believe that is just some cross-training for emergency purposes.
Last year, Jaylen Watkins was the Swiss army knife of the secondary and this year that player will be Poole. He excels playing nickel, up against slot receivers but can hold his own at safety or on the boundary if need be.
Rat’s Take: Starting at that nickel spot, which I think is one of the hardest positions on the field to play in the slot, to be able to play that, play some safety and play some on the outside, I think he’s that plug-and-play guy. You always know you got B-Poole who’s a veteran, he’s smart enough to adjust and adapt to the coverage and the scheme of the defense.”
Duke Dawson’s size led many people to believe that he would only be a nickel at the college level. He proved that theory wrong in the spring but he will backup Poole here as well. Dawson is physical enough to play at the line of scrimmage but quick enough to stick with slot receivers as well.
Rat’s Take: “Duke is ahead of his time as far as his technique, his fundamentals, his mental game; I have no worries about what No. 7 is gonna do when he gets a chance out on that field.”
The Rest: Quincy Wilson (Fr.), Deiondre Porter (Fr.)
Quincy Wilson battled a perception all throughout his recruitment. People look at his 6-1, almost 200-pound frame and think safety.
He’s never played safety. He’s been a cornerback his entire life and the size that he brings isn’t rare anymore. Look at the cornerbacks in the NFL, they’re bigger, stronger and faster than ever.
Wilson brushes off talk about a position switch; he mentions the same talk that followed Marcus Roberson when he was a high school senior. Roberson was promised that he would play cornerback, not safety, and he never played a down of safety while at Florida. Wilson hopes to have the same kind of career.
I expect Wilson to play a big role on special teams as a freshman and push for playing time in the secondary. He should be able to make an impact this season.
Rat’s Take: “With his size, the sky is the limit. If he can get to where he can play that boundary, play that physical corner; I can see him being an All-American on the boundary very soon.”
Deiondre Porter played quarterback in high school so moving to cornerback will be an adjustment. When I told Ratliff that Florida planned to use Porter on defense, he was surprised, expecting the athlete to play receiver. I think Porter will need a year to redshirt but Ratliff warned that the players you expect to redshirt can sometimes have productive seasons.
Rat’s Take: I like his athleticism mixed with T-Rob’s coaching. I know how athletic Deiondre is and how good he is. I know that he has the athleticism, the size, the speed and the ability to do the job. I just don’t know — compared to the other names we’ve mentioned — I don’t know if he’s as far ahead technically, with his techniques, his footwork, the mental game, the eyes and the awareness of playing corner at this stage yet.”