Written By: Kevin Camps
For years now we have come to expect a lot from the Florida Gators on defense. They have annually posted a top-tier defense in the Southeastern conference, as well as the nation. The last five years in particular the defense has had to carry the success of the football program, as the offense struggles to get back to what we have become accustomed to.
Geoff Collins enters his second season as the Gators’ defensive coordinator and is not shying away from the expectations that will be put on the Gators defense.
“Based on last year, there’s a high expectation in that room, a high expectation with that group.” he said.
Last year the Gators surrendered 310 yards per game, which was good enough for 8th best in the country. Maintaining that success will be challenged with the losses of Vernon Hargreaves, Jon Bullard, Antonio Morrison, Keanu Neal and Alex McAllister. Florida will need the veterans on the squad to step up and provide the leadership and knowledge, necessary for this team to repeat as the SEC East champions.
Collins expressed that the battle-tested veterans are already taking on that responsibility. “The guys that are supposed to step up — Marcus Maye, Bryan Cox, Jarrad Davis, Caleb Brantley — are doing that. They’re talking,” he said.
Speaking of talking, junior cornerback and All-American candidate Jalen Tabor has done a lot of that. In the open sessions of practice he has not found any reason to keep his mouth closed. He continues to back up his words with his play on the field. “Jalen Tabor out there running his mouth like he does, does a great job.” Collins added.
We often see the pressure of expectations get the best of players, but right now the energy on the field in practice can be seen and felt. This defense is flying around in the early practices and that is good news for the Gators.
The Gators will once again field another great defense, but there is a concern with depth. That puts a premium on the young guys that have redshirted and those that have come in as early enrollees to get up to speed and make meaningful contributions.
If those young players want extended playing time in the fall, they’d better bring their lunch pail this spring. When the Gators enter SEC play we will see how far along these young men have come. League play in the Southeastern Conference is a battle of attrition as much as it about schemes. The defensive tradition and expectation has become very strong for the Gators. The responsibility of that tradition continuing falls on the likes of those that have been in the rigorous battles of the SEC.
Collins mentioned the efforts of the veterans to teach the newcomers the schemes and the expectations. “The older guys are really taking it upon themselves to get them ready. Making sure they know the defense, know the expectation in our room. I think those young guys have stepped up for us.”
There are not just new faces to look for on the playing field but also on the sideline. New defensive backs coach Torrian Gray is already fitting in well and has brought a lot of energy to a group we are expecting to dominate on Saturday’s. Coach Gray is gaining the respect of already successful players such as Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye.
“I think Jalen Tabor sees it, Maye sees it, Q sees it and they listen to him. He’s very credible.” Collins said.
His presence is a much-needed change on the Gators staff, not just for coaching, but in recruiting as well. His role in the Gators maintaining its defensive prowess is being tested early as he hopes to build the depth of the Gators secondary.
Florida is three practices in and the expectations are going to continue to grow for the talented defense. The potential of this unit is there to once again be a top 10 defense nationally, but that potential will not erase a few questions lingering. Can the Gators replace the losses in the secondary? Is Brantley ready to fill Bullard’s shoes? Is the depth there to maintain through the entire season?
Spring practices will begin answering some of those questions, but in the meantime the staff will have to continue to chisel away and shape another very talented group of defensive prospects. As we know, Geoff Collins has inherited a special group of talent, now it’s up to him, assistant coaches Rumph, Shannon and Gray to take that potential and reveal the talent that we have all read about and expect to see week in and week out.