For all of Florida’s struggles in 2013, the one area that you couldn’t point a finger at for lack of execution and results was the secondary. The Gators finished with the top ranked pass defense in the SEC (171.8 yards per game) last season.
What makes Florida’s secondary play more impressive is the fact the Gators had problems pressuring the passer. In past years, Florida’s secondary was aided by a dominant pass rush but the Gators finished 8th in the SEC with 33 quarterback hurries and 12th in sacks with just 19.
A former defensive back at Georgia during his playing days, Will Muschamp puts a lot of responsibility on the secondary’s shoulders. They play a lot of man and press coverages, which leads to some aggressive penalties but the style works because Muschamp has done an exemplary job of recruiting defensive backs that fit into his scheme.
This offseason is one of uncertainty for the Florida secondary. Both Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson decided to forego their senior seasons to test the NFL waters and this leaves Florida razor thin and young at cornerback.
Without further ado, let’s breakdown the future at both cornerback and safety for the spring of 2014.
Holding Steady: Vernon Hargreaves, Brian Poole
2013 Stats: 38 tackles, 3 interceptions (led team), 11 passes defended (led team)
Vernon Hargreaves came to Florida with more hype than any recruit in the Will Muschamp era and he proved one thing during his freshman season.
Believe the hype. It’s real. He’s that good.
Hargreaves started the final 10 games of the season at cornerback and was named a third team All-American by the AP. He was not only the only Gator that made any of the teams but he was also the only freshman in the country to be honored as an All-American. Hargreaves tied a school record for a freshman with 11 pass breakups, ranked second in the SEC with 1.17 passes defended per game and he led the Gators with three interceptions.
Hargreaves will extend that 10-consecutive games started streak into next year and will start every game unless he suffers an injury.
Strengths: Hargreaves excels out on an island. He can play press or off coverage, zone or man it doesn’t matter. Hargreaves does pretty much everything at an elite level and will be a shutdown corner for at least the next two seasons in Gainesville.
On top of sticking to receivers Hargreaves is an exceptional open field tackler and finished seventh on the team with 38 tackles.
Weaknesses: Hargreaves struggled at times in the nickel towards the end of the season. It’s nitpicking but he doesn’t really do anything poorly consistently enough to point out and say that it is a weakness.
2013 Stats: 32 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 passes broken up, 1 QB hurry
Poole was the main starter at nickel all season long. With how much Florida was in nickel last season, you might as well consider him a starter even though he only took the field with the first 11 seven games last season.
Poole is the quintessential nickel and excels there for Florida.
Strengths: Poole is quick and physical. He’s a tough tackler who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the pile and hit somebody. He is quicker than fast and stout against the run.
Weaknesses: Poole hasn’t been tested on the boundary very much at Florida. He has excelled inside but he may be forced to move back outside due to lack of depth at the position.
Moving Up: Nick Washinton, Duke Dawson
2013 Stats: N/A
Washington got early playing time on special teams and minimal work at cornerback before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the season. He should earn a medical redshirt and will be a freshman again in 2014.
If Washington can return this spring from his shoulder injury he should be given an opportunity to earn a starting job opposite of Vernon Hargreaves.
Strengths: Washington is long and physical. If he can get his hands on the receiver at the line of scrimmage he can disrupt timing and routes. He has good recovery speed and his high school film shows that he has good hands and can high point the football.
Weaknesses: Washington doesn’t have great hips. He’s a little stiff in his technique and a move to safety might better suit him in the future. Unfortunately, the numbers will most likely dictate that he stays at cornerback this season.
2013 Stats (according to Max Preps): 41 tackles, 2 interceptions
Dawson is already on campus and will enroll in classes this spring. Getting into Florida’s strength and condition program and into the playbook will benefit him. He’ll have a leg up on the rest of the freshmen class and if Washington can’t return in full this spring, Dawson will get a lot of first team reps in practice.
Dawson has been told that he will play on the outside but his skill set is versatile and he could play both on the outside and as a nickel back at Florida.
Strengths: Dawson is an exceptional open field tackler. He’s tough and physical at the point of attack and rarely misses tackles. He’s a good cover corner who is aggressive in press coverage and has enough speed to turn and run with receivers.
He’s a force in run defense from the outside and should excel at Florida as a blitzer from the outside.
Weaknesses: Dawson was rarely tested in high school. He was left on an island and opposing teams opted to give up that side of the field rather than test him in coverage. How will he be able to adjust to college quarterbacks taking shots at him multiple times per game?