Last week we finished off the offense, profiling the two-deep depth chart along the offensive line. That means we now switch gears and move to Florida’s bread and butter, defense.
To kick things off, we’ll start with the position that Will Muschamp is the most hands on with and the position he played himself — safety.
The Gators have their hands full this season trying to replace both starters from a season ago. Last year, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs held down the positions for the Gators. Florida leaned on both players as veteran leaders in the secondary and on the defense as a whole.
Florida is unquestionably talented at this position but they have very little experience. Muschamp asks a lot out of his safeties mentally — they need to know their responsibilities as well as the other 10 players responsibilities on the field. Safeties are responsible for the entire secondary and are the quarterbacks of the defense.
The Two Deep:
FS: Keanu Neal (So.), Jabari Gorman (Sr.)
SS: Marcus Maye (R-So.), Marcell Harris (R-Fr.)
Jabari Gorman took most of the first team reps this past spring with Keanu Neal sidelined by a hamstring injury. Neal is, however, the future of the position for the Gators. He’s a supremely talented athlete and if his ailing hamstring can stay healthy this season he should have a breakout season.
Gorman is often overlooked — maybe I’m even overlooking him here — but he always finds a way to get on the field. He’s a little on the smaller side but he’s reliable and that is a trait that has ingratiated him with the coaching staff. Gorman has one thing that most players don’t at the position — experience. He’s a senior and the coaching staff will look for him to set an example and be a leader this year.
Marcus Maye found the doghouse last season after his blown coverage led to a touchdown against Miami. The particular play was one that Muschamp had drilled the safeties on repeatedly and the gaff cost Maye his starting job.
After a trying season, Maye returned to a starting role this spring and he looks to have a firm grip on one of the two starting positions. If Maye can nail down the mental responsibilities and that aspect of the game he has more than enough talent to follow in the great line of safeties at Florida.
Marcell Harris drew the ire of the coaching staff a lot this spring. Even though the coaching staff was on him a lot, Harris proved to be a quick study. Being coachable is one of the best traits a young player can have and Harris showed that this past spring. He’s linebacker big, but can move like a safety. If it clicks for Harris at some point this year, look out.
The Rest: Nick Washington (R-Fr.)
Barring a move of one of the other defensive backs, Florida will roll into the season with just five.
Nick Washington missed last season due to a shoulder injury but was cleared to take part during the early portion of spring ball, spending just a few practices in a non-contact jersey. Washington moved to safety from corner — a good move for him — and he’ll compete for playing time as well as participating on special teams.