Gators Have Void To Fill At Cornerback

The University of Florida has a huge hole to fill at the cornerback position which is not really a secret but for some reason, it seems like it is. The Gators are losing both starting cornerbacks for the second straight off-season and there are exactly three players on campus that played the position last season and one of those never played a down. It is a void that must be filled.

Fresh off their national championship, the Gators have needs to fill in the secondary but corner is the most pressing need of all because both starters and three backups that filled out the depth chart are graduating. You would think that a position depth chart with that many holes in it would have every top cornerback in the country clamoring for attention from Florida’s recruiting staff.

Outside of linebacker, however, it is clear that this is the one position that hasn’t been filled with enough capable bodies to meet the team’s needs. What is truly baffling is the success that inexperienced players in the system under Coach Urban Meyer’s staff have had hasn’t parlayed into success recruiting the position.

Lost in the shuffle is the fact the Gators have produced two All-SEC corners the last two seasons. Dee Webb earned All-SEC first team honors in Meyer’s first year (2005), leading the league in pass breakups. Webb was on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ active roster in 2006. In 2006, Ryan Smith arrived on a transfer from Utah in August, claimed a starting role a couple weeks later and went on to lead the SEC in interceptions, earn first team All-SEC and second team All-America honors.

Their mentor? Chuck Heater, whom you could argue is Florida’s best secondary coach since Bob Stoops, and there are those that would argue that if Heater isn’t the best secondary coach the Gators have ever had, he’s definitely on the short list.

Heater took an almost new secondary in 2006 and did a radical makeover, changing the schemes and philosophies to fit the talent of the available personnel. The Gators went from a mostly man coverage to mostly zone scheme, and though zone is not what they prefer, it worked well enough for Florida to lead the SEC in interceptions (21) and finish three away from national leader Western Michigan.

With Smith and Reggie Lewis gone along with backups Jermaine McCollum, Tremaine McCollum and Nick Brooks, the Gators will begin the spring with Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis, who got limited playing time as freshmen last year, and redshirt Jacques Rickerson, who has never played a down of college football.

The 2006 Florida recruiting class should be loaded with big time cornerback prospects wanting to climb on the championship train but instead there is freshman Ahmad Black of Lakeland, who is already enrolled in school, and two commitments. Justin Grant still hasn’t visited Florida officially and DeMarcus Van Dyke is rumored to be wavering on his Florida commitment in favor of the University of Miami.

So just what is Coach Heater supposed to do to make these prospects understand that they not only have a chance to come in and play right away, but if they are as highly touted as some of them are, they likely could be a fixture in the secondary for three years before he sends another one off to the NFL.

Perhaps this week Heater will have to ride up to Muskegon, Michigan wearing a Statue of Liberty costume and holding the message “give me your swift feet, your swivel hips, your lock down mentality, yearning to shut someone down” in an effort to lure lock down corner Ronald Johnson to Florida.

I mean. really, what is it going to take?

If there is a better opportunity in America for a cornerback to step into a program that is on a meteoric rise and make a difference with a coaching staff that consists of a savvy, veteran defensive staff and a young, aggressive offensive staff? It is a place where the head coach is the two time National Coach of the Year. Yet, there is this glaring hole needed to be filled at that cornerback position.

The board is really down to two more prospects. One claims to be committed to Florida in Van Dyke but says he may “shock the world” on signing day. In Florida’s favor to retain Van Dyke is the fact his grandfather is from Williston and his mother finished high school in the community that’s only 20 miles from Gainesville. Van Dyke has family ties to the area and that, along with the chance to play early could entice him to stay true to his Florida commitment.

The other prospect on the board is the five-star Johnson that could play some on offense on a young offensive team but could start day one on defense. If Johnson is looking for the fastest way to get on the playing field, then I can’t imagine there being a better scenario out there. Playing time is available at Florida and there is the chance to be coached by one of the nation’s best secondary coaches.

There are also a rumor that bears mention. Moses Jenkins, a talented corner from Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson has been flying under the radar until recently. He is set to announce on Friday and there are rumblings that he could surprise and announce for Florida. At this point, that is definitely just a rumor.