One of the major storylines of spring football practice at Florida has been finding a replacement for Joe Haden, who has left early and likely will be a first-round choice in the upcoming NFL Draft. While the void Haden left in the Florida secondary is still a bit of a concern, defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach Teryl Austin is breathing a little easier after true freshman Joshua Shaw stepped up at the Orange and Blue Debut Game Saturday, figuring in a game-high eight tackles (seven solo), along with an interception of Trey Burton, and an additional pass break-up. In doing so, Shaw has put himself squarely in the mix to grab the starting job at the field cornerback position opposite junior Janoris Jenkins this fall.
Arriving with considerable fanfare as one of the top defensive backs prospects in the country – and hailing from the backyard of major power Southern California – the 6-0, 189-pound Shaw was scheduled to bring a big, physical presence to the Florida secondary. Despite an up-and-down spring, he did not disappoint on Saturday. His position coach, Austin, was a little more reserved in his praise, although he has been happy with the freshman’s contributions to date.
“Overall, I thought he did well,” Austin said. “He competed, and that’s really what I was looking for.”
Despite getting beat on the very first play of the day – a 47-yard pass from John Brantley to Deonte Thompson down the left sideline – Shaw rebounded nicely to make an interception of Burton’s first throw of the afternoon—another deep ball down the left sideline.
“That was nice,” Shaw said of the play. “When the ball fell in my hands, all I was thinking was ‘score.’ It didn’t happen—there’s a lot of speed out there – but I tried.”
Of course, that has been one of the big adjustments for Shaw moving on to the college level. There is a lot more speed on the field these day, as opposed to what he experienced just last fall at Palmdale (Calif.) High School where Shaw’s play would eventually earn him Under Armour All-America honors. While the speed of the game is something he has had to adjust to, the fan support is also some a little different to Shaw. Something that really impressed the youngster as he took the field in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the first time as a player.
“We don’t get stuff like that for a spring game (in California),” he said. “Fifty-one thousand (51,000) fans? That’s kind of unheard of for the West Coast. It was a great atmosphere, and I was amazed by that.”
Simply by being at Florida for spring practice as a freshman is something that took a lot of hard work and sacrifice to accomplish. However, Shaw seems to make no bones about the fact he is happy with the decision he made.
“At first, it was rocky,” Shaw said of his experience in Gainesville this spring. “But every day I see myself progressing. Today, I felt I was there, I just didn’t make enough plays. I’m just going to continue to get better.”
Tough adjustments are always helped along when there are good people around. Despite being recruited to Florida by former cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford (now at Louisville), Shaw has found his replacement to be quite the satisfactory replacement.
“Great mentor, great person, great coach,” Shaw said of Teryl Austin, who replaced Bedford. “I’ve never been coached so well by someone. I love working under Coach Austin.”
But Austin isn’t the only one to help guide the young freshman through this process. Shaw has found another mentor to work with him in Jenkins, who knows a thing or two about enrolling early under heightened expectations.
“On the sideline, Janoris is the first one to come talk to me,” Shaw said of Jenkins, one of the few players on the defense assured of a starting job heading into the fall. “He’s a great mentor.”
Now, the slate has been wiped clean, so to speak. Workouts began once again in earnest Monday as Mickey Marotti took over as the de facto head coach during the summer months. Shaw is looking forward to the challenge as he hopes to put himself in a position to win a starting job in fall camp.
“All I can do is learn from this, and go and watch film to see where I can improve,” Shaw said of the final scrimmage of the spring. “I’m just going to do everything I can on my part to try, and hopefully things fall where they should.”