Florida Gators football fans heading to games this fall may want to pick up a numerical roster on their way in to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Gone are defensive cornerstones like Loucheiz Purifoy, Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley, Jaylen Watkins, Cody Riggs and Marcus Roberson. The new Gator defense is green but they are talented and they’re coming on strong in the early portion of fall camp.
There was no time to waste. With so many holes to fill on the defense and an influx of talent the Florida Gator coaching staff needed to see who would be able to contribute as freshmen. It’s why Vernon Hargreaves is still in an orange non-contact jersey. Hargreaves went down with a bone bruise in his left knee in the very first open practice. There’s no need to rush him back, however. Hargreaves is a known commodity — a freshmen All-American and preseason first team All-American. Behind him are four freshmen cornerbacks, all of which will have to play meaningful minutes this season.
They may be young but their play on the field has already instilled confidence in Will Muschamp’s coaching staff.
“I feel good about all our options back there. It’s a matter of now how are we going to sort it out,” Durkin said. “All those guys have the ability to play back there. And you look at the history of here, we’ve played true freshman on the back and about every year. We recruit those types of guys, and a lot of our guys leave as juniors. So that happens. Will be fine. Those guys are ready to go.”
JC Jackson and Jalen Tabor have taken a lot of extra reps with Hargreaves on the sidelines. Duke Dawson enrolled early and made a great first impression before an injury sidelined him this past week. Fellow freshman Quincy Wilson keeps progressing and will figure in to the secondary rotation as well.
But the youth isn’t limited to the secondary. Freshmen defensive lineman Gerald Willis from Edna Karr High School in Louisiana has provided a speed rush that is turning heads and opening eyes.
But with Jon Bullard playing defensive end and veterans like Bryan Cox Jr. and Dante Fowler on the field, where can Willis fit in?
“Somewhere. Somewhere. He can play, he’s good. He’ll play and help us,” said Durkin. “Gerald’s got to keep learning the defense and being in the right spot and all the typical things for a normal freshman. But he’s going to play.”
The familiar faces are gone but the new kids on the block are ready to make names for themselves.