With depth not an issue at safety, the Florida coaching staff has turned their attention to developing talent with the ability to carry the defense next year. While two players were constants at the position last year, the coming fall looks like there could possibly be more of a player rotation, with some younger players who have proved themselves this spring.
When you look for stability in a secondary which lost three of last year’ four starters, strong safety Tony Joiner (5-11, 217) provides just that. He has looked extremely smooth during all of the drills with the safeties, and continues to set the bar for the younger players, showing them exactly how you do things as a Florida Gator. As good as Joiner has looked during drills and scrimmages, the most noticeable improvement in his game has come in the form of leadership. For a defense who lost its vocal leader for the past two years in Brandon Siler, Gator fans have been wondering who would step up and assume the role. Look no further than #19.
During Saturday’s scrimmage, Joiner was sitting on the sideline watching the second team defense try to stop Cam Newton and the second team offense. Newton led David Nelson too much on a post route down the middle of the field, when Bryan Thomas came in and hit Nelson to finish off the play. After the play happened, the overwhelming voice of Tony Joiner was heard throughout the practice facility screaming, “Yes sir! Hit him again BT! Hit him again!” Even during scrimmages and drills he is always the player to get everyone focused, and shows emotion while doing this, something Gator fans have grown accustomed to seeing out of Tony Joiner.
Kyle Jackson (6-1, 201) continues to be the safety causing fans to scratch their head. After having a good freshman season and a sub par sophomore year, Jackson was non-existent in last year’s secondary. With the early exit of Reggie Nelson, many Gator fans have been expecting Jackson to step up and grab hold of the free safety position. Though he has looked very athletic this spring, I still have not seen the hard nosed attitude out of Jackson that I would like to see from our “center fielder”. He still looks to have an excellent safety body, while maybe lacking the mentality of a head hunting safety. Jackson should see the field for the Gators this year, but has not exactly claimed the free safety position as his for the season.
Mr. Versatility at the safety position looks to be red-shirt sophomore Dorian Munroe (5-11, 200). After replacing an injured Tony Joiner at strong safety during the SEC Championship last season, he has now gotten reps at both safety positions. Of all the players competing for the free safety spot, I would say Munroe is definitely the most aggressive, something this coaching staff values very much. He will sometimes make mistakes, but rest assured none of them will ever be from timidity. If he does not start at the free safety position, I would expect Munroe to be the first off the bench to back up Tony Joiner at the strong safety spot.
A healthy surprise for Gator coaches and fans alike has been the play of red-shirt freshman Jamar Hornsby (6-2, 195). Before spring began, Coach Meyer confused everyone by hinting about moving Hornsby to wide receiver, saying he had more lateral speed than sideline to sideline speed. One could think that Hornsby took this personal, and has shown outstanding speed and agility from the position. He has an outstanding body with great athleticism. I believe the Florida coaching staff will find Hornsby’s position this spring where he will stay for the rest of his time at Florida. He has also gotten a few snaps from the outside linebacker position, but don’t count him out as a possible dark house to start at the free safety position.
Coming off an injury which crept up just in time to keep him off the field last season, Bryan Thomas (6-1, 203) has shown glimpses of his talent this spring. Right before his injury last season, rumors were beginning to surface about what a great talent Thomas was, and how he could see the field at either safety or corner. With the weight he has added in his time on campus, he has found a home at the safety position. He has shown good cover ability, but also seems to have some problems picking up some of the defensive schemes and has been yelled at by coaches many times for these lapses. Thomas also looks somewhat timid while going after the football during live drills, almost as if his injury was still in the back of his mind.
A victim of the depth chart looks to be red-shirt junior John Curtis (6-2, 210). He has been a very good scout team player in the past, and occasionally getting some special teams action. He has a great body for the safety position and would most likely be a constant contributor at other schools who didn’t have the same amount of talent at safety that Florida continues to possess.
After losing a once in a decade type player such as Reggie Nelson, there now looks to be plenty of talent on the roster to make up for this loss. Add the names above to an incoming freshmen safety class of Major Wright, Jerimy Finch, and Lorenzo Edwards, and the safety position looks to be set for years to come.