Continuing our look at the defense on the spring roster for the Gators, one position where experience, not depth, is a concern is the safety position. One starter in Tony Joiner returns from 2006 and the other spot is truly up for grabs for a group with a lot of talent.
Senior strong safety Tony Joiner of Haines City (FL) is the only returning starter in the entire secondary and has a linebacker’s mentality at the safety position. Joiner plays in the box when the Gators run the defensive schemes and his ability to play in traffic and help stop the run make him an invaluable tool in the Gator defense for 2007.
Senior free safety Kyle Jackson of Jacksonville (FL) actually has a lot of experience, but he hasn’t seen real playing time since Reggie Nelson showed up on the scene two years ago. Jackson was terrific as true freshman late in 2004, but has not been able to capture that same form since that season. If Jackson can catch up to where he was that season, the secondary would stand to be a lot easier to manage.
Sophomore free safety Dorian Munroe of Miami (FL) spelled Joiner late in the SEC Championship game last season when Joiner went down with an injury. Although he made mistakes in the game, Munroe played aggressively and showed that he is not scared to go out and play the game at a high level. The word on the street is Munroe will get first shot at the free safety spot vacated by Reggie Nelson and that the staff is really high on him.
Junior walk-on John Curtis of Rockledge possesses good size (6-2, 205) and terrific speed to play the safety position. A converted wide receiver, Curtis has always made big plays in the off-season practice sessions and is known for his athletic ability. Curtis would be a huge find if he was able to get some playing time at safety in a meaningful role this season.
Red-shirt freshman Bryan Thomas of Zephyrhills injured his knee before arriving on campus last season and the re-injured the same knee early on in two a days. Thomas is a rare athlete with size and speed and actually grew quite a bit after being on the training table at Florida for a little less than a year. In his lighter days, Thomas possessed the ability to probably play cornerback. His growth however may allow him to play even a bigger position like linebacker. Regardless of where it is on the field, Thomas is one of those players that needs to be on the field and contributing.
Like Thomas, an unknown quantity at the safety position is red-shirt freshman Jamar Hornsby of Jacksonville. Hornsby was an extraordinary free safety in high school and played the game like former Tennessee All-American free safety Deon Grant. Hornsby had an injury of his own that got him a slow start last season, but somewhere around mid-season he really turned it on. He will make an impact somewhere sooner rather than later.
The Gators will add three more safeties in the fall with Major Wright, Lorenzo Edwards, and Jerimy Finch. With the numbers at the position being what they are, look for at least a couple of the safeties to change to new positions by fall. The physical talent is just too great to not get some of these players on the field.