The Florida Gators started the season with a depleted level of depth in the secondary, but the one thing they knew they could always put their money on were the two lockdown cornerbacks. Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson were the talk of the offseason and may have been one of the very best duos in the country.
When Wilson went down on the first defensive possession of the Kentucky game, it set the tone for an all-around discouraging night and all of the what should have beens turned into what could have beens.
Now, the Gators are forced to move on for the remainder of the season without one of their greatest leaders and most dynamic players.
“You feel terrible for Marco, a guy that has worked really hard, a star player in our secondary,” said head coach Dan Mullen. “If you’d asked me coming into the season, ‘Hey, who are your best players? What’s the strength of the defense?’ I would’ve said our two corners. To lose one of them, one of the absolute best players on your roster, is obviously a big, big loss for us. Combine that with our lack of depth in our secondary is going to make it a little bit challenging for us moving forward.”
But that’s the unfortunate situation Florida finds itself in, and as with anything in life, it must adapt.
No one will immediately fill the shoes Wilson left behind, but Trey Dean is the guy the Gators will need to step up in his place. The freshman enrolled in the spring and has been turning heads ever since.
It immediately became apparent that he would get a lot of opportunities this year, but no one could’ve predicted he’d be starting across the field from Henderson on Week 3.
“The lack of depth we have at that position certainly has helped him accelerate his role to get ready. He was a two on Day 1 … When you show up and you’re kind of forced into this position where you’d love guys to have time to develop, but when you’re at a position where you’re short, there is no choice and you have to develop, you often see that accelerate their growth, and he’s done a good job at doing that.”
He may be young, but his teammates recognize that he is already one of the hardest workers on the team, as well as one of the biggest trash talkers.
Henderson said on Monday that Dean doesn’t even act like a freshman anymore, and that’s what the Gators need. Wilson and Henderson found themselves in the same position a season ago, and they certainly did not play like freshmen.
“I’m excited for him to come and start,” said wide receiver Trevon Grimes. “I feel like he’s phenomenal. He’s one of the most hardworking cornerbacks I’ve ever went against. Everyday he’s out here until everyone leaves … I think we’ve probably gotten into scrapples over 10 times, but that’s just all love. And he’s getting me better, I’m getting him better, so I feel like he’s gonna shock everybody with how talented he is.”
Along with Dean, sophomore Brian Edwards is another player who has to progress quickly for Florida to maintain success against the pass. He is currently listed as the back up at both cornerback spots on the depth chart.
With so few bodies in the first place and injuries piling up on top of that, Mullen said the Gators may have to get creative and even turn to moving some guys from offense to the secondary.
Florida still has talent in the defensive backfield, but some young players now have to grow up quickly.