After battling constant injuries throughout his career, sophomore cornerback Devin Moore is healthy and back to making plays in the Swamp.
The Gators were the healthiest they’ve been as a team since week five of last year in a close win over Missouri. In terms of depth, the defensive backs are a deep and young group with a high ceiling. The rotation amongst that unit has allowed players to stay fresh and ready to make plays in the back end.
“Definitely having more depth this season helps us a lot,” Moore said. “We weren’t on the field that much in the first half. Second half just being able to rotate guys, there being no drop-off, that definitely helped us. Helped some guys get some rest. Just come out there fresh.”
The Florida native instantly made an impact on Saturday after recording his first-career interception and the Gators’ first turnover of the 2023 season. The quality of play from the defensive line is starting to open the door for more opportunities in the secondary.
“So, yeah, it definitely was a big play, I’d say. I definitely got to give credit to the D-line, especially big Des,” Moore said on his first-career interception. “He kind of caused that play to happen. Just being a DB in general, when your D-line gets a lot of pressure, you don’t have to cover for so long, it definitely helps out a lot. I was just happy to be a part of a play that changed the game. I felt like they brought a lot of energy. A lot of guys on the sideline, we were celebrating, connecting. I feel like it was a big play in the game.”
The young players in the room have grown up quickly with the veterans leading the way defensively. Playing as one entire unit has taken this defense far in just three weeks.
“Yeah, so because we have a lot more depth this season, just coming in and doing what the older guys do. They set a good example,” Moore said on the veterans. “We just try and follow that, try and help the team any way we can, just help the defense try to be a better defense, the overall team be a better team.”
One specific player who is setting a great example so far after learning from former players is redshirt sophomore Scooby Williams.
The linebacker is off to a hot start this year posting a total of 13 tackles (8 solo) and one sack through three weeks. In 2022, Williams totaled just 14 tackles (5 solo) after appearing in seven games.
“Scooby this year, he made dramatic improvement this year,” Moore said on Williams. “He takes a lot more stuff serious. He’s doing those extra hours, all that work. He was last year, too. He kind of got those tips from Ventrell. All the little things that Ventrell did Scooby does. You can see it show up on the field for sure.”
Freshman safety Jordan Castell is a player who already has the leadership skills of a third-year junior. The Orlando native and true freshman cornerback Ja’Keem Jackson shared a cool pick-me-up moment in Saturday’s win.
“I think that’s great,” Moore said on Castell picking up Jackson. “I mean, for him being so young, both of them being young guys, for him being so young to just showcase that skill, that leadership, let Ja’Keem know he’s still a great player, we are going to get this back. That’s a great trait to have. That just showcases the standard that the older guys set. It’s a really bright future to see, like, I’m showcasing those talents being so young.”
Jordan Castell has exceeded expectations as a true freshman and has been the most impactful safety on the team. Castell has recorded 20 tackles (9 solo) through three games with the most snaps played on defense.
The 6-2, 220-pound safety was named the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Week after recording 10 tackles and a pass breakup against Tennessee.
“Jordan is very versatile. Covers like a corner, tackles like a safety,” Moore said. “You can really line him up anywhere.”
The adjustment from high school to college can be difficult, but this staff does a great job preparing its players.
“It’s definitely a bit of an adjustment from high school, especially coming to a college of this standard,” Moore said on preparation. “With the help of the coaches, the leadership of the older guys, that means a lot. They’ve been through it. They’ve got experience. Spending that extra time in the film room, those extra reps on the practice field, it will help you make up that adjustment real quick.”
There’s still a lot for this young secondary to learn as experience plays a big role in development as a football player.
This weekend’s game against Charlotte will be another great opportunity for this team to build some consistency with a tough stretch approaching in a few weeks.