Throughout the preseason, one of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s biggest talking points with the media was the need to create depth by cross-training some players at multiple positions.
Many teams, including Alabama, will go up-tempo and prevent UF’s defense from substituting. So, it’s important that the Gators have players on the field who are capable of doing multiple things so that the offense doesn’t just take advantage of the same mismatch over and over.
With injuries guaranteed to happen as the season goes on, it’s also important to have some of the veterans play multiple spots to create depth. You can basically get two players in one if you do it correctly.
Through two weeks, defensive back Jadarrius Perkins and linebacker Jeremiah Moon have provided that versatility.
Perkins spent two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and the 2021 spring semester at Missouri before transferring to Florida.
He’s played as the top reserve at STAR so far this season and fared well. He’s been one of the Gators’ most physical defensive backs, making three tackles in each game. He’s also played tight coverage, and he broke up his first pass as a Gator on a third-down play against South Florida.
Perkins has also practiced at outside cornerback and could easily slide out there in a game if needed.
“I think it’s one of those where we’re trying to find guys that create the depth at different positions,” coach Dan Mullen said. “You look at that spot as somebody that we’ve got to do some different things with, and so, you try guys out, and I thought he picked it up pretty quickly and did a good job with it.
“A guy that came in, transferred in, got here, had to pick up the system fast. Started him at corner, now also playing some STAR. He’s done a good job of working his tail off mentally. Obviously, he has some great physical tools, but, mentally, to learn the system, learn the defense, get ready to get out there on the field. He’s done a good job making plays.”
Grantham echoed Mullen’s praise for Perkins’ work ethic. Grantham said he’s a fun player to coach.
“I love that kid, man,” he said. “You talk about a kid that busts his tail to be better every day. He’s so conscientious. He really wants to please and wants to do things the right way. He’ll come in early, he’ll come in, ask some questions on something, he may come over as soon as you try to coach him up on the field or on the sideline to say, ‘Hey, coach, what’d you see?’
“I’m really glad he’s here. Getting him has been unbelievable because he’s been able to really give us some quality STAR reps, and he’s only going to get better. You want to have guys like that to coach. They’re fun.”
Meanwhile, Moon is disproving the old saying that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” He’s in his sixth year in the program, but he spent his first five years as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker.
This year, Grantham is asking him to do more than just rush around the edge and get after the quarterback. He started the first two games at inside linebacker alongside Ventrell Miller, a position which requires him to provide run support and cover running backs and tight ends. He leads the team with 11 tackles.
“They’re just giving me the freedom to roam around,” Moon said. “I’m having fun with wherever they put me, and I’m just trying to help the team, so that’s really my main focus. Whatever they need me to do, I’m willing to do it.
“It was a learning curve, but you’ve just got to put time and effort into what you really want and good things will happen.”
But just because Moon is playing a more traditional linebacker position this year doesn’t mean that he won’t be asked to rush the passer anymore. He registered UF’s lone sack against USF, and he was credited for a quarterback hurry against Florida Atlantic.
Fellow linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said that Moon serves as a role model to the rest of the defense.
“He’s done a great job,” Diabate said. “He always runs to the ball. His intensity, the way he plays is different. So, everybody on the team respects him, and I personally respect him as a guy who looked out for me when I first came in. So, he’s somebody that a lot of people want to be like, and he’s a good example to the young guys on how to take care of your business, how to go through adversity and how to play hard every down.”
Perkins and Moon are exactly the types of players that Mullen and Grantham look for.