With fall camp right around the corner, Gator Country has started previewing the 2023 football season by breaking down each position on Florida’s roster.
The Gators have seven scholarship safeties on their roster entering the 2023 season, while three of them are new to the program and one is new to the position. The group includes two freshman, two sophomores, a redshirt sophomore, a junior, and a redshirt junior.
“I think safety and tight end are areas where we are going to have some good, young, talented players that are going to have to contribute to our team,” Head Coach Billy Napier said at the 2023 SEC Media Days.”
Napier hasn’t shied away from the youth and overall inexperience at the position following the departure of Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence (NFL).
“I think it’s a position that’s probably a little thin, truth be known,” Napier said at the start of spring football.
The prized possession in Florida’s 2022 recruiting class appeared in all 13 games at safety while making two starts in his freshman campaign. Wilson totaled 39 tackles (19 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, one pass deflection, and one forced fumble last season. The Fort Piece, Florida native posted a tackling grade of 85.3 in 2022, the highest mark by a Gators’ defender a year ago, according to Pro Football Focus. Wilson’s 311 snaps were the second most by a true freshman last season, trailing only Shemar James (368).
During the 2023 Orange and Blue Spring game, Wilson recorded a forced fumble to stop Team Blue’s drive the redzone. The sophomore also tallied five tackles (4 solo) and one QB hurry in the contest. Wilson was awarded with the Steve Spurrier Commitment to Excellence Award following Florida’s spring camp.
The 6-0, 220-pound hard hitting safety is looking to make his presence felt on the backend of the Gators’ defense in 2023, where he will compete with fellow sophomore Miguel Mitchell and junior transfer RJ Moten for a starting spot at safety in Austin Armstrong’s defense.
The 6-1, 219-pound safety appeared in all 13 games while making one start during his freshman campaign, totaling 15 tackles (8 solo), one TFL, and one forced fumble.
Mitchell was a swiss army knife coming off the bench in 2022. In his 107 snaps played he totaled 14 snaps on the DL (outside the OT), ten at free safety, two at corner, 33 in the slot, and 47 in the box.
The Alabama native was awarded the Fred Taylor Most Improved Freshman Award following 2023’s spring camp.
The Gators bolstered their safety room this offseason with the addition of Michigan transfer R.J. Moten.
After redshirting his freshman season at Michigan, Moten combined for 15 starts across 28 games played in the 2021-22 seasons, totaling 65 tackles, six pass breakups, 2.5 TFL, and two interceptions.
Moten saw 925 defensive snaps during that two-year span, totaling 562 at free safety, 221 snaps as a box safety, and 86 reps as a slot corner. Moten even saw 45 snaps on the edge and 10 as an outside cornerback. In 2022, Moten saw increased time in the box and a decrease in reps at free safety. His pressure grade of 70.9 ranked 6th on the Wolverines defense in 2022, according to PFF. It’s unclear exactly how the Gators plan to utilize the fourth-year safety, but I expect he takes on more of a coverage role in 2023, considering the other skillsets at the position.
The 6-0, 219-pound safety is expected to be an immediate contributor for the Gators’ defense. Moten has two years of eligibility left.
Redshirt junior Ja’Markis Weston switched his position from receiver to safety at the start of the 2023 spring football season. Billy Napier’s Gators just needed more bodies in the room and Weston provides the athleticism to make it work. The 5th year student athlete has primarily played in a special teams role for Florida during his time in Gainesville.
“Ja’Markis is a guy that’s played really well for us on special teams,” Napier said on the first day of spring camp. “He’s done a good job on the punt team and the cover team. And we do a number of drills where we ask those four core offensive players to take part in tackling circuits. I think the defensive staff felt like observing him in those settings that he had the skillset. We know he was a really good defensive player in high school so there’s a skillset there it’s just going to be a matter of learning the system, learning the communication, fundamentals but I know Ja’Markis is excited about it and I know our coaching staff is looking forward to working with him.”
Rated as a consensus four-star recruit by 247Sports, ESPN, 0n3 and Rivals, Jordan Castell is looking to make his presence felt early on in Gainesville. The 2023 Under Armour All-American was ranked as the No. 10 safety and No. 139 player overall in the Class of 2023 by ESPN. The West Orange product recorded 121 tackles (87 solo) in his HS career, averaging 3.5 per game, with 2.0 sacks and eight interceptions.
The 6-2, 204-pound safety has the verified speed and length that Napier and Corey Raymond are looking for at the position. Castell was an early enrollee which should help him make a case for early playing time.
Look for Castell to crack the two-deep depth chart as a true freshman to start the 2023 season.
Bryce Thorton was one of two safety additions in Florida’s 2023 recruiting class (Jordan Castell). The 5-10, 204-pound safety was high up on former Gators’ defensive coordinator Patrick Toney’s board before his departure to the NFL.
In his senior season, Thornton totaled 26 solo tackles, six pass breakups, and two interactions.
The Milton, Georgia native chose Florida over Alabama. Thorton was also an early enrollee, which is great news for a unit that consists of inexperienced players at the position.
The redshirt sophomore has not appeared in a game throughout his two seasons in Gainesville. The 5-11, 185-pound safety is expected to be buried on the depth chart once again in 2023.
Kamari Wilson, Miguel Mitchell, and RJ Moten is the trio to look out for early on in the season. Two of the three will be the “starting corners”, but each of those three guys are expected to contribute early and often. True freshman Jordan Castell and Bryce Thornton could find their way onto the field in 2023 as well. Dakota Mitchell and Ja’Markis Weston will likely be buried on the depth chart with opportunities on special teams.
The safety position is young and inexperienced, but the Gators have a group of guys they are excited to move forward with.