In the last edition, our sophomore spotlight shifted from offense to defense, profiling Jarrad Davis. We’ll stick to defense today, continuing to look at how Will Muschamp is replacing the middle of his defense after the NFL Draft pillaged it.
Last season, Florida counted on Cody Riggs (transferred to Notre Dame) and Jaylen Watkins (drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 4th round) to play up top and lead the defense. This year, Florida will turn to a sophomore in Keanu Neal to pick up where players like Reggie Nelson, Major Wright, Ahmad Black and Matt Elam left off.
2013 Stats: 5 tackles (3 solo)
Keanu Neal spent most of the season on special teams but entered spring practice as the clear-cut starter at one safety spot. A hamstring injury sidelined him for the majority of towards the end of spring and was able to participate in the Orange and Blue Debut.
Neal is a physically impressive athlete and a natural safety. He plays fast, smart and physical. Even though he was relegated to special teams as a freshman, his play on the field and work ethic off the field have won over the coaching staff.
“He plays very active and is fast,” Muschamp said of Neal following the spring game. “A guy who really flashed at the scrimmage. When you talk in terms of playing at SEC speed, he was playing at SEC speed. Running to the ball, striking, playing blocks, and playing with the ball the deep part of the field a couple of times. He shows up.”
Neal was a track star in high school but is built like a linebacker. He’s set up to take over as one of the two safeties in Will Muschamp’s offense and is a player that can fill a similar role to what Elam was for the Gators defense.
With Marcus Maye, Jabari Gorman, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington all being viable options, Neal will have his hands full trying to fend them off but has the talent to do just that.