“We got to fix the tackling, point blank, period”: Will Harris addresses points of emphasis this spring

“I don’t even talk about last year. Last year is over with. We’re talking about now,” new secondary coach Will Harris preached after Florida’s 12th spring practice.

Harris may not be interested in talking about the past, but he’s not oblivious to the recent struggles from the Gators’ back end.

“I’m very aware. To take this job, you’ve got to be aware of it. You’d be a fool not to,” Harris added. “The biggest thing for us is we go right back to you got to be able to protect Gator Nation. And our job is to eliminate the explosive, get the ball back and score. That’s our job as the backend. And then obviously we will say enforce our will on our opponent.”

The 36-year-old joined the program in December, 2023 after spending that year with the Los Angeles Chargers as an assistant secondary coach.

Prior to his lone season in the National Football League, Harris served as Washington’s defensive backs coach for four seasons (2018-2021), leading the Huskies to the top ranked pass defense in 2021, allowing 143.3 yards per game and giving up only six touchdowns. That year, Harris helped develop two first-team Pac-12 All-Conference selections in Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie. McDuffie also earned third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press and was a first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, Gordon was selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.

Harris also coached second-team All-America honoree Elijah Molden (Pro Football Focus’ Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year), and two first-team All America selections in Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy during his time in Seattle.

Despite producing an All-American in each of his four seasons at Washington while totaling five NFL draft picks in the first three rounds, Harris believes the Gators’ secondary is one of the more talented groups he’s had in his coaching career.

“A lot talent, that’s the biggest thing. I was telling Coach Napier, this might be one of the most talented groups I’ve had, just as far as height and length and speed,” Harris said.

While Florida may have the height, length, and speed to match up with any secondary in the country, their success will come down to the basic fundamentals.

“We got to fix the tackling, point blank, period,” Harris said. “That’s the emphasis for me and the rest of our staff, just make sure we get that fixed, especially in the back end we talked about that a lot. Then just protecting the deep part of the field. When I talk to my guys there’s two things I talk about, we got to protect Gator Nation. It’s your job, my job and everybody’s job. That’s how we protect it, is make sure we have a back stop. So those are the two most significant things I saw that needed to get fixed. And like I said, at the end of the day, it just comes back to the communication part of it. I feel like our communication once we get that back on track everything will be fine.”

Harris has implemented a unique hands-on approach to teaching. The 36-year-old puts cleats on and essentially practices with the team. Harris has placed a huge emphasis on tackling, so much so that at the start of every indy segment he lets his own players tackle him.

“I’ve been doing that for years,” Harris said on letting his own players tackle him. “I’ve been tackling, I’ve been getting tackled. At the end of the day, I say this, if I’m getting out there with them, they need to feel it and they need to understand this is the mindset we need to have. So I’ve been doing it for years.”

Harris believes that the best way to practice tackling is repetition.

“We’re creatures of habit. The more and more you do something, the more and more it becomes a habit,” Harris said. “It’s just like anything else you do, you brush your teeth, you tie your shoes. We do it every single day. I start every one of my indys out tackling and I emphasize it. I just believe if you continue to keep doing it over and over and over and over again they’ll get it.”

The Gators totaled just three interceptions in 2023, which ranked tied for last in the FBS with Temple. Harris believes that generating turnovers comes from a combination of mindset, scheme, and emphasis.

“That’s a huge emphasis,” Harris said on creating more turnovers. “It’s either ours or nobody’s. I’m sure guys already said that, that ball is either ours or nobody’s. So that’s the mindset we gotta have. Not only that we as a staff we talk about it scheme-wise, we gotta make sure we come up with the right scheme to create those. And then you get what you emphasize. This spring that been really good, we got a bunch of turnovers, but just continue to emphasize that every single day. That’s one that I looked at and made sure we got it fixed, as well.”

Florida’s defense, particularly the secondary, has performed well throughout spring camp. Tackling and turnovers seem to have drastically improved in a short time frame under Will Harris.

The annual Orange and Blue game is set for April 13th at 1:00 PM.






Nick Marcinko
Nick is a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications. He is passionate about all sports but specifically baseball and football. Nick interned at Inside the Gators and worked part time with Knights247 before joining the Gator Country family. Nick enjoys spending his free time golfing and at the beach.