The move that started as an in-game adjustment will play out the rest of the season and the only reason Florida can make the move long-term is because of Marco Wilson.
It started on the road against South Carolina. Trey Dean, who has been playing Star/nickelback for the Gators, was struggling. In the second half, Marco Wilson started playing there more with Kaiir Elam playing outside. Then against Vanderbilt, the move became full-time. Dean, who has started six games, would come off the bench against the Commodores. There were reports that Dean didn’t handle it well, but Dan Mullen shot those down after the game against Vanderbilt.
“I think a lot of that weighs on him,” Mullen said. “These guys are young guys, and there’s lots of pressure put on them. And they put a lot of pressure on themselves. It’s one of those things of just making sure his focus is where it needs to be to continue to improve and to continue to gain confidence and go play.”
Star is a difficult position on Florida’s defense, as every defensive player that has been asked has responded. On the outside, at cornerback, you’re responsible for your man or one specific zone on the field. That’s not the case at Star.
“Well first of all the Star sets our defense so people have to line up based on Trey and stuff like that and he has a lot of running responsibility as well as covering. A lot of stuff to remember,” safety Donovan Stiner said. “He has to blitz, he has to cover, he has to fill in the runs. He has to do all types of stuff like that. So it’s a hard position. A lot of stuff to remember so, and he’s a young player still learning so he’ll get better at it.”
It takes a special player to be able to do it and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was able to play it better than anyone in 2018.
With Dean out, Wilson is playing a much bigger role. He’s not only playing his normal outside corner responsibilities but he’s being asked to essentially play three positions now. It’s a lot for someone to handle but Wilson is smart enough to take it on and physically gifted enough to handle that workload.
“Really learning the playbook for it, because it’s more complex than just playing outside corner. You have to read more keys and you got to be more involved with things that are going on. Playing outside corner, you are on your own most of the time doing your own thing,” he said.
The coaching staff had identified Dean’s physical and athletic ability as traits that they believed would translate to the new position. It didn’t work out that way, so they’re pivoting. Wilson isn’t as tall or as long as Dean and playing inside he’ll have to handle a bevy of different kinds of athletes. There will be physical tight ends, quick slot receivers and he’ll have to play the run as well. The most exciting part to Wilson is his added blitzing opportunities. He nearly came away with a sack last week against Vanderbilt and that’s a big responsibility for his new role.
For as much heat as Dean received about his play at nickel/star the Gators were still 7-2 with him there. They’re fortunate to have a player like Wilson who was able to come in and take on an entirely new role 10 games into the season.