Gators Poised For More Success in the Secondary
By BJ Bennett
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Expect more of the same from Florida's defensive backfield this fall.
Over the last few seasons, defensive backs like Vernon Hargreaves III, Keanu Neal and Brian Poole and Marcus Maye, Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson have gone from standouts at Florida to current, and likely, future success in the NFL. With such talent in the defensive backfield, the Gators have consistently been among the best teams in the SEC in pass defense, including recently leading the nation with the lowest quarterback rating allowed in three years.
Even with a pair of early deflections to the pros, expect more of the same from Florida this fall.
Veteran Duke Dawson, who led the Gators with seven pass break-ups in 2016, moves into a more prominent role as one of the league's most accomplished defensive backs. As both a cornerback and safety, he has played in 37 career games and has returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Dawson has the resume and versatility to play on the perimeter or inside covering the slot. He will be a key leader for the orange and blue.
Chauncey Gardner, as a true freshman, was one of the Gators' top players down the home stretch. He started at cover corner against Florida State, Alabama and Iowa and earned Outback Bowl MVP honors with two interceptions and a pick-six against the Hawkeyes; Gardner joined Emmitt Smith as just the second true freshman ever at Florida to earn such a postseason distinction.
The Gators will have a pair of redshirt seniors atop the depth chart at safety: Marcell Harris and Nick Washington. Harris was Florida's leading-tackler a year ago, scored a defensive touchdown at FSU and played his best football at the end of the season. Washington recorded the game-saving interception at Vanderbilt and is healthy once again after being injured against LSU. Experience, with these two, will be a back-end strength.
Talented underclassmen will see increased playing time and six defensive backs are coming in as true freshmen, perhaps, most notably, Marco Wilson, the younger brother of the aforementioned, soon-to-be NFL Draft pick Quincy Wilson.
Since 2009, the Gators have ranked in the top four in the SEC in pass defense every year but once. Even with recent roster attrition, Florida is poised, once again, to have one of the top secondaries in the game.