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April 21, 2014

Spring Recap: The Secondary


SPRING BALL: O&B Debut: Breakdown II | O&B Debut: Breakdown I | Take 5 | Spring Practice Central

Over the past week, ITG has looked back at spring camp by examining how each position group fared over 15 practices. Today, we wrap the recap up by inspecting the defensive backs.

OVERVIEW: The reality right now in Florida's secondary is that there is Vernon Hargreaves III and then there is everyone else. In a way, it's only natural given Hargreaves' freshman season in which he took home a slew of awards and emerged as arguably the Gators' best player. That's not to say there isn't plenty of ability around him. It just means almost everything other than "CB 1" is wide open.

In a strange way, Hargreaves is something of a veteran heading into his second year. Competing for a starting job opposite him are two freshmen. The five players who competed for playing time at safety this spring have started a combined seven college games.

As could be expected, little was solved in a spring there were plenty of impressive plays but also a surplus of confusion, tackling issues and Will Muschamp tongue lashings. Florida left spring practice without defining a single starting position in the secondary aside from Hargreaves as the No. 1 corner.

Jabari Gorman and Keanu Neal seem to be favorites at safety, but Neal's sample size is small after missing much of spring with a hamstring injury. Brian Poole's natural role is at nickel in Muschamp's defense but he didn't do enough to run away with a starting job this spring.

THE STANDOUT: Enjoy Hargreaves while he's here, Gators fans. Barring some dramatic change in play or unfortunate incident, you'll get two more seasons of him. Hargreaves will be expected to be one of the premier cornerbacks in college football in 2014 and he looked like he's ready for the task during spring camp. I can count on two fingers the amount of big plays he gave up and neither came in 11-on-11 action. He was rewarded for his superiority by not having to play in the Orange & Blue Debut.

THE SURPRISE: Not many people talked about Duke Dawson, the early enrollee cornerback from Cross City, heading into spring. He left held in just as high of regard as five-star Under Armour All-American Jalen Tabor by the coaching staff. Dawson looked the part from day one and most importantly was a quick learner of the defense. Muschamp and Travaris Robinson spent extensive time working individually with Dawson, a sign of how much potential they feel he has. Dawson will at the very least see significant playing time in the fall. At best, he could compete for a starting job opposite Hargreaves.

DISAPPOINTING: Neal was a pleasant bright spot late in camp after returning from injury, but for the majority of 15 practices, safety play was average at best. Gorman - the lone senior - was the only player who seemed to truly grasp the numerous communication responsibilities Muschamp puts on the position he coaches closest. The good news is there is plenty of time for improvement and by the end of spring, players like Marcell Harris and Nick Washington seemed to be taking major strides.

Vernon Hargreaves III


It took all of one game for coaches to allow Hargreaves to wear the vaunted No. 1 and he has since lived up to the billing.

Jalen Tabor


Tabor opened camp looking like the obvious candidate to start opposite Hargreaves. Lapses in consistency along the way gave Dawson room to creep into the picture. Tabor simply needs to establish his identity as a corner.

Brian Poole


By September, Muschamp's talk of the nickel position being open will likely be more motivational talk than reality. Poole fits the variety of roles required at the position well. He just did not have a spectacular spring.

Duke Dawson


He wasn't named to one of the two major All-America games as a high school senior, but he'll be a key contributor on an SEC defense as a college freshman.

Jabari Gorman


Reliable all spring, Gorman had a rough day in the Orange & Blue Debut. He missed multiple tackles and struggled specifically coming up to help against the run. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt because of previous examples.

Keanu Neal


There was only about one week to go off of, but Neal seemed like he was in the plans to be a starting safety all along. Coaches love the speed at which he plays and he was easily the most impressive safety late in camp.
Marcell Harris


Returning to serious practice time after being limited throughout his freshman season because of a high school injury was difficult. There was plenty of rust early, but Harris came around a bit late in spring.
Marcus Maye


A regular target of Muschamp and not usually for good reasons. Maye could factor in as depth at nickel as well during the fall. He was passed by in pecking order at safety this spring.
Nick Washington


No one has to worry about work ethic or picking up the defense with Washington. He's bright and can pick up multiple positions in the secondary. Where exactly he fits after the spring is still a question.


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