With the kickoff of the 2019 college football season looming ever closer, we continue our preview of each position group by taking a deep look at the unit that Gators fans have hung their hats on for more than a decade now. As is the expectation for a school known as “DBU,” the defensive backs at Florida are among the best in the nation. But how does the group stack up as a whole? What should we expect out of them in the coming season?
As far as the cornerbacks are concerned, I see very little drop off. In fact, with the return of Marco Wilson from a season ending ACL injury vs Kentucky in 2018, this group might actually be even better than last year’s unit. At the very least, the depth issues that hurt the Gators last season appear to have been addressed and should no longer be an issue.
Marco, the younger brother of former Gator’s great, Quincy Wilson, has worked extremely hard to recover from the injury and be ready to go, come August 24th.
When asked about how he feels about his rehabilitation, Wilson replied, “I feel real good. It’s a lot of motivation to see other people on that field and know you can’t do anything about it. Going out there, I’m going to be like an uncaged animal. I sat on that sideline too long to not go out on that field and make plays.”
Following a freshman season that saw Wilson record thirty-five tackles and breakup ten passes, he has plenty of reason to feel confident.
His return signals bad news for opposing quarterbacks and receivers who will be forced to go head to head with Wilson on one side of the field, and CJ Henderson on the other.
During his freshman campaign, Henderson emerged as one of the most talented young cornerbacks in the nation, recording twenty-two tackles, four interceptions, and a pair of touchdowns. In 2018, he added to his legend by locking down receivers and only allowing around a 41% completion percentage with zero touchdowns when thrown his way.
One of the major positives that came out of Marco Wilson’s injury was the experience that was thrust upon then freshman, Trey Dean. Although he suffered a few lumps along the way, Dean handled his newfound role admirably and that baptism by fire has prepared him for another starring role (pun intended) this season. Dean will replace the stellar playmaker Chauncey Gardner-Johnson at the Star position.
This move suits Dean quite well as he is fast, intelligent, agile, and plays with a similar swagger to Gardner-Johnson. Part linebacker, part cornerback, this position will allow for Dean to disrupt offenses with versatility and regularity.
Amari Burney showed great improvement over the course of the season and throughout spring, and will likely be a solid addition either at the nickelback or safety positions.
If there is a position of concern, in my eyes, it is the safety position. This isn’t one that is necessarily a liability, but it is worth noting that we didn’t really have a true standout at the position last year. Donovan Stiner certainly made a handful of plays in 2018, most notably the sack of Nick Fitzgerald to kill any threat of a Mississippi State comeback. However, I wasn’t completely sold on him.
For that matter, I want to see more out of the group as a whole. John Huggins impressed the coaching staff near the end of last season and during the spring, but still needs to take the next step. Jeawon Taylor has the tools and, like Huggins, began to show what he is capable of as the 2018 season began to wind down. Also like Huggins, he will need to show that he can put a complete season, full of relentless effort, together.
Brad Stewart is yet another who flashed last season and yet still leaves us with questions as to what we will see from him. It is because we got some but not all from each of these players that I have any concern about the Safety position. The talent is there, and in droves. But who will emerge as the consistent playmakers?
What are your thoughts and predictions for the coming season? Leave your comments or join the conversations on Twitter @MikeyPfeffer and @ChompTalk.