- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday through Jan. 31, 2013, GatorNation will break down each position. We’ll look at 2013, of course, but also try and give you a peek beyond next season, too. Today is safety. We will profile offensive tackle on Jan. 8.
Two-deep: Junior Matt Elam and senior Josh Evans have started every game this season and played their best football. Elam had a team-high four interceptions to go along with five pass breakups and 65 tackles and was named a first-team All-American. He made perhaps the season’s most important play when he stripped LSU WR Odell Beckham after a long gain. Evans is the team’s leading tackler (79) and was the Gators’ most improved player. Behind those two are junior Jaylen Watkins, who is a starting cornerback, and sophomore Jabari Gorman.
Next up: Freshman Brian Poole has worked at safety and corner this season. Redshirt freshman Valdez Showers has played mainly on special teams. The coaching staff is excited about Poole’s potential. They’re also pleased with the development of freshman Marcus Maye, who redshirted this season. Poole and Maye were among the players the coaches mentioned as having solid bowl practices.
High-profile commits: Florida has commitments from three of the country’s top 11 safeties: No. 6 Keanu Neal (Bushnell, Fla./South Sumter), No. 7 Marcell Harris (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips) and No. 11 Nick Washington (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian). All three should get playing time on special teams in 2013, but it might be hard to find much time on defense except at the end of blowouts.
Additional targets: None.
Looking into 2013: Elam is leaving early for the NFL, so the Gators will have to replace both starters in 2013. Poole, Gorman and Showers are the top three candidates for the two spots heading into spring practice. Poole played extensively in the Allstate Sugar Bowl as a nickel back, and the coaching staff is excited about his potential. Maye is talented but is behind the others because of his inexperience. The freshmen, however, are a wild card. Harris and Neal are more likely to get playing time on defense. If none of these players work out, the staff could move Watkins or Cody Riggs to safety.