- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There's a short list of true freshmen cornerbacks who have made instant impacts at Florida in recent years. And the success that Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins have had in the NFL has become a source of tremendous pride for the Gators.
Last season, Vernon Hargreaves III topped all of their accomplishments when he was named first-team All-SEC as a freshman.
Could another star be around the corner (pardon the pun) in 2014?
Coach Will Muschamp set the stage when he recruited two talented cornerbacks in the Gators' 2014 class and got them on campus as early enrollees. Now that spring practice is in full swing, they're already competing for the starting cornerback job opposite Hargreaves.
Jalen Tabor made a late switch to Florida from Arizona just before he arrived in January. Ranked the No. 11 overall prospect in the nation, Tabor came to the Gators with the same kind of elite pedigree as Hargreaves.
Duke Dawson had been committed to the Gators for a year when he showed up. And while he was ranked lower than Tabor in the ESPN 300 (No. 207), Dawson is no less a prime prospect in the eyes of his college coaches.
"[Tabor] and Duke Dawson both have been a quick study as far as the corner position is concerned," Muschamp said on Tuesday. "Both of them are going to be really good players. They've got to just continue.
"The willingness is there and the coachability is there with both guys. They're willing to be in the film room extra. They're willing to come up here after hours and meet with our coaches and go over things and go over schemes and watch film and learn from it. The one thing that I would say [is] that they both have a very similar ability as Vernon -- when you tell them once they get it. They don't make that mistake again."
After five practices, neither of the freshmen has looked out of place. They've won their share of battles and have been singled out for praise as well as criticism.
"Jalen's got really good length on the line of scrimmage," Muschamp said. "[He] needs to do a better job in his press technique staying on the line of scrimmage, getting his hands on people -- that's his strength. And Duke's a guy that's playing corner and nickel and right now is battling Brian Poole for the starting job at nickel."
Florida employs a lot of nickel defense using three cornerbacks. It's how Hargreaves and Poole were able to combine for 16 starts last season despite the presence of veteran cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. With those two skipping their senior seasons for the NFL draft, there are spots to fill.
Naturally Poole wants to take the next step in his career.
"Of course I want to start," said Poole, a junior who came to Florida with four-star status of his own. "I don't want to just say it's mine, but I'm working for it. It's pretty important to me because I just want to play every snap. I don't want to come on and off, on and off."
After missing just two of 25 games in his career, Poole says he's more comfortable than ever: "I don't have to learn what to do. I know what to do. Now it's just executing."
He expects his experience will give him the edge in the competition with Tabor and Dawson, but Poole still can't help being impressed with the newcomers.
"They're going to be really good," he said. "They're really learning the defense and starting to execute it well."
Well enough to start? Well enough to follow in the footsteps of Haden, Jenkins and Hargreaves?
Those are questions that will take several more months to answer.