Florida Gators: Marcus Roberson

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.

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star cornerback Jalen Tabor has an opportunity to play immediately 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.

Rain drenches Florida pro day

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There hasn't actually been a dark rain cloud hovering above the Florida program for the last year. It's only seemed that way as the Gators slogged through more injuries and losses than they've seen in decades.

So what else would you expect but heavy rainfall throughout Monday's pro day with more than 50 representatives from all 32 NFL teams in attendance?

[+] EnlargeLoucheiz Purifoy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLoucheiz Purifoy was one of several defensive backs drawing attention at Florida's pro day.
"You kind of feel sorry for these guys working out in these conditions," said Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, who was there to watch three Florida cornerbacks who are expected to be picked during the NFL draft on May 8-10.

After lifting in the weight room, the event shifted to the track inside the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The three cornerbacks -- Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins -- drew a lot of attention.

Roberson and Purifoy, two of UF's top prospects, each posted disappointing 40-yard dash times of 4.61 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. They were able to show slight improvement Monday with unofficial times of 4.59 and 4.53 seconds, respectively. Watkins, who is still recovering from a sprained Achilles tendon, did not run the 40-yard dash (he posted a 4.41 at the NFL combine) but did participate in drills.

"I think all three will translate very well to the next level,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Jaylen's a guy that can play multiple positions. He can play safety, he can play nickel, he can play dime, he can play corner. He's a core special-teams guy for us over the years. So, a guy that can do a lot of things for you. Marcus is a guy that's got really good instincts in coverage, especially in man coverage. He can get his hands on people, which in the NFL the rules are a little different. But you've got to win on the line of scrimmage, and he can do that. He's a guy that's got really good ball skills down the field. Loucheiz is a guy that can give you some special teams, a really good kickoff coverage guy, a guy that's got some return skills, but another guy that can win on the line of scrimmage and has got great, long speed down the field. So I think each player gives you a little something different of what you're looking for."

Another Florida prospect who could be selected in the early rounds, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, was on hand but did not participate as he continues to rehabilitate a torn ACL he suffered early last fall.

"He's going to work out [at UF] on April 18," Muschamp said. "Now we've not set that date. He and I talked this morning and didn't feel like he was ready. I told him, 'If you're not ready, don't work. You wait until you're ready to go cut it loose and give them a good day's work.' So I want to say April 18, but that's not been totally decided yet."

DE/LB Ronald Powell, OG Jon Halapio, C Jonotthan Harrison, WR Solomon Patton, TE Trey Burton, DL Damien Jacobs, OL Kyle Koehne and LB Darrin Kitchens also took part in the drills.

Halapio, who missed the first two games of his senior season with a torn pectoral muscle, said he is healthy and proved it in front of scouts by benching 225 pounds 32 times, which would have ranked among the top 10 for offensive linemen at the combine.

"People really underestimate what he did this past year," Muschamp said. "There's a lot of young men that would have probably taken a redshirt and had surgery. We gave him several options and he just said, 'I'm going to tape it up and play.'”

Patton is a prospect who might be slightly off of the radar of some teams, as he wasn't invited to the NFL combine. Monday at UF, he ran an unofficial best of 4.31 in the 40 and performed well in drills, catching most passes in the rain away from his body.

Muschamp believes Patton will make an NFL roster.

"There's no question he's going to find a role," Muschamp said. "[He's] a guy that can play in the slot and has return skill, big-time kickoff return and great special-teams guy -- one of the better kickoff cover guys I've been around."

Overall, the soggy conditions did not put too much of a damper on Florida's pro day.

"We play football in the rain," Muschamp said with a grin. "I think those guys got a lot of comments from coaches and scouts about how our guys going out and competing. They didn't bellyache about it. They go out there and compete, and that's what you want to see."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Spring has sprung in the state of Florida, which means a much-needed football fix is almost here.

We're getting you ready for the Gators' spring practice with a look at five key position battles to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves III, Michael Bennett
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III has the look of a future star.
The weeklong series continues with the cornerbacks, a position that has been a boon at Florida in recent years in terms of recruiting, developing college stars and ultimately producing NFL players.

Returning starters: Vernon Hargreaves III arrived with tremendous fanfare last summer and immediately became an alpha in the fall. He was easily Florida's best cornerback in coverage and was recognized as a first-team All-SEC selection. Hargreaves continued a recent string of true freshmen success stories, following in the footsteps of Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins and Marcus Roberson.

Departures: Roberson and another junior starter, Loucheiz Purifoy, left early to enter the NFL draft where they are expected to be picked somewhere in the first three rounds. Roberson was terrific in coverage, while Purifoy relied on his elite athleticism to make plays all over the field. The Gators also graduated Jaylen Watkins, a cornerback who played out of position at safety during his senior season. Watkins, one of UF's most polished defensive backs in coverage, was a four-year player who made 28 career starts and grew into a strong leadership role. Another important departure was fourth-year junior Cody Riggs, who played at safety in 2013 but, like Watkins, was originally a cornerback. Riggs decided to transfer to Notre Dame, where he expects to be eligible this fall after graduating from Florida in the spring.

Returning reserves: There's only one, but he's certain to play a significant role in 2014. Rising junior Brian Poole came to UF with the pedigree of a top-10 cornerback prospect and has missed just two games in his first two seasons. He made six starts last fall as Florida's nickel cornerback, which is an important position considering how often the Gators employ five DBs. Poole is versatile, having seen time at safety as well, so there are plenty of options. He's a strong contender for the starting cornerback job opposite Hargreaves, but Poole could also remain at nickel or shift to safety.

Newcomers: The spotlight will shine immediately on Jalen Tabor, the No. 5 cornerback prospect in the Class of 2014 who was also ranked No. 15 in the ESPN 300. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Tabor is on campus and has already commanded the attention of Florida coaches who are enamored with his range and athleticism. Similarly gifted is redshirt freshman Nick Washington, who missed his first season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Washington was a key four-star ESPN 300 recruit in Florida's 2013 class, and expectations are that his athleticism will translate into playing time this fall. Duke Dawson is another freshman already enrolled. He's a bit overshadowed by Tabor, but Dawson might fit better as a safety anyhow with his 5-11, 197-pound frame. Still, Dawson could get a long look at cornerback this spring because of his quick feet, fluid hips and natural feel for coverage techniques.

What to watch: Losing four starters -- including three juniors -- all of whom could play cornerback would likely be a staggering blow to most college teams. But at Florida, cornerback has become a glamour position and there's plenty of talent for the Gators to move forward without skipping a beat. Like Hargreaves the year before, Tabor is an elite prospect who exemplifies the current pipeline of cornerback talent that Florida is able to attract. Now if the coaching staff can coax another star performance out of a true freshman, the Gators suddenly won't look so thin at cornerback. There's plenty of talent, but not all of these players are ideally suited to be corners. One big injury could change the outlook for this position profoundly, so it is important that the Gators have a productive spring session. The top goals are to develop Tabor, see if Poole is ready for a full-time role and get reserves like Washington and Dawson ready for action. When fall camp rolls around, this group will be bolstered by three more true freshmen. J.C. Jackson, the No. 79 overall prospect in the nation, has the talent to be a natural cornerback who can compete for playing time right away. Quincy Wilson can play some cornerback but could ultimately wind up at safety. And Deiondre Porter was a high school quarterback who will get a first look at either corner or safety but seems likely to redshirt. There will undoubtedly be pressure on this group to continue the success of their predecessors, but cornerbacks at Florida play more man coverage than most. Pressure comes with the territory.

Florida's Watkins impresses at combine

February, 26, 2014
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Jaylen Watkins was Florida's most versatile defensive back last season, and he was also the Gators' most impressive defensive back on the final day of the NFL combine.

Watkins ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash and also did 22 reps on the bench press. He played both cornerback and safety for the Gators and also worked some as their nickelback. He doesn't have ideal size to play safety in the NFL (5-foot-11, 194 pounds) but certainly helped himself with his impressive 40 time. When you take into account that he's moved around and played different positions in the secondary, his draft stock coming out of the combine is probably a lot better than anybody would have expected.

On the flip side, his two more heralded cornerback colleagues at Florida -- Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson -- didn't fare as well at the combine. They both ran surprisingly slow 4.61 times in the 40-yard dash. The 5-11, 190-pound Purifoy only did six reps on the bench press, although he did have a vertical jump of 35.5 inches. At one point, Purifoy was thought to be a potential first-round selection. But with a shaky combine performance, he will likely slip into the middle rounds.

Roberson's stock took a hit as well. He did just eight reps on the bench and posted a 37.5-inch vertical leap. The other big question with Roberson is injuries. He missed four games last season.

UF spring players to watch: Jalen Tabor

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With the Class of 2014 recruiting cycle in the rearview mirror, the long college football offseason is well underway. But fear not. Spring football is just around the corner.

We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

This weeklong series continues with a look at an early enrollee expected to compete for a starting job at cornerback.

CB Jalen Tabor
True freshman
6-foot-1, 188 pounds

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNCB Jalen Tabor, the No. 15 prospect in the '14 class, has a chance to make an instant impact.
Credentials: A top-5 cornerback in a loaded Class of 2014, Tabor was ranked the No. 15 overall player in the country by ESPN. The Florida coaching staff loves the length and athleticism he brings to the position and thinks Tabor will thrive in the high-pressure, man-to-man coverage their cornerbacks often employ.

How he fits: Florida desperately needed to sign an elite prospect at cornerback after two junior starters -- Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy -- decided to leave for the NFL. Two more veteran upperclassmen with experience at the position, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs, are also gone. The Gators got their man in Tabor, and early impressions have calmed UF coaches. "That's what they're supposed to look like," Muschamp said on signing day. "He's got really good movement skills, and ... watching him move around has been exciting."

Who he's competing with: With so many players departing, the competition at cornerback will be wide open and intense. Starter Vernon Hargreaves III became a star as a true freshman last season, so the bar has been set high (perhaps unrealistically so) for Tabor to follow suit. And while Hargreaves might prove to be a generational talent, the rest of the competition for Tabor could be a bit easier to surpass. Redshirt freshman Nick Washington returns from a shoulder injury and joins Tabor and fellow true freshman early enrollee Duke Dawson in the cornerback battle this spring. Rising junior Brian Poole took over as Florida's starting nickel back last season and could either stay there or contend for the open cornerback job. Washington, Dawson and Poole could also see time at safety. In fall practice the Gators will add three more signees, J.C. Jackson, Quincy Wilson and Deiondre Porter.

What needs to happen this spring: Tabor has already inspired confidence in offseason drills, but he'll need to show off his natural instincts at cornerback in spring practice in order to truly put those coaches at ease. With so many openings on UF's two-deep roster in the defensive backfield, it is essential that Tabor prove to be a quick study. It seems certain he'll play this fall, maybe even a lot if he nails down that starting job.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the last decade, more than any other time in its history, Florida's status as a recruiting juggernaut has been proven.

Once head coach Steve Spurrier established his alma mater among college football's elite, blue-chip talent started flocking to UF. The Gators also recruited well under Spurrier's replacement, Ron Zook. Then Florida won two national championships with coach Urban Meyer.

The fact that Florida has thrived on the recruiting trail despite Meyer's soap-opera departure and some sub-par seasons on the field is a testament to the strength of the brand.

This week we count down the five most impactful UF recruiting classes in the last decade, not including Florida's most recent class, which isn't even fully assembled on campus yet.

No. 5 on our list in order of impact is the Class of 2011, head coach Will Muschamp's first class, which was ranked No. 12 by ESPN.

[+] EnlargeLoucheiz Purifoy
AP Photo/John RaouxLoucheiz Purifoy's big-play ability at cornerback allowed him to stand out in three seasons at Florida and should get him selected high in this year's NFL draft.
The stars: This is easy. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy became lockdown cornerbacks and were the only three-and-done players from this 19-man class. Roberson made an instant impact, starting his first 10 games as a true freshman, and Purifoy first emerged as a special-teams terror. By the end of their college careers, the two clearly established NFL pedigree -- Roberson for his advanced technique, Purifoy for his supreme athleticism. They are expected to be picked no lower than the second round this May.

The contributors: Several players stand out in this class, including a few starters. Among them, starting quarterback Jeff Driskel is the one who could still push his way into the star category if he improves during his final two seasons of eligibility. Other starters have carved out significant roles for themselves, including fullback Hunter Joyer, safety Jabari Gorman and tight ends Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. Valdez Showers successfully converted from safety to running back last season. And Kyle Christy was a record-setting punter who stumbled in 2013 and will fight to take his job back this year.

The letdowns: Some of the top talents in this class never panned out at UF, as eight of the 19 players transferred and one quit football after injuries derailed his career. The biggest name to transfer was QB Jacoby Brissett, who started four games at Florida but left for NC State after losing the competition for the starting job to Driskel. WR Ja'Juan Story, TE A.C. Leonard, RB Mike Blakely and S De'Ante Saunders were four of the Gators' five highest-rated recruits in the class. Transfers Story, Blakely and WR Javares McRoy were recruited by Meyer for his spread-option offense and never quite fit Muschamp's pro-style scheme. Leonard and Saunders made strong impressions on the field, but both ran afoul of the law and transferred to Tennessee State.

The results: There have been high points, such as an 11-win season in 2012 in which Florida was just one Notre Dame loss away from playing for the national championship. But there have been more low points, such as a 7-6 season in 2011 and a numbing 4-8 season in 2013. The results on the field have been uneven, but there's still time for this class to distinguish itself.
It's not every day that a program can lose two future early-round draft picks at a position and still be in good shape. But that's exactly where Florida sits when it looks at the cornerback position.

Before the Gators could even start thinking about spring practice, they lost starters Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson to the NFL draft. Both had solid careers at Florida and have been viewed as a either first- or second-round draft picks in this year's NFL draft.

But coach Will Muschamp and his staff can breathe a collective sigh of relief when they take a look at their depth chart at the corner spot this spring and beyond. For starters, third-team All-American, freshman All-American and All-SEC stud Vernon Hargreaves III is back and could be viewed as the SEC's best returning cornerback in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star CB Jalen Tabor, an early enrollee, is one reason that Florida shouldn't miss a beat in its secondary despite losing two starters to the NFL draft.
During his first year on campus, Hargreaves looked like the Gators' best corner more than a few times this season. He started the final 10 games of the season and finished the year with three interceptions and defended 14 passes, which ranked third in the league. His 11 pass breakups equaled the most by a true freshman in school history.

Hargreaves is a special talent who has the potential to be one of the nation's best cover corners this fall. So one side of the field is secured, but the Gators' corner talent goes far deeper than just Hargreaves. This is certainly not an empty cupboard in Gainesville.

Youngsters such as Brian Poole and Nick Washington give the Gators a good place to start, but veteran Cody Riggs, who played safety last season, could slide back down to corner again if needed. But it really doesn't end there for the Gators, either. ESPN 300 corners Jalen Tabor (five-star and No. 4-rated corner) and Duke Dawson (No. 16 corner) are already on campus and the early impressions are that both are doing well during offseason workouts.

Dawson had been committed to the Gators for a while before enrolling early, but getting Tabor was a major recruiting surprise. He originally committed to Arizona over Alabama at the Under Armour All-America Game earlier this month before flipping to Florida shortly after. At 6-1, 188 pounds, Tabor already has good size and bulk for the position. Tabor has all the talent to play immediately for the Gators this fall. He'll likely add a little more weight, but he's already a very physical cornerback and will definitely benefit from spring practice. As will Dawson, who is a quick-twitch guy and pretty rangy at the corner position.

Florida also has a commitment from ESPN 300 athlete J.C. Jackson, who could play either corner or receiver for the Gators. The thing Florida has to do is make sure he stays committed, as Miami is making a major run at him late.

Then, there's uncommitted five-star Adoree' Jackson, who is rated as the No. 9 player nationally. Florida is one of his finalists and he's another player who could play either side of the ball. Florida's coaches would likely let him play wherever he wants with his skill set. The Gators are near the top of his list, but it doesn't look like he'll take an official visit to Gainesville, making things pretty wide open until national signing day.

Losing two of their top defensive players in 2014 isn't ideal for the Gators, but they'll be able to start rebuilding once spring practice starts. And it could only get better when summer workouts start and fall practice rolls around.

For all the trouble the Gators had in 2013 and all the questions surrounding this team in 2014, it looks like cornerback won't be something Florida frets over this fall.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the quest to rebound from a 4-8 season, Florida is getting its first wave of reinforcements.

Eight recruits are enrolling early, as classes began this week. Seven have already arrived in Gainesville, while surprise commit Jalen Tabor will enroll by Monday.

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNAs the nation's No. 15 prospect, Jalen Tabor is the top recruit in Florida's class.
The new signees can expect to play as true freshmen if recent history is a guide. Last season, only one early enrollee redshirted -- linebacker Matt Rolin, who spent the year recovering from a torn ACL.

The Gators have 25 scholarships to fill in their Class of 2014. That includes 15 seniors, three early departures for the NFL and seven transfers. All of the transfers came from the offense -- two quarterbacks, three offensive linemen, a tight end and a fullback. So Florida can restock most of those positions with a QB, three OL and a TE among the early entrants.

Here's a scouting report and projection for each new Gator.

CB Jalen Tabor
Scouting report: When he flipped to Florida on Thursday morning, Tabor instantly became the top recruit in the Gators' top-10 class. The nation's No. 15 overall prospect has got great size for a cornerback (6-foot-1, 188 pounds), and the speed and athleticism to match up with receivers of all shapes and sizes. Tabor is ultra-competitive and ultra-confident. His coverage skills are a perfect match for Florida, which plays more man-to-man than most schools.
Impact in 2014: When the Gators lost cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins, a huge void was created in the secondary. Armed with immediate playing time, head coach Will Muschamp went hunting for a starter and bagged Tabor. Florida doesn't exactly need a true freshman to start opposite Vernon Hargreaves III, but an elite prospect who can do so sure gives them comfort. Having Tabor enroll early is an ideal situation for both parties.

QB Will Grier
Scouting report: At 6-3 and 181 pounds, Grier is considered a dual-threat quarterback. His foot speed and quickness are probably underrated, but that's because of his strong arm and the monster numbers he posted through the air in high school. In the pocketm he shows good vision, decision-making and the ability to put touch on the ball or throw with zip. The No. 2-rated QB in the nation, Grier has the mental makeup to handle high expectations at Florida.
Impact in 2014: Grier has a very good chance to leap over rising sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and assume backup duties. But before he gets that chance in spring football, Grier has a lot of work to do in the weight room and in studying with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. There isn't another recruit who is more likely to take important reps in practice.

DB Duke Dawson
Scouting report: A true defensive back, Dawson has the athleticism to play corner and the size (5-11, 197) to play safety. He can handle bigger receivers as well as play in the slot. He shows advanced coverage technique and instincts, thanks in part to working with former Gator standout Keiwan Ratliff.
Impact in 2014: Florida clearly has a big need at cornerback with three upperclassmen departing so Dawson could get a look there. But if he ends up at safety, it might be harder to see early playing time. Still, he has the size and speed to make an impact on special teams right away.

DE Taven Bryan
Scouting report: It's not often the Gators go to Wyoming to pull a recruit, but Bryan made a strong impression during a summer camp, and he is the No. 1-ranked prospect from his state. Coaches were impressed by his explosiveness and motor, but it remains to be seen which side of the ball Bryan will end up on.
Impact in 2014: At 6-4, 250, Bryan has some growing to do if he's going to play in SEC trenches. There's a good chance he'll redshirt, but first he'll have the benefit of spring football to determine if he can stick at DE or move to OT.

OL Nolan Kelleher
Scouting report: He already looks the part of an SEC offensive lineman at 6-5, 310 pounds, and Kelleher has the nasty attitude to be a road-grader. With his long wingspan and solid footwork, however, he could eventually play tackle with some coaching.
Impact in 2014: Enrolling early should benefit Kelleher tremendously, as he has the size and run-blocking chops to make Florida's thin two-deep roster. There are needs all over the OL so he'll have a chance to chip in as a freshman.

OL Kavaris Harkless
Scouting report: He played wide receiver and tight end as a freshman in high school before gaining enough weight to play offensive tackle. The athleticism is there. So is the toughness and mean streak necessary to survive in the SEC. Harkless is smart and very coachable. His 6-5, 285-pound frame projects well to handle another 20-30 pounds.
Impact in 2014: He could use a redshirt year to bulk up, but everything else is in place for him to eventually contribute as a Gator. His technique and attitude make him less of a developmental project than some think.

TE DeAndre Goolsby
Scouting report:
The Kansas product displays above-average hands and can make plays with intermediate routes. He has decent speed for the tight end position, but will need to add some upper-body strength and work on his technique as an inline blocker if he's going to play right away.
Impact in 2014: Coming in early should give Goolsby a chance to get into the tight end rotation as a freshman. Florida has a dearth of pass-catchers at the position so it's not out of the question that Goolsby can avoid a redshirt and find a role catching passes over the middle.

OL Drew Sarvary
Scouting report:
Not an elite prospect, but solid and experienced. Sarvary comes to UF via Tyler Junior College in Texas, where he was named All-Southwest Junior Football Conference first team last season. He's physically ready at 6-5, 318 and has enough mobility to be an effective pulling guard.
Impact in 2014: Florida has just five offensive linemen with starting experience and needs all the help it can get to completely rebuild its rotation. Sarvary, a juco transfer who started 10 of 11 games for Florida A&M as a freshman, will be expected to join UF's core group and could even challenge for a starting job before his two years of eligibility are through.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida linebacker Ronald Powell will forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft, the school announced Monday.

Powell was the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2010 but struggled to match the hype in his college career. He led the Gators with six sacks in 2011 and again led the team with four sacks in 2013. He missed all of the 2012 season, when he tore the ACL in his left knee twice, once in Florida's 2012 spring game and again during rehab.

[+] EnlargeRonald Powell
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Ronald Powell was the No. 1 overall high school prospect in the Class of 2010. He led the Gators in sacks in 2011 and 2013.
"Ronald has informed me that he has made a decision to declare for the NFL draft," coach Will Muschamp said in a statement released by UF. "This hasn’t been an easy decision for him. I talked to him several times over the holidays, but it was important for him to come back and look me in the eye and tell me what he wanted to do and why he wanted to do it.

"It’s one of the great experiences as a coach to watch young players mature. It’s been well documented the hardships he has had to overcome, and he has always kept a positive attitude. I wish him the best of luck and, as I’ve said before, I encouraged him to return to get his degree."

Powell is the Gators' third junior leaving early for the NFL, joining cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. Florida senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who tore his right ACL this season after tearing his left ACL in 2011, could have applied for a medical hardship and returned, but chose to enter the draft as well.

Powell and Easley were two of the headline names in Florida's No. 1-ranked Class of 2010 and became close friends. Seeing Easley injure each of his knees might have influenced Powell to leave Florida while he is healthy.

"This hasn’t been an easy decision because this is a tough place to walk away from," Powell said in a statement, "but really you never walk away from being a Gator. I never thought it would be this hard to make this decision. Most people think it’s easy -- go for the money. It’s hard to leave my brothers behind, but we’ve shared so much more than our time on the field. We’ve lived our lives together and we are truly a family."

How Powell performs in pre-draft workouts in front of NFL scouts will play a key role in his NFL future. At 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, Powell moved between linebacker and defensive end during his final season. He came to Florida from Moreno Valley, Calif., as the nation's No. 1 defensive end prospect.

"I want to thank the entire Gator Nation for making a kid from California a part of their family," he said. "It’s hard to put into words what this whole experience has been for me. I’ve had so many opportunities and met so many people. All of them have been supportive and helpful in my time here. Because of that, I’ve had a chance to grow and mature into the man I am today and the man I am going to become in the future."

Gators have needs to fill in recruiting

December, 24, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With a 15-player senior class and seven players transferring or leaving since the end of the season, Florida has plenty of holes to fill.

Considering all seven of those departing players were from the offensive side of the ball, it's obvious where much of the Gators' recruiting efforts are focused.

Florida has 23 scholarships available with cornerback Louchiez Purifoy forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

Here's a breakdown of Florida's biggest needs in restocking its roster with talent.

Will Grier
Miller Safrit/ESPNWill Grier is the nation's No. 2-ranked quarterback.
Quarterback: The Gators have a starter in Jeff Driskel, who is expected to recover from a broken bone in his lower leg that required surgery. Their most experienced backup, Tyler Murphy, surprised the coaching staff when he decided to transfer, but Skyler Mornhinweg remains. He started UF's last three games of the season as a redshirt freshman, but it remains to be seen how Mornhinweg will fit into Florida's new offense.

The numbers are obviously low with just two scholarship QBs on the roster, but help is on the way. Florida expects Will Grier, the nation's No. 2-ranked quarterback, to enroll in early January. Now that Murphy has departed, expect the Gators to add a second quarterback to their 2014 class. A dual-threat QB who can bring a more athletic dimension and schematic flexibility to the position makes the most sense. Coach Will Muschamp will let his new offensive coordinator find the right fit.

Offensive line: Florida graduated three starters and lost reserve Ian Silberman to transfer along with two others who were buried at the bottom of the depth chart. That's six departures -- a lot for any season. Muschamp likes to have at least 15 offensive linemen on his roster, so expect a handful of newcomers. Offensive line has been a sore spot for the last two seasons, and injuries decimated Florida in 2013. The Gators return five players with starting experience, but depth must be created as only four other scholarship linemen remain. With so few bodies, at least one of the incoming prospects can expect to make the two-deep roster.

Florida needs the most help on the edges, which is why the headline OL commitment is David Sharpe, the nation's No. 2-ranked offensive tackle prospect. The Gators recently signed Drew Sarvary, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound juco OT who could also play inside. Of all the newcomers, he'll have the inside track to play first. Florida also has pledges from three of the nation's top-30 guard prospects in Nolan Kelleher (6-5, 310), Travaris Dorsey (6-3, 314) and Dontae Angus (6-5, 310).

Offensive skill positions: Florida's QBs haven't had much time to develop in the passing game in recent years, and some of the blame can be directed at the offensive line. But nothing is more obviously missing in the Gator offense than playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. The Class of 2013 saw five talented freshmen WRs join the program, three of whom saw action. But with two senior starters leaving, it's imperative that UF continue to add talent and numbers to its receiving corps. The Gators' top wide receiver commit for 2014 is Ermon Lane, the No. 2 WR prospect in the country. Keeping him in the fold is a top priority.

UF also has pledges from former FSU commit Ryan Sousa and Moral Stephens. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Stephens would give UF a prospect with some size who could play H-back or grow into a full-time role at tight end. Florida has just three scholarship TEs on its roster, but has commitments from DeAndre Goolsby and C'yontai Lewis, both three-star prospects. The Gators have plenty of talented options returning at tailback but lack a game-breaking home-run hitter who can gain the edge. That's why it's so important they hang onto the commitment of Dalvin Cook, the nation's No. 4 RB prospect. Coaches presume he would have a role as a true freshman in 2014.

Defensive line: Florida is in good shape with 10 returning scholarship players. But Muschamp's multiple-scheme defense, which uses 4-3 and 3-4 alignments up front, puts a heavy emphasis on defensive linemen making plays and disrupting the opponent's offense. Florida has three commitments -- DT Khairi Clark, DE Taven Bryan and DE Justus Reed. Bryan could end up on offense, so the object of much of Muschamp's hard work on the recruiting trail is adding another difference-maker who can rush the passer.

Cornerback: The Gators graduated two cornerbacks and are losing Purifoy to the NFL. If he is joined by fellow starter Marcus Roberson, who is projected as a first-round pick in ESPN Insider Todd McShay's first mock draft, there will likely be immediate playing time available. That's Muschamp's sales pitch. It's also why Florida is trying to load up on DB prospects. The nation's No. 10 athlete, J.C. Jackson, is committed, as are Chris Lammons, Quincy Wilson and Duke Dawson. Wilson and Dawson could end up at safety, so Florida must close strong in adding at least one more pure cornerback with the talent to contribute right away. Florida hit the jackpot last year in signing All-SEC first-team CB Vernon Hargreaves III. Few prospects enter the college ranks as technically skilled and prepared as he, but the Gators are hoping another recruiting bounty will keep the pipeline of impact cornerbacks flowing.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's only fitting that a season characterized by injuries and an ineffective offense would conclude with a whimper thanks to those same culprits.

But after losing 37-7 to No. 2 Florida State (12-0, 8-0 in the ACC) in the Swamp on Saturday, Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC) can take solace that its season of misery is mercifully over.

[+] EnlargeBurton
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsDespite carrying the ball just twice, Trey Burton led the Gators with 47 yards rushing versus Florida State. Burton left the game with a shoulder injury in the first quarter.
"Very frustrating, difficult day that ends a very frustrating, difficult season," coach Will Muschamp said. "That’s the best way I can sum it up."

Not even an inspirational pregame speech by Gators great Tim Tebow could do more than delay the inevitable.

"What he said to us was, 'Any man that goes down, he has the ability to get back up. But the difference is how that man gets back up, because a man can get down and come back withered, can come back beaten. But a man that goes down and comes back up and is changed and is different from being down, that's who we are. That's who the Gators are. That's how we need to play and that's who we need to be,' " Florida left tackle Max Garcia recounted.

"So, I'm going to stick with that for the rest of my life. It really penetrated my soul."

With Tebow watching on the sidelines, the Gators were bouncing around and showing more emotion than they had in weeks. In front of a nearly full stadium, its fans at full throat, Florida's defense harassed Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston into one of his worst quarters (4-of-6 for 35 yards) of the season.

Winston threw his first interception in three weeks -- an excuse-me catch by Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who broke up the pass with his back to the ball but was able to find and reel in the deflection. It was the Gators' first interception since the second quarter of the Missouri game on Oct. 19.

The crowd roared its approval, and there was more energy in the Swamp than at any point in the season.

Florida outgained FSU 81 yards to 33 in the first quarter, but 50 of those yards came on one Wildcat keeper up the middle by senior Trey Burton. Two plays later, Burton injured his shoulder on another keeper and did not return to the field.

With Burton went half of the offense the Gators were planning to run.

"We were probably going to have 30-35 plays with Trey [at Wildcat quarterback]," Muschamp said. "Some of the misdirection runs now go out of the game plan, so you've got to make adjustments and you've got to change.

"I hurt for Trey because he’s a senior, his last game in the Swamp, so [it's] very difficult for him. He’s a great young man. It just kinda sums up what’s happened this year. Very frustrating."

With Burton's injury, Florida was missing 16 scholarship contributors in this game. And with cornerback Marcus Roberson dealing with an ankle injury in the first half, UF was missing 10 of its original 22 projected starters on offense and defense.

Winston and the Seminoles still led 3-0 after the first quarter, as FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo converted the same 49-yard field goal that his Florida counterpart, Austin Hardin, missed.

A 12-play, 96-yard drive that culminated in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Kelvin Benjamin might have put the game out of reach, but more importantly, it quelled the enthusiasm of the Florida defense and the crowd.

FSU had weathered the early storm of defensive pressure and taken a 17-0 lead into halftime. It tied the lowest first-half scoring output of the season for the Noles, which happened previously against Nevada in Week 2.

A game that looked on paper like a colossal mismatch inevitably turned out that way. The Florida defense couldn't get off the field, thanks to FSU going 9-of-15 on third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Florida went 1-for-11 on third down and averaged 3.9 yards per play on the day.

"You got to maintain the ball against an offense like that," Muschamp said. "You got to take time off the clock. ... We weren’t able to do that. Give them credit. They made plays on third down, and we didn’t. I think we were 1-of-10 or -11 on third down. You got to convert those, and we’ve struggled to make explosives, make third-down conversions. You name it, we haven’t done it.”

In a season of making all the wrong history, the only drama Florida could muster against Florida State was whether the Noles would shut out the Gators for the first time in the 58-game series.

The answer was no, but it was close. And now the Gators boast the nation's second-longest streak of scoring in consecutive games (322, second to Michigan's 374 games in a row).

With one score in the fourth quarter, Florida finished the season with 11 passing touchdowns. It's the fewest since 1989, the season before Steve Spurrier was hired as coach. On the other sideline, sitting out the Noles' final series to let his backup play, Winston had already broken Florida State's single-season record for passing TDs, with three more on Saturday giving him a total of 35.

"It’s been a tough year, difficult to deal with, but it is what it is," a somber Muschamp said when it was over. "Those guys have persevered through some tough times and certainly this season being the iceberg of it all."

Now that it's in the history books, however, Florida's 2013 season might be remembered less as an iceberg and more as the ship that sunk when it struck one.

Midseason report: Florida

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After winning 11 games in 2012, the Gators this year look eerily similar to the team that made its first BCS bowl berth since 2009 last year.

That's both a good thing and a bad thing for No. 22 Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC). The good news is that the defense has been stellar thus far, ranking first in the SEC and third nationally in total defense (235.3 yards per game). Even after losing wealth of talent to last spring's NFL draft -- and potential All-American defensive tackle Dominique Easley to a season-ending ACL injury -- the Gators' defense has been clicking each week.

Florida's defense is also first in the SEC in rushing defense (83.3 yards per game), passing (152 ypg) and second in scoring (13 points per game). After losing to LSU 17-6 this past weekend, the Gators have gone 13 straight SEC games without allowing 20 or more points. The Gators have an all-star cast in their secondary, headlined by corners Vernon Hargreaves III (a true freshman) and potential first-round draft picks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. The defensive line is headlined by Buck end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., while Antonio Morrison leads a talented linebacker corps.

While Florida has given up more than 100 rushing yards in back-to-back games, no one produced more than 66 rushing yards through the first four games of the season.

Then there's the offense. Like last year, it's a major issue again. Florida lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to a broken fibula against Tennessee in Week 4 and have had to throw longtime backup Tyler Murphy into the fire. After three solid outings, Murphy crumbled under the pressure forced by LSU's defense last week. What didn't help was the lack of a consistent running game. In losses to Miami and LSU, Florida averaged just 2.8 yards per rush.

The weird thing is that Florida is one of three SEC teams to have three players with more than 300 receiving yards, but if the Gators are going to make any sort of push toward Atlanta for the SEC championship, the offense has to get going. The problem is that with running back Matt Jones out for the season, the Gators are still looking for that hammer-type running back like Mike Gillislee was last year.

Offensive MVP: Solomon Patton, WR, Sr.: After spending three years as more of a jet-sweep guy, Patton leads the Gators with 380 yards and four touchdowns on 22 catches. He has become a deep threat, an underneath threat and a threat out of the backfield.

Defensive MVP: Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Soph.: After a slow start, Fowler has been one of the Gators' best players, registering a team-high seven tackles for loss and three sacks. He also has three quarterback hurries, 22 total tackles and has forced two fumbles.

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 7

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Brandon Joyce (@BrandonJoyce_1) writes: What are the Gators’ keys to victory against LSU on Saturday?

Greg Ostendorf: It starts with the defense. Florida is ranked No. 2 in the country in total defense, giving up only 217 yards per game. In a season that has been dominated by the offenses in the SEC, the Gators are winning with defense. If anybody can stop or slow down LSU wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry this season, it’s Florida. They have two NFL-caliber cornerbacks in Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, and maybe the conference’s best freshman, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. On offense, the Gators need to establish the run early and often. LSU ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 160 yards per game on the ground. That could mean a big day for running back Matt Jones.


Kevin Paul (@KevinJPaul) writes: Does LSU have the best offense in the conference?

Greg Ostendorf: As good as Florida’s defense has been this season, it’s going to be nearly impossible to stop this LSU offense. Sure, Georgia outscored LSU when they met in Athens. And Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel has been the most explosive player in the SEC. But how can you argue against the Tigers’ offense? Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has turned the page and is looking like a first-round draft pick. They have the top wide receiver tandem in the conference. And if you try to shut down the passing game, they can just hand the ball off to Jeremy Hill. There’s not a more balanced offense in the league. LSU is averaging 291 yards per game through the air, and since the return of Hill they’re rushed for more than 200 yards in three of the last four games.


Jerrod Piker (@d1nonlyhogfan) writes: With or without Clowney, does South Carolina struggle in Fayetteville this weekend? Could this be Bielema’s signature win in season No. 1?

Greg Ostendorf: Jadeveon Clowney is expected to pay for South Carolina this weekend, per his defensive coordinator. However, even with the star defensive end on the field, I think the Gamecocks will get all they can handle from Arkansas. Freshman running back Alex Collins is leading the SEC in rushing with 651 yards through the first half of the season, and he’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Meanwhile, South Carolina has struggled in recent weeks against the likes of Vanderbilt, Central Florida and Kentucky. There's no doubt this would be a signature win for Brett Bielema and put them one step closer to making a bowl game.


Adam Hathcock (@adam_hath) writes: Does Tennessee's bye week help or hurt them?

Greg Ostendorf: It all depends on how the Volunteers respond after a gut-wrenching loss to Georgia. You could argue the bye week would be helpful because the team is still devastated after Saturday’s game and might have come out flat this weekend. However, the overtime loss to the Dawgs seemed to re-energize the program and the fans. Butch Jones & Co. could use the game as a springboard for the rest of the season. Ultimately, I think the off week will be helpful. It gives the players a chance to rest up and get healthy, and they will have extra time to prepare for South Carolina. The Gamecocks come to Neyland Stadium a week from Saturday.


Daniel Badger (@badger_daniel) writes: Is Dan Mullen on the hot seat? If so, who are some possible candidates to replace him after the season?

Greg Ostendorf: It’s hard to argue with what Mullen has done for the Mississippi State program. He has taken the Bulldogs to three consecutive bowl games, which is no easy task. But they have seemed to hit a ceiling of sorts and are in danger of missing the postseason this year. I think it’s too early to fire Mullen, but in this day and age in college football, nothing is out of the question. If he were let go, Mississippi State might look at Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris or Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth, who was born in in Mississippi and coached in Starkville once before. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bobby Petrino’s name came up as well.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.
Every time the members of Florida's vaunted secondary take the field, they're in a constant competition with each other.

Whether it's counting interceptions, tackles, tipped passes or trash talk, Florida's secondary seems to always be playing its own game. Sure, they understand that every move could affect a play -- both positively or negatively -- but their never-ending competition makes them closer. And it makes them that much more dangerous to test.

"At the end of the day, that helps us get better," senior cornerback/safety Jaylen Watkins said.

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves III
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFreshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III leads the Gators with two interceptions.
Whether it's practice or a game, they are always looking to show the other one up. It's all in fun and it drives each one to play better because they know their spots aren't permanent. There's too much depth and talent, which Watkins said makes everything that much more fun.

With possible first-rounders for next year's NFL draft in cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, the Gators own the SEC's top corner duo, but it doesn't stop there. Add freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who might be the most talented pure corner on the team, and cross-training fourth-year safeties in Watkins and Cody Riggs, and this is quite a formidable starting defensive backfield. Florida can rotate eight quality guys in the secondary in each game.

Just check out some of these numbers for Florida's secondary:

  • Florida ranks first in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 157 yards a game;
  • Through three games, the Gators have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 44.3 percent of their passes and QBs average only 4.9 yards per attempt. Quarterbacks have a passer rating of 82.95, lowest in the nation, when facing Florida;
  • Florida has had an interception in six consecutive games, dating to last season;
  • Florida had seven pass breakups in last week's 31-17 victory over Tennessee, which matched the team’s total for the year entering the game and the most in a game since recording seven against South Carolina last year.

"We feel we are the best secondary in the country," Watkins said.

Five of Florida's six interceptions this season have come from the secondary, with Hargreaves leading the team with two picks. Watkins, who is second on the team with 12 tackles and has defended three passes this year, said he knew from the first day Hargreaves stepped on the practice field that he would be special. Watkins said his vertical jump blew everyone away, but it was the way he picked up the technique that had his veteran teammates turning their heads.

It took guys like Watkins weeks to get the positioning and technique down. Watkins said it only took Hargreaves "a few days."

"Once he got it, he looked like me, Marcus and Loucheiz at corner. There was no drop-off," Watkins said. "With Vernon coming in, that's just amazing because he allows me to go to safety and do a lot of different things. He's come in and stepped in and done everything the coaches have asked him. He's going to be a great player."

Now, this secondary isn't perfect. There was the 52-yard touchdown pass in the loss to Miami, and a thin secondary surrendered a late, 79-yard touchdown drive to Tennessee that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass because of a blown assignment.

But as Watkins points out, with how aggressively this unit plays, those things can happen. It isn't always positioning or picking up men that hurts this secondary, Watkins said, it's eye control. And when you're aggressive, that can hurt you.

Watkins said coach Will Muschamp, who was a defensive back at Georgia, harps on eye control and the little things. He calls out minute details that his defensive backs miss. He'll even stop guys in the hall to tell him the exact mistake he made on the exact play.

It sounds like it could get annoying, but Watkins said Muschamp's hands-on approach with the secondary is a good learning tool.

"He takes pride in coaching the little things with us," Watkins said. "It's the really small things that can lead to something big. Eye control might not catch us one time, but it can also lead to a big play."

So far, the secondary has bounced back from big plays and each week brings more development. Playing at such a high level is made easier when the guys running the show are comfortable with all the working parts.

"We all trust each other at a higher level," Watkins said. "We all have good chemistry, no matter who's on the field."

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