Florida Gators: Joe Haden

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.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's Class of 2007 only won one national championship, but it stands alone as the single most talent-rich recruiting class in school history.

The list of NFL players is mind-boggling, but as part of our week-long series looking at Florida's five most impactful recruiting classes of the last decade, the focus is on college football.

With the 2006 national title under his belt, coach Urban Meyer was cooking with gas at Florida. His recruiting prowess was becoming the stuff of legends, and 2007 is a big piece of evidence to support that contention.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Dunlap
AP Photo/David KohlCarlos Dunlap (96) was one of the many members of Florida's 2007 recruiting class to find great success in the NFL.
ESPN ranked Florida's 2007 class No. 2 in the nation. It turned out to be an epic group that kept an already-elite program on top for a few more seasons.

The stars: Where to begin? Joe Haden began his decorated college career with a bang, becoming the first true freshman in UF history to start a game at cornerback on opening day. The Pouncey twins, Maurkice and Mike, were stalwarts on the offensive line. Six-foot-6, 280-pound Carlos Dunlap was a monstrous presence at defensive end. Safety Major Wright started 33 of 41 games at free safety and wreaked havoc all over the field. And Aaron Hernandez was an exceptional playmaker at tight end and H-back. All six of these standouts played as true freshmen, and only Mike Pouncey stayed for his senior year, as the others jumped to the NFL.

The contributors: Ball-hawking safety Ahmad Black had 13 career interceptions and was a leader on and off the field for Florida. Chaz Henry was UF's punter for four seasons and won the Ray Guy Award in 2010. Defensive linemen Jaye Howard, Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens all made their marks as well. Running back Chris Rainey and wideout Deonte Thompson had their ups and downs at UF but were starters. Still, just seven of the 27 recruits in this class transferred away. So the majority of the class contributed to Florida's success.

The letdowns: John Brown and Torrey Davis were among the top-ranked defensive tackles in the class -- Nos. 3 and 9, respectively -- but neither did much at Florida, and both transferred. John Brantley was the No. 4-rated quarterback in the Class of 2007 but had a largely undistinguished career at UF. Bo Williams, the No. 11 running back prospect, enrolled early but transferred after one year at UF. Two other highly rated prospects who struggled were guard James Wilson (injuries) and linebacker Lorenzo Edwards (ineffectiveness). Of the six Gators in this category, all but Edwards were among the top 106 recruits in the nation in 2007.

The results: Florida went 26-2 from 2008-09, winning SEC and national titles in 2008 and recording the second unblemished regular season in school history in 2009. It was an incredible run of success fueled by some terrific talents. Florida had a nation's best nine players selected in the NFL draft in 2010, including three in the first round and a school-record six players in the first two rounds. Haden, Wright, Dunlap, Hernandez and both Pounceys have had great success in the NFL. Black, Howard and Rainey were also drafted. And Trattou, Henry and Thompson have spent time in the league.

The asterisk: One more player deserves mention. The biggest star in Florida's recruiting class -- heck, the biggest star to emerge from the entire Class of 2007 -- was quarterback Cam Newton. He could qualify for all of the categories listed here. He contributed to UF as a backup to Tim Tebow. He was reportedly caught cheating and then arrested and charged with felony burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice. Newton was suspended by UF before transferring to junior college and ending up at Auburn, where he became a college football legend as a Heisman Trophy winner and a national champion. He's now an NFL superstar for the Carolina Panthers.

The other asterisk: It wouldn't be a complete story to include Hernandez's accomplishments here without mentioning his long list of legal troubles. In 2013 he was indicted by a grand jury on a first-degree murder charge. Hernandez pled not guilty and faces life in prison without parole if convicted. The charges and other investigations he faces prompted the New England Patriots to release Hernandez. Back in Gainesville, the Gators removed images of Hernandez from their football facilities and a brick outside the stadium honoring his selection as a first-team All-American in 2009.
The SEC's successes reach far beyond the college football landscape. Sure, the seven consecutive BCS titles -- which came to an end this year thanks to a pretty darn good Florida State team -- are well-documented, but most of the studs in this league eventually make it to the big leagues, where they continue to strut their stuff.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesFormer Auburn QB Cam Newton is one of 24 former SEC players in the Pro Bowl.
The NFL has always had an affinity for SEC players, and this year's Pro Bowl rosters blare that loud and clear, as 24 players from the SEC were selected for the all-star game in Hawaii. The SEC was represented by at least one player at every position except kicker and punter.

This year, the Pro Bowl changed its selection format. Former NFL greats Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders drafted from a pool of Pro Bowl players who were selected earlier in the season. Team Rice and Team Sanders went back-and-forth with their picks, and four of the first 10 players in the first Pro Bowl draft were former SEC players, including former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers), who went No. 3 overall to Sanders.

Tennessee led the SEC with four selections. The game is Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

The 24 former SEC players selected to this year's Pro Bowl:

QB
RB
WR
TE
OL
DL
LB
CB
S
RS
A running back from the class of 2014 with a very familiar name is sizing up his favorites.

Jonathan Haden (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy), the brother of Cleveland Browns cornerback and former Florida Gators cornerback Joe Haden.

And familiarity is playing a big role for Jonathan.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- John Brantley's career at Florida certainly didn't go as planned, but he's still getting a shot to make it in the NFL.

The 6-foot-3, 219-pound Brantley signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night, about an hour after the NFL draft concluded.

Brantley finished his UF career with 4,750 yards passing and 30 touchdowns with 18 interceptions. He threw for 2,044 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions this past season. He is the fourth quarterback the Ravens have under contract, joining starter Joe Flacco and backups Tyrod Taylor and Curtis Painter.

Brantley will at least have one familiar face with him in Baltimore. Receiver Deonte Thompson also signed a free-agent contract with the Ravens. Thompson finished his UF career with 101 catches for 1,446 yards and nine touchdowns. Baltimore already has eight receivers under contract and drafted Miami's Tommy Streeter in the sixth round.

In addition, defensive end William Green signed with the Cleveland Browns, where he will join former UF standout Joe Haden. Haden was the Browns' first-round draft pick (No. 7 overall) in 2010.

Defensive back Moses Jenkins and offensive lineman Dan Wenger are the other players who wrapped up their careers in 2011. They have not signed free-agent deals.

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