Great secondary play is a product of talent meshing with technique, a side of aggression and great coaching. The Florida Gators have all of the ingredients and this group of ballplayers in the back end is going to be a treat to watch in 2014.
The Gators opened spring ball on March 19 and eyeballs, both locally and nationally, were on new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and how he was going to try to fix the woeful Florida offense.
Would he go shotgun? Is he going to spread the offense out? Will the new quarterback, early enrollee Will Grier, get a chance to compete for minutes?
As eyes focused on that end, the true pride and joy of the Gators' team—its secondary—got to work showing flashes of the things to come this season. For those who appreciate and truly enjoy the nuance of defensive back play, Will Muschamp's gang is going to be fun to follow.
Although the group is losing three players that NFLDraftScout.com projects to be early-round NFL draft picks, plus another 2013 starter to transfer, the bodies are there to step in and make it work.
Jaylen Watkins, Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson are NFL-bound and Cody Riggs is headed to Notre Dame, but the competition for time on the field is as present as the humidity in Gainesville.
As expected, returning starter Vernon Hargreaves looked the part. After entering school as the nation's top-ranked cornerback prospect in 2013, Hargreaves proceeded to grab freshman All-American and first-team All-SEC honors.
As Alligator Army points out, the rising sophomore is still hungry and looking to get physical.
First D-Rob vs. VH3 rep of the day: VH3 plants D-Rob as he tries to block. Got him horizontal.— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) March 19, 2014
Hargreaves is going to be the name casual bystanders throw to the atmosphere, but the truth is the Gators' other key returners—Brian Poole, Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye—will be key contributors as well.
Gorman and Maye will work at safety while Poole remains one of the most intriguing Gators because of his otherworldly comfort with playing inside receivers.
Poole's unique skill is not common across the collegiate landscape. He is relaxed working on a receiver who is lined up off the line and has a two-way go on the snap. It's not an easy job, but it is one Poole does well and something the Gators have as an asset to the defense.
The willingness of the rising junior to move to the inside allows Florida to get more defensive back talent on to the field in a five-DB package. That is where true youth shows itself.
Jalen Tabor, a surprise commit for the Gators, was the nation's No. 4 cornerback recruit and enters as a 6'1", long and rangy defender. With Poole inside, Zach Abolverdi of GatorSports.com noted that Tabor gets to play on the edge:
It's just the first day of spring, but Jalen Tabor has been running with the starters all day. Playing opposite VH3 on the outside.— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) March 19, 2014
Add Marcell Harris, who is still finding his way, and early enrollee Duke Dawson to the group, and Florida boasts one of the nation's most robust and talented units.
A season ago, Michigan State, Florida State and the Gators were great watches for people interested in secondary play. All three of those groups lose critical pieces and are set to try and reload.
At Florida, the cupboard is full, and as the Gators go through spring, look for the secondary to continue to prove it is ready to maintain an elite level.
Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.com.