It's quite commonplace to describe a team’s running attack as "Thunder and Lightning" when there are two good backs that represent different styles. A power back is usually the "thunder," while a speedy back provides the "lightning."
Some notable combinations immediately come to mind: LenDale White/Reggie Bush at USC, and more recently James Davis/CJ Spiller at Clemson. Even Florida’s former Tebow/Demps/Rainey/Harvin combination qualifies (but that’s more like thunder, lightning, tornado, white squall).
For the 2009 Florida Gators, the best example of this phenomenon is at cornerback. Two players, Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins, have very distinct styles that frustrate receivers and shut down opposing offenses.
Going into spring practice, they have about as much job security as you can find on a team with great starters, but very talented backups across the board. Haden and Jenkins are so entrenched, there isn’t much chance any corners see the field except in nickel and dime formations.
Haden, the blazing junior, has locked down one corner spot since he enrolled at UF. Hailing from Fort Washington, Maryland, Haden dominated as a QB and RB in high school, only occasionally lining up in the secondary as a safety.
However, as an early enrollee in the spring of 2007, he was asked to patch up a defensive backfield that had been decimated by graduation, injuries, and suspensions. Haden was up to the challenge.
Using blinding speed (sub-4.4 40) and cat-like reflexes, Haden earned the right to be the first true freshman to start opening day at corner for the Gators. Ever.
What he didn’t know from experience, he made up with pure, unadulterated athletic ability. Asking an offensive player to turn around and play backwards is a significant challenge, but to then ask him to do it while transitioning from high school to SEC competition? That’s like telling Screech to go win an Oscar against Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman.
Nonetheless, he defied the odds, and after a year of growing pains, was able to help shut down perhaps the greatest offense of all time in the 2008 Orange Bowl.
Janoris Jenkins operates at a different gear than Haden, but still has made an impact early on in his career. He was highly recruited out of Pahokee High School, yet didn’t reach elite five-star status due to a "slow" 40 time in the 4.5 second range. What the stopwatch can't measure, however, is game speed.
Growing up in "The Muck", Jenkins learned how to read-and-react by chasing jack-rabbits in sugarcane fields. Once you have caught a fleet footed hare, SEC receivers don’t look so fast. Jenkins combines outstanding footwork and agility with brute force, locking down receivers at the line of scrimmage.
His physical style of play wears down the opposition, and by the fourth quarter even speedsters can't shake him.
Midway through the 2008 season, Jenkins was starting as a freshman alongside the slick Haden to form a devastating duo of cornerbacks. They combined for 126 tackles, 23 pass break-ups, and six interceptions en route to solidifying a secondary that was the Gators’ Achilles heel the previous year.
It should be fun to watch quarterbacks try to pick between throwing into one storm or another this coming season.
A quick review of the rest of the 2009 Florida cornerback corps:
Markihe Anderson (Sr.)—Anderson is a former starter as a sophomore who originally lost his spot due to injury. That was a few years ago, and now he will just be asked to provide backup support and play special teams.
Wondy Pierre-Louis (Sr.)—He is another former starter who benefited from a severe lack of corner depth in 2007. Signed as a project with good size (6'1"), he was thrown into the fire earlier than expected, which may have stunted his growth as a player. Will be relegated to mop-up duty and special teams.
Moses Jenkins (Jr)—Jenkins has great size (6'2") but lacks overall athleticism. Entering his third year at Florida, Jenkins probably will not see the field aside from special teams in 2009, and may never start at cornerback for the Gators.
Adrian Bushell (R-Fr)—Bushell played WR/CB in high school and was placed on defense upon arriving in Gainesville. He has no game experience, as he redshirted last year, but has plenty of time to develop.
Jeremy Brown (R-Fr)—Brown has been plagued by injuries in his short time at UF, but when healthy has shown brilliance in practice. Coaches rave about his upside, but he can't seem to stay on the field. Due to depth at corner this year, he will probably have to wait until 2010 to get a real shot at playing time.