Image Credit: UAA
Let’s get this out of the way: Florida Gators junior cornerback Jalen Tabor‘s constant, unrelenting trash talk at Tennessee is refreshing.
It’s fun to see a student-athlete — and a star player at that — be vocal with his opinions, particularly at the expense of a rival. You would never confuse Tabor for a shy guy or player lacking confidence, that’s for sure. And to bring it a step further, that attitude is probably rubbing off on a team that has lost some of its edge.
That’s not to say the Gators’ defense has not been ferocious since the departure of Urban Meyer, but the constant offensive struggles have taken a toll on the team as a whole.
Tabor has become somewhat of an extension of head coach Jim McElwain. No, McElwain doesn’t talk a big game, but he certainly walks with his shoulders back and his chest out. And he has no issue leaving the talking to the man they now publicly call “Teez.”
“I love the guy. He’s a guy who cares. He’s a guy who has really invested in himself. I think he’s grown up immensely as far as how he’s going about his business,” McElwain said on Friday.
This comes after Tabor, while appearing on The Paul Finebaum Show, was asked to explain why he has been so outspoken about Florida’s dominance of Tennessee this offseason, particularly while everyone has UT as the trendy pick to win the SEC East. (The Gators have won 11 straight games over the Vols.)
“There’s certain things that happen every year, every day. Just like you have your show on the SEC Network at a certain time every day, just like the fourth weekend in the fall when the Gators play the University of Tennessee. It’s been the same thing happening for 11 years. I mean, the greatest indication of the future is the past,” he began.
“It’s going to be pretty fun. They got great coaches, they got great players, got a great atmosphere. And we got to go there this year, so I feel like it’s going to be real intense. We got to win that game to win the East, and that’s one of the biggest games for us, so we go to have our mind right when we go in there.”
Then Tabor dropped the hammer: “It’s really all you guys picking them to win the East. It’s you guys picking them,” he said, referring to the media. “I don’t see it. I know I’m a player, but I really just don’t see it. I don’t know. I know we have a lot of talent here, got a lot of great coaches here. I feel like, to get to the East and the SEC Championship, you got to come through The Swamp and the Florida Gators. It’s been that way in the beginning of the SEC, since the beginning of time, so they’ve got to come through us this year, too.”
Tabor went on to express his great confidence in Florida’s defense and high hopes for a special teams unit that features speed and a new kicker. He said all the Gators really need to do offensively is manage each game and move the ball down the field without turning it over.
McElwain has always responded positively when asked about Tabor’s public comments. He continued that stance on Friday, noting how much he enjoys Tabor’s confidence.
“Here’s the beauty of that: the pure honesty in the way somebody thinks. I like the aggressive attitude. In fact, I wish our whole team in some spots had that same self-confidence,” he said. “He’s put in the work. … At the end of the day, that’s so far down the road we’ll jump that when we get there. You’ve heard me talk before, I mean, I’m not into censorship, OK? At the same time, I’m not into giving guys bulletin-board material, but you can take that statement however you choose to take it. I’m sure they’ll put it up and blast it all over the world. Way to go. There’s a pretty good chance we’ll show up in Knoxville.”
Tabor appreciates McElwain allowing players to express themselves and anticipates the Gators backing up his offseason comments during the season. While McElwain sees improved confidence in Florida as a whole — in large part because there are fewer “unknowns” entering the season — he remains concerned about the team’s daily effort in practice.
“I’ll be honest, Thursday morning’s practice was unacceptable. We were not firing on all cylinders,” he said during a long rant Friday. “We had some guys plays their tails off through it. They would be the normal suspects who you think would do that. Our issue is we had some guys [who] we need to step up [and] start to endure the practice, whether it’s counting reps, woe is me, feeling sorry for themselves rather than fighting through. … I was a little disappointed, quite frankly. It was the expectation or the standard that we expect for us to be successful.”
He continued: “Just call it the way it is: It was unacceptable what happened. … I think guys let external distraction, things that didn’t matter, affect their ability to focus on winning the now. We definitely didn’t win the now by any stretch of the imagination. … As we discover those guys [who get beat down], they’ll just sit on the bench. We’ll find somebody that wants to play. That’s the way it’s going to be. Not going to put up with it. We’re not going to put up with it. It’s not our expectation. And we have too many guys the other way that are pushing to have those guys pull us down, so we need to come up with those combinations that are willing to get out of themselves and understand what it takes to be successful. And that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Through all of this, there is one certainty. While a loss to the Vols any year would be an unfortunate occurrence for the Gators, this year, with Tabor’s trash talk and Florida having only barely squeaked out wins against Tennessee the last two seasons, it might be devastating.