Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday for the first time this fall and had an opportunity to provide some insights on his players. Earlier this week, head coach Will Muschamp listed one safety as standing out from the rest of the pack in practice.
IT’S HIS TIME
Much like Loucheiz Purifoy did early in his career, sophomore safety Keanu Neal earned his stripes on special teams. A hard hitter and quick learner, he earned time as a backup in the secondary but was understandably unable to crack a starting lineup filled with veterans.
With only one set starter in the defensive backfield returning this year, Neal had every opportunity to go out and win a job in spring practice and fall camp. And that is exactly what he did.
“Keanu Neal, right now, is our best safety,” Muschamp said on Monday.
That compliment from his head coach was huge for Neal, though he is determined not to rest on his laurels.
“It means a lot. It means a lot to me to be considered that,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not gonna think about that too much because it’s good to think of yourself as an underdog and continue to compete every single day.”
Neal believes that his effort is what has helped him stand out to this point.
“This year seems like everything clicked versus last year. My recognition on plays and things like that is a lot better. Like I said, effort, that’s the biggest thing,” he noted.
He also takes pride in being known as a physical threat on the field.
“I just love to play football. I’m a physical player, so the hits come and I’ve kind of built that image on the team as a hitter. That’s just what I do,” he added.
The praise of Neal does not solely come from Muschamp, though he is the de facto position coach for the safeties and spends more time with Neal than any other coach on staff.
“That’s a position that he’s always with, especially in meetings and things like that. He’s always around us and coaching us up and things like that,” Neal explained. “He wants us to just be technically sound. Attention to detail is a huge thing for him. That’s something that we all tend to work on a lot.”
Fellow coaches and teammates feel the same way about what Neal has shown thus far in training camp.
Durkin and redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor both complimented him for not only his toughness but also his speed and high football intelligence.
“Keanu, he just plays really fast. He plays at a high level at all times that he’s on the practice field. He’s a very physical guy, he can cover and he plays fast. He plays at game speed,” said Durkin.
Added Taylor: “Fast. He will come and hit you. He knows the defense and he can come play in the box and he can play in the middle of the field. That’s good to have back there behind you.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Durkin on junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr.: “I’ve been proud of Dante with the way he’s practiced. He’s been very consistent in his effort and how hard he’s going. It’s showing. He’s getting better and improving. … He’s noticeably different. He understands, we’ve challenged him to be a consistent guy, a leader every day. And he’s really done that. He’s responded.”
» Durkin on the freshmen defensive backs: “The receivers that they’re going against every day here, those guys are pretty darn good that they’re lined up against. So, they’re seeing game speed from those guys. They’ve prepared well because of who they’re going up against.”
» Durkin on freshman DE Gerald Willis III and where he will be in the rotation: “Somewhere. He can play. He’s good. He’ll play and he’ll help us. Gerald’s got to keep learning the defense and be in the right spot and all the typical things for a normal freshman, but he’ll play, he’s good.”
» Durkin on redshirt sophomore DB Brian Poole and where he will play: “Brian’s done a great job. Last year he was almost always inside playing our nickel spot and this year we’ve put him inside and he’s done well. He’s not letting that position go; there’s competition there and Brian is holding onto it strong and playing good.”
» Neal on Muschamp yelling at players in practice: “He’s pretty intimidating, I can tell you that.”