Friday Final: Florida defensive backs prepared for tougher test against East Carolina

By Adam Silverstein
September 11, 2015

We’re back with Florida Football Friday Final, where takes a last look at the Florida Gators as they prepare to take on the East Carolina Pirates at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

The game will kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPN2.

This week on

Practice update: Jim McElwain refuses to be an enabler for players with issues

Starting quarterback: Redshirt freshman Will Grier to start against ECU but both will play

Students buying up the tickets learned early Friday evening that the Gators have officially sold out of student season tickets for the 2015 campaign.

Florida was unable to get rid of its 18,600 allotment prior to the opener but saw sales remain strong through the last week and now only has single-game tickets available to students and guests for the remainder of the season.

Evaluating the defensive backfield

Gators defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan was the assistant head coach Jim McElwain chose to make available to the media this week.

Considering so much has already been written about the secondary as a whole, including how deep and talented it was entering the season, let’s move away from that and focus on the individual players. Here’s Callahan sharing his thoughts on seven members of the defensive backfield.

» On whether he’s concerned about junior Vernon Hargreaves III tiring out on special teams and offense: “At the end of the day, he’s a cornerback. But like Coach Mac always says, you’re a special teams player before you’re an offensive or defensive player. … Whether we increase or pull reps, we’ll continue to change that by week. You got to appreciate his ability and the things that he can do. Like Coach Mac always says, let’s put the players in position to make plays. He’s one of those guys, whether we got to put him in a position to make a play on offense, special teams or defense, we’re going to sit there and do that. But we’re going to be smart about what we do.”

» On redshirt junior Marcus Maye, who will play his first game after missing the opener due to suspension: “Marcus is a big-time player. He’s got to sit there and earn his way back to the starting lineup in terms of earning his reps to come back. When you’re not practicing, you’re not in the two deep, you got to continue to keep working and he’s done a great job this week. We’re excited to have him back.”

» On junior Keanu Neal, who is expected to play Saturday after sitting out with a hamstring injury: “Leadership, toughness, two things that jump out [about him]. He’s very serious in that he takes everything that he does seriously whether that’s practice, technique, film study. … You reap what you sow. The stuff that he puts in off the field is going to show up Saturdays when he’s out there.”

» On redshirt sophomore Nick Washington, who stepped up this offseason to earn increased playing time: “The one thing he did a great job, I think it really started in the summer with Coach Kent because he was a guy who had a couple [deficiencies] in terms of stiffness and flexibility. That was something he attacked with him and Coach Kent. He came back into fall camp kind of like a new man – he was really healthy and really in shape. You started to see this guy flash even a little than what you saw in the spring. He’s an extremely smart player, and knowledge is power.”

» On sophomore Quincy Wilson: “Quincy Wilson’s done a really good job. He’s worked his butt off. … He’s such a big body. … My whole thing to him is to go take it over, go be dominant and don’t just settle for doing the right things, let’s go be great.”

» On redshirt sophomore Marcell Harris, who saw extensive playing time in the opener after mostly playing special teams in 2014: “He’s another guy who just, he started in the offseason and worked himself in. His whole thing was he was a great special teams player for them last year, but he’s really gained knowledge of the playbook. … That only increases your stock as a guy that we can sit there and put in situations to make plays because he is a talented kid.”

A more complex, effective offense

Redshirt senior wide receiver Valdez Showers has seen it all during his time with the Gators. He’s had nearly two hands worth of position coaches, a variety of coordinators and is now on his second head coach. So when he was asked to explain how different it was to be in an offense that spreads the ball around and utilizes players’ talents, he did not pull any punches – even if he did not mean to be critical of what went on in the past.

“Our first install [under McElwain] was probably like eight pages more than last year’s entire playbook. I definitely recognized that right off the back,” he explained. “Guys were like, ‘Oh my God.’”

Showers went on to explain that Florida now has “adjustments for every coverage,” contrary to 2014 when the offense was “just very simple.” He continued, “’Just get out there and go fast’ was basically the playbook and everything. This one is more complex, more pro-style and things like that.”

It will be interesting to see whether the Gators’ offensive revolution continues against a team that is much better defensively than New Mexico State was last week. Florida totaled 606 yards of offence one week ago and saw its quarterbacks combine to complete 31-of-38 passes (.816).

Notes and bits

» Sophomore Brandon Powell on playing his first game at wideout: “I was kind of nervous coming in, first game as a full-time receiver. I just went out and played and everything came to me. I just had fun out there and that’s it. … Going against our DBs every day in practice, it gets you prepared for anything you’ll see in a game. That’s what really got me prepared for the game and helped my transition to wide receiver.”

» Callahan on whether he was surprised to see the talent he had in the secondary: “Just the overall athleticism and length. Obviously you always want DBs with great length. To be as long as we are in the back end with the athleticism that goes with it, that’s obviously been something special to sit back and watch them work with out there at practice.”

» Callahan on the closeness of his players: “They are a tight group and they do enjoy each other. They push each other. They really respond to each other. They’re each other’s biggest critics but also their biggest fans, which is really cool. … Even though they are close friends, they’re very competitive and they all push each other to be better in all aspects.”

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