HOOVER, Ala. — The steady stoutness of Florida’s secondary is remarkable enough that few question whether it will be a strength in 2016.
In fact, the back end of the UF defense has only allowed more than 200 passing yards per game once in the past eight seasons (14), a strong standard of excellence by any measure.
No, the question for this group of Gators is how good they’ll be at the second level, and specifically how they’ll stack up against last year’s unit now that former starters Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal have become first-round NFL draft picks.
Speaking at SEC Media Days, amid a widespread presumption that Florida will take a step back in coach Jim McElwain’s second year, defensive back Marcus Maye gave an unwavering answer.
“For us to be just as good (as last year),” said Maye when asked about the unit’s expectations. “Vernon was obviously our go-to guy last year. He was a great aspect of our secondary. But I feel like we have with (Jalen) Tabor and we can be just as good. They’re all just as talented.”
In respect to Tabor, some would even call him better than the departed Florida star, including Hargreaves himself. The junior from Washington D.C. is next in line to take the reins of a well-respected pass defense and follow in Hargreaves’ footsteps as another Florida first-rounder.
For as talented as Tabor is, however, he is almost as talkative — to the point that he essentially held his own Media Days appearance in the form of a Periscope Q&A (Florida did not select him as a player representative). He has taken shots at hated rival Tennessee, expressed passionate opinions on current events and, in Monday’s Q&A, even claimed he can lock up former LSU wideout Odell Beckham, Jr.
And to hear Maye tell it, Tabor’s teammates are behind his swagger 100 percent, if only because he has the talent to back it up.
“Jalen’s being Jalen. What you see is what you get,” Maye said. “Jalen’s that guy on the field where you’re going to hear, but you’re also going to see him making plays, creating turnovers. He talks, but he’s always there to back it up. He knows he has his guys in the secondary and the guys on defense behind him no matter what the situation is.
“He’s a confident player. I wouldn’t call him cocky or anything like that because he works hard. Jalen is one of those guys who is going to voice his opinion, but he’s also going to show up when it’s time to play.”