GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain said the Gators’ youth in the secondary will be on full display at times in their marquee season opener against Michigan on Saturday.
True freshman Marco Wilson is listed on the team’s unofficial depth chart as a starter at both outside corner opposite senior Duke Dawson as well as in the nickel. Fellow first-year defensive back Shawn Davis has had strong moments at safety in fall camp and took reps with the first team at points while fifth-year senior Nick Washington nursed a shoulder injury.
But on his weekly radio show on Thursday, McElwain emphasized that there could be times in the game where four freshmen are playing together in the secondary when the team takes the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“And yet,” McElwain said, “I’m OK with that because these four freshmen are ready to play and they’re excited to play.”
McElwain signed six freshman defensive backs in the last recruiting cycle with the hopes that one or two would immediately step in and contribute after three starters from last season in Jalen “Teez” Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye were selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The need for freshmen to step up was amplified when redshirt senior safety Marcell Harris suffered a season-ending torn right Achilles tendon before the start of fall camp. That left the Gators with just three experienced players in the secondary: Dawson, Washington and versatile sophomore Chauncey Gardner.
In addition to Wilson and Davis, C.J. Henderson has shown glimpses at times throughout camp. The speedy cornerback is listed as Dawson’s backup at one of the outside cornerback spots. McElwain also said last week that true freshman Donovan Stiner, a safety from Houston, would have opportunities to see the field when Florida is in nickel and dime packages. He’s listed as Wilson’s backup at nickel. Florida’s other two freshman defensive backs — Brian Edwards and Brad Stewart — are listed as members of the third-string defense on the depth chart.
“This is going to be a great test for our secondary — for our young secondary — that they stay disciplined with their eyes and don’t peek into the backfield and get lost in double moves and that type of thing,” McElwain said.