GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As entertaining as he can be on the field for Florida, junior cornerback Jalen “Teez” Tabor is every bit the star of the show off of it. His media sessions are must-listen events.
Especially on a week when the Gators are facing the SEC’s leading passer in Missouri quarterback Drew Lock.
“As a defensive back, we like teams that throw the ball. It’s high-risk, high-reward. You can get bombed and torched up or you can make some money. So put up or shut up,” Tabor said.
The long touchdown reception by Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings aside, it has mostly been high-risk for opposing teams trying to challenge Tabor and junior corner Quincy Wilson.
The two have combined for 5 interceptions as Florida is tied for first in the SEC in that department with 8 picks as a team.
Lock, meanwhile, has passed for 1,675 yards, 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in five games.
Florida coach Jim McElwain called Missouri “a team that lives off of explosive plays.”
“We’ll find out how good our secondary is because they’ll get challenged a lot,” he said.
Tabor welcomes that challenge. Or any challenge, for that matter. Asked Tuesday if he had an individual goal for this season, a number of interceptions he wanted to hit or anything of the sort, he initially held back.
“Yeah, I had a number, I’m not going to say it, though,” he said. “I just feel like I just want to go out there and have fun and play my game and all the rest will take care of itself.”
That’s not the candid and entertaining Tabor everyone has come to enjoy.
He was then reminded that he had at one point mentioned something about wanting to double his numbers from 2015 — when he had 4 interceptions and 18 passes defended — or at least some of those numbers.
“Yeah, I think so. I think I can get it. Three picks in four games, sheesh,” he said with a smile.
That’s more like it.
It’s not only himself he’s trying to outpace, though. There’s a friendly competition at play between Tabor and Wilson.
While Tabor has those three interceptions in just four games played after being suspended for the season opener, Wilson has two picks this fall and has boosted his national reputation with terrific all-around play.
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah recently quoted an unnamed NFL executive as saying, “I think Wilson is the best corner in the country. Tabor gets all of the hype, but Wilson is better in every area.”
There’s a high probability that Tabor saw that comment and internalized some further motivation, but the competition between he and Wilson is no doubt a friendly one. They are often side by side in warm-ups before practices and games, talking and laughing with each other.
And that Florida happens to have two of the best corners in the country pushing each other every day, every game is all the better for the Gators.
“Without a doubt. Competition brings out the best in us all. I would be lying to you if I said when he gets a pick, I don’t want a pick,” Tabor said. “That is competition, but that makes us better. And we’re good friends at the end of the day.”
Wilson said much of the same last week: “We feed off each other, but it’s a friendly competition, you know what I’m saying? It ain’t nothing like, ‘I’m better than him, he’s better than me.’ But we both think we’re the best and we’re just out there trying to get as much picks as we can.”
If Missouri stays as aggressive in the passing game as it has been so far this season — the Tigers are tied for eighth nationally while averaging 350.6 yards per game through the air on 41.6 attempts per game — then that competition should be especially entertaining this week.
The one between Lock and Florida’s secondary, and the one between Tabor and Wilson to see who can make the biggest impact Saturday.
As for Tabor’s line about making money this week with a strong performance, he claims he’s not paying much attention to the early NFL mock drafts that are coming out online already.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have an opinion on the matter.
“I feel like I’m the best corner,” he said in his soft-spoken yet matter-of-fact way. “I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of guys who feel like they’re the best corner, but you only need one team to like you.”
And there’s a good chance many NFL teams will be looking back on the tape of the Florida-Missouri game when that time comes.