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Thursday September 13, 2012Riggs down, Saunders up -- sophomore DB to make his 2012 debut Saturday at Tennessee

Pop Saunders

Photo: Gators defensive back De'Ante Saunders will make his first appearance of the season Saturday.

The Gators have a mantra they live by during the season.

"Man down, man up,'' Gators coach Will Muschamp said earlier this week.

The expression has been used more than usual this week with a pair of key injuries to defensive starters in the Texas A&M win.

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb) and defensive back Cody Riggs (foot) are out approximately four weeks. Both started against the Aggies, leaving a pair of holes when the Gators visit Tennessee on Saturday.

While Antonio Morrison is filling in for Jenkins, Riggs' injury opened the door for sophomore De'Ante "Pop" Saunders to return to the lineup in his first game of the season.

Saunders missed the first two games. He started nine games as a true freshman, recording 26 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

While Riggs' absence will be felt, the return of Saunders comes at a perfect time.

"He’ll work in at safety but he’s also a guy that can play the nickel and dime positions,'' Muschamp said. "He’s an intelligent guy and can play multiple positions."

Saunders showed steady improvement as his freshman season progressed. In Florida's win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day, the product of DeLand High had four tackles and recovered a fumble.

At 5-foot-8, 186 pounds, Saunders is a physical player with speed to cover receivers downfield.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn plans to use him plenty against to help defend Vols quarterback Tyler Bray.

"Well, we certainly expect him to be part of the package,'' Quinn said. "We had some DBs go down this past week, so for him, with Cody’s injury, it’s going to certainly be a factor for him coming back in. So were anxious for him to kind of get back I and get the feel and move forward right away."

Quinn said Saunders will be a regular part of the rotation and won't have any snap-count restrictions on him in his first game back.

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