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Saturday August 4, 2012Gators Football Preview: Defensive Backs

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As Florida coach Will Muschamp enters his second season, there are plenty of jobs open.

More than the high-profile quarterback battle between Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett.

“We have a lot of position battles,’’ Muschamp said Thursday at media day. “That’s really good for our team. We have more depth at all positions.”

The Gators might have the most depth in the secondary. Six defensive backs on the roster have started in their careers. Add four new freshmen to the mix and you have a group that offers ample options.

Perhaps the most talented of the group is junior safety Matt Elam, who is listed on several preseason All-SEC teams entering his junior season. Elam is the only player in the secondary to start every game a season ago.

Muschamp and his coaching staff like the talent in the secondary, but they want to see more plays. The Gators had only eight interceptions in 2011 and two of those were be linebackers (Jelani Jenkins and Michael Taylor).

Florida finished 113th nationally in turnover margin and that will be a heavy emphasis during fall camp. Elam and sophomore De’ante “Pop” Saunders led the way with two picks each last season.

“We have re-evaluated ourselves and what we have done as a staff to do a better job in that department,’’ Muschamp said. “We have made a huge emphasis, maybe differently, how we want to emphasize things as far as technique of taking the ball off people, make our kids more cognizant of situations when we can get the ball off them.”

With the Gators’ fall camp opening this week, is taking a look at each position group. This is a glance at the defensive backs:

No. 22 Matt Elam (Jr., 5-10, 210)

At a glance: A physical presence at safety, Elam finished second on the team with 78 tackles as a sophomore. He was one of just five players to start every game in 2011.

Elam’s 11 tackles-for-loss led the Gators. He is considered one of the anchors of a defense that has potential to be one of the nation’s best this season and is a preseason all-conference selection.

No. 9 Josh Evans (Sr., 6-1, 201)

At a glance: He showed significant improvement as a junior and is the only senior among a deep stable of defensive backs. Evans started eight games last season and recorded five tackles, a sack and one fumble recovery in Florida’s win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.

No. 21 Jabari Gorman (So., 5-9, 183)

At a glance: Gorman played in all 13 games as a freshman, mostly on special teams. He finished with eight tackles and will try to earn more snaps on defense to add to his special team contributions.

No. 15 Loucheiz Purifoy (So., 6-1, 186)

At a glance: Purifoy was a standout special-teams player as a freshman, leading the squad with 22 tackles. He also saw time at cornerback. Purifoy is a player coaches expect more from this season so expect to see him on the field consistently.

No. 31 Cody Riggs (Jr., 5-9, 190)

At a glance: Riggs started 10 games at cornerback last season and has played in all 26 games his two seasons on campus. Riggs is a versatile corner who continues to improve as a regular contributor in the secondary.

No. 5 Marcus Roberson (So., 6-0, 180)

At a glance: He made an immediate impact as a freshman, starting 10 games until a neck injury at South Carolina ended his season. Roberson missed spring practice but has been cleared to start fall camp and will battle to regain his starting job. He had 22 tackles and one interception as a freshman.

No. 26 De’ante Saunders (So., 5-8, 186)

At a glance: Saunders played regularly at safety and cornerback as a true freshman, tying for the team lead with two interceptions, including one for a touchdown against Furman. Saunders is a physical presence in the secondary and also plays the run well. He should continue to have a prominent role in the secondary if he stays healthy.

No. 10 Valdez Showers (RS Fr., 5-11, 186)

At a glance: A former Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan, Showers was redshirted a year ago. He figures to play on special teams and have an opportunity for regular time in the secondary in his second season.

No. 14 Jaylen Watkins (Jr., 6-0, 187)

At a glance: Watkins played in 13 games last season, starting six. He had a career-high six tackles in his first career start at Kentucky. Watkins provides a veteran presence as one of the few upperclassmen in the secondary.

No. 27 Willie Bailey (Fr., 6-1, 170)

At a glance: A true freshman who enrolled in January and gained valuable experience in spring practice. Coaches like his toughness and ability to make plays on the ball at cornerback.

No. 8 Jeremy Brown (RS Jr., 5-10, 181)

At a glance: Brown’s career continues to be plagued by injuries. He missed his first two seasons due to a chronic back condition. He started 10 games in 2010, recording three interceptions and taking one for 52 yards for a touchdown against Kentucky. He missed last season with a knee injury and is unavailable for the start of fall camp due to a broken wrist. Brown is expected to be cleared in early September. If he can stay healthy, he could be a factor.

No. 20 Marcus Maye (Fr., 5-11, 200)

At a glance: A highly touted safety prospect out of Melbourne’s Holy Trinity Episcopal School. Maye is slowed at the start of fall camp by a meniscus injury.

No. 29 Rhaheim Ledbetter (Fr., 5-11, 195)

At a glance: Another top safety prospect, Ledbetter was a teammate of freshman DL Jonathan Bullard at Crest Senior High in Shelby, N.C., the school that produced former Gators All-American Brandon Spikes.

No. 24 Brian Poole (Fr., 5-10, 202)

At a glance: Poole was ranked as one of the nation’s top cornerbacks last season at Bradenton Southeast. He is a physical player with good coverage skills that coaches have high hopes for in the future.


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