GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Gators will have a lot of new faces patrolling the secondary in 2017.
Three Florida starters from last season — cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson and safety Marcus Maye — were selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. A fourth, redshirt senior safety Marcell Harris, is out for the 2017 season after tearing the Achilles tendon in his right ankle during offseason workouts.
This leaves the Gators with two seniors and a slew of underclassmen to pick up the slack in the secondary.
Here’s a closer look at the defensive backs.
Dawson is Florida’s most veteran cornerback heading into the season. In his first three seasons, Dawson has played in 37 games (eight starts) and has recorded 48 tackles, forced 2 fumbles, defended 4 passes and recorded 2 interceptions while mostly playing as the team’s nickel corner. With Tabor and Wilson now in the NFL, Dawson is a lock to hold down one of the outside corner spots heading into the season.
Washington, a redshirt senior safety, shared starting duties with Harris early in 2016 and held his own. In 10 games (six starts), Washington recorded a career-high 45 tackles, an interception and 2 quarterback hurries before suffering a season-ending ankle injury against LSU. He is expected to start at safety when the season begins.
Gardner, a sophomore, was going to start somewhere in the secondary in the 2017 season. The main question was where. With Harris out for the year, it’s likely he will primarily start opposite Washington at safety. Gardner came onto the scene late in his freshman season after both Maye and Washington were sidelined with injuries. In the final three games of the year — facing Florida State, Alabama and Iowa — Gardner recorded 17 total tackles and 3 interceptions. He earned Outback Bowl MVP honors after intercepting 2 fourth-quarter passes, returning the first for a touchdown.
The Gators signed six defensive backs in the Class of 2017.
- C.J. Henderson, a 4-star prospect and the No. 15-ranked cornerback in the class.
- Brad Stewart, a 4-star prospect and the No. 20-ranked cornerback in the class.
- Marco Wilson, a 4-star prospect, the No. 27-ranked cornerback in the class and the younger brother of Quincy Wilson.
- Shawn Davis, a 3-star prospect and the No. 41-ranked cornerback in the class.
- Brian Edwards, a 3-star prospect and the No. 57-ranked cornerback in the class.
- Donovan Stiner, a 3-star prospect and the No. 58-ranked safety in the class.
With Florida’s lack of veteran depth at cornerback, it is likely that up to two freshmen could start in the season opener on Sept. 2 against Michigan — one at outside corner and the other at nickel. Henderson, Stewart and Wilson should be the early favorites heading into fall camp. However, all could see time in the secondary rotation or on special teams.
The rest of the group
Up to four additional defensive backs head into training camp competing for playing time either in the defensive rotation or on special teams: senior Joseph Putu, sophomore Jeawon Taylor, and redshirt freshmen Quincy Lenton and McArthur Burnett.
Putu played in 10 games in 2016, which was his first year at Florida. He recorded 4 tackles and spent most of the year on special teams. Taylor also played in 10 games in 2016 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Florida State.
Lenton broke his foot during fall camp before the 2016 season and took a medical redshirt. Burnett sat out his freshman season and took a redshirt after falling on the depth chart during his first season on campus.
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