8/14: Keanu Neal impressing, Durkin evaluating

By Adam Silverstein
August 14, 2014

Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday for the first time this fall and had an opportunity to provide some insights on his players. Earlier this week, head coach Will Muschamp listed one safety as standing out from the rest of the pack in practice.


Much like Loucheiz Purifoy did early in his career, sophomore safety Keanu Neal earned his stripes on special teams. A hard hitter and quick learner, he earned time as a backup in the secondary but was understandably unable to crack a starting lineup filled with veterans.

With only one set starter in the defensive backfield returning this year, Neal had every opportunity to go out and win a job in spring practice and fall camp. And that is exactly what he did.

“Keanu Neal, right now, is our best safety,” Muschamp said on Monday.

That compliment from his head coach was huge for Neal, though he is determined not to rest on his laurels.

“It means a lot. It means a lot to me to be considered that,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not gonna think about that too much because it’s good to think of yourself as an underdog and continue to compete every single day.”

Neal believes that his effort is what has helped him stand out to this point.

“This year seems like everything clicked versus last year. My recognition on plays and things like that is a lot better. Like I said, effort, that’s the biggest thing,” he noted.

He also takes pride in being known as a physical threat on the field.

“I just love to play football. I’m a physical player, so the hits come and I’ve kind of built that image on the team as a hitter. That’s just what I do,” he added.

The praise of Neal does not solely come from Muschamp, though he is the de facto position coach for the safeties and spends more time with Neal than any other coach on staff.

“That’s a position that he’s always with, especially in meetings and things like that. He’s always around us and coaching us up and things like that,” Neal explained. “He wants us to just be technically sound. Attention to detail is a huge thing for him. That’s something that we all tend to work on a lot.”

Fellow coaches and teammates feel the same way about what Neal has shown thus far in training camp.

Durkin and redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor both complimented him for not only his toughness but also his speed and high football intelligence.

“Keanu, he just plays really fast. He plays at a high level at all times that he’s on the practice field. He’s a very physical guy, he can cover and he plays fast. He plays at game speed,” said Durkin.

Added Taylor: “Fast. He will come and hit you. He knows the defense and he can come play in the box and he can play in the middle of the field. That’s good to have back there behind you.”


» Durkin on junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr.: “I’ve been proud of Dante with the way he’s practiced. He’s been very consistent in his effort and how hard he’s going. It’s showing. He’s getting better and improving. … He’s noticeably different. He understands, we’ve challenged him to be a consistent guy, a leader every day. And he’s really done that. He’s responded.”

» Durkin on the freshmen defensive backs: “The receivers that they’re going against every day here, those guys are pretty darn good that they’re lined up against. So, they’re seeing game speed from those guys. They’ve prepared well because of who they’re going up against.”

» Durkin on freshman DE Gerald Willis III and where he will be in the rotation: “Somewhere. He can play. He’s good. He’ll play and he’ll help us. Gerald’s got to keep learning the defense and be in the right spot and all the typical things for a normal freshman, but he’ll play, he’s good.”

» Durkin on redshirt sophomore DB Brian Poole and where he will play: “Brian’s done a great job. Last year he was almost always inside playing our nickel spot and this year we’ve put him inside and he’s done well. He’s not letting that position go; there’s competition there and Brian is holding onto it strong and playing good.”

» Neal on Muschamp yelling at players in practice: “He’s pretty intimidating, I can tell you that.”


  1. G2 says:

    Last year Maye was the new guy getting all the attention. Where is he on the depth chart?

    • Michael Jones says:

      I’m curious too. I like Maye. Maye got torched in the Miami game last season and it seemed to put him in the doghouse for the rest of the year. Not sure that’s fair to a talented but young and inexperienced player.

      Also curious about Marcell Harris. I know he came out of high school with some injury issues but should be back and battling for playing time by now.

      • gatorboi352 says:

        “Maye got torched in the Miami game last season and it seemed to put him in the doghouse for the rest of the year.”

        Meanwhile, offensive player after offensive player showed their incompetence game in and game out without any accountability whatsoever. Clay Burton’s multiple blunders come to mind.

    • NYC Gator says:

      Apparently he moved to the nickel position, at least based on what some other outlets are reporting. Adam is that accurate?

  2. Michael J. says:

    It’s good to hear that Neal is ready. Since the departure of Elam, UF has lacked a big hitter missed a big hitter last year. More importantly though is that he’s in a position to make a play. If one play was the catalyst of UF’s downfall last year, it was Maye getting toasted by Miami. That one play gave Miami the confidence it needed. I’m surprised that Jabari Gorman is not the one named as a starter already. Since he’s the only Senior, you’d expect him to be leading the way. I just hope that someone other than Hargreaves steps up. Hargreaves was , by far, the best tackler in the secondary last year and acted more like a free safety with all the times he saved UF. One thing I haven’t heard is who’s going to replace Purifoy as a blitzer from the secondary. Say what you will about Purifoy’s coverage skills, he did have a knack for coming up with a big play, like when he forced a safety against Georgia. I would think it would be Hargreaves to fill that role, but I don’t know since no one has reported on it.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Jabari Gorman is an excellent football player. Ferocious hitter. He brought it last year. I too am surprised we have not heard anything about him.

    • Michael Jones says:

      And, yeah, we tend not to report which DB will be blitzing. Something to do with the element of surprise. You guys have to figure that one out yourself, hopefully the hard way.

  3. Joaquin says:

    I really like Nick Washington. I think he is a heck of a hitter and could see him play that nickel role but then again, I would also like to see one of the freshman on the nickel. BTW that seems to be the blitzing DB position.

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