Lacking secondary depth, Florida’s freshmen must grow up — and fast

By Michael Phillips
August 15, 2019
Lacking secondary depth, Florida’s freshmen must grow up — and fast

Image Credit: Kaiir Elam / Twitter

At the beginning of fall camp, the No. 8 Florida Gators had 13 defensive backs listed as healthy and available on the roster. Now they have 11, and only nine have been completely active through camp with three of those nine being true freshmen. 

While the starting secondary unit has mostly remained unscathed, the depth in the back end has taken a hit. Now, head coach Dan Mullen finds himself in a tough spot as the season opener against the Miami Hurricanes inches closer. 

Mullen will have to rely on true freshmen Kaiir Elam, Chester Kimbrough and Jaydon Hill to grow up, and there is little time to waste.

“We expect them all to play,” Mullen said Monday of his young defensive backs. “They’re learning, you know, they’re getting a lot of reps, getting rotated in to different situations. Obviously, to get to see them get into the game when the season starts, it’ll be a little bit different than practice. You know, but they’re gonna get the opportunity to grow up right away this year. A bunch of freshmen I’ll probably play and get opportunities this year.”

Mullen faced a similar situation when standout cornerback Marco Wilson tore his ACL early against Kentucky last season and Trey Dean was thrust into duty. 

Dean, now a sophomore, had some growing pains as true freshmen will, but he held his own for the most part throughout the remainder of the season, racking up 26 tackles, five pass deflections and an interception.

While Mullen is faced with greater depth issues this year due to injury and departure, he understands that excuses are worthless and the Gators will have to make what they have work.

“Next guy’s got to step up,” Mullen said. “I’m concerned with the depth on our entire roster. You’re always concerned with the depth on your roster going into the season. I think you see most teams that have great years tend to stay healthy. 

“I think that’s such a huge aspect of it. So for us, staying healthy allows you to have a better season. And to me, that’s such a huge challenge because you’re trying to control, you’re trying to put guys in good situations to stay healthy. But stuff happens.”

Hill has been on campus since the spring, but Elam and Kimbrough arrived just over a month ago. It’s a tough ask for these youngsters to immediately step up and play significant snaps, especially considering two have been on campus for such a limited period of time. 

Learning the system takes time. Adjusting to the speed of the college game is difficult. While practices and scrimmages can impart a lot of knowledge, it is difficult to ascertain how first-year players will handle the bright lights on game day.

One veteran wide receiver is confident this group can overcome the hurdles they have in front of them and live up to what the coaches are asking of them so early in their careers.

“They’ve progressed a lot,” said redshirt senior Van Jefferson. “Man, Chester — Chester’s really good. He’s going to be really good. Him and Kaiir and Jaydon, they’re going to be really good. 

“I think those guys, CJ [Henderson] and Marco, they’re going to elevate their game. I know when they get in this season they’re going to make some big plays for us. They’ve been good, but Chester’s really good. Chester’s really good.”

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