Safety in Numbers and Numbers of Safeties

Chuck Heater

Eight months ago the Gator football team entered fall camp knowing almost nothing about the safety position. Florida had been decimated by injury, transfer and discipline issues and opened camp with no one set back there. Boy things sure are a whole lot different now.

Florida enters spring practice with four players who have every reason to consider himself a starter. Ahmad Black and Major Wright handled the position last year, and Doran Munroe started two games in 2007. Add to that sophomore Will Hill who showed himself to be an impact player as a rookie and you have four players who can handle the job. That makes practices a lot more competitive for Gator safeties coach Chuck Heater. Florida's safeties will have to be on their game every day or run the risk of being passed by. Heater likes that aspect of the competition.

"I feel that there are enough guys back there that can mix in and compete with each other and that's all good," Heater said. "I think you can never have enough guys because the season is so long. I tell our guys all the time we're still playing in January around here and always you need every guy. If guys earn the right to play than, certainly you're going to manufacture a method by which they can play. We'll do that."

Heater said the number of guys competing at safety is a bit unusual from what he's been going through in recent seasons.

"It's the first time we've had depth. We had a bunch of guys at safety going into last spring but two months later they were all gone for various reasons. At least on the surface it appears that we've got some guys that are going to be able to compete."

Black was sensational for the Gators last season, leading the team with in interceptions (7), returning two of them for touchdowns. The junior from Lakeland was also fourth on the team in tackles (59) and passes broken up (5). Heater said despite those gaudy numbers, Black has room to improve.

"Well I think physically he can continue to improve himself and get stronger. He needs to keep his weight up (because) he's not a natural guy weight-wise. All these types of things can help him become a better player. He's a really good football player, obviously but he needs to keep developing."

Heater said Munroe is further along in his rehab than was expected.

"He's done really well. For that type of injury some guys seem like they're protecting it and seem to be carrying the leg and he doesn't appear to be doing that. In his mind I'm sure still engaged in that process a little bit, but he's done a good job. He's a great kid and I'm hoping that it works out for him."

I asked Heater for his early impressions of another safety, 6-2, 211-pound Dee Finley who spent last year at a prep school.

"You know he's got a lot of football in him. He was kind of out of shape when he came in but he's work hard to get there. But I thought when we put the football pads on him that he was a guy who just showed he could play football. You can't evaluate 'football quotient' in a weight room or on a track. You put the football pads on this guy and he just kind of gets himself in a position to play. That's the way Ahmad Black was and it seems like Dee has that. He's been great, he's been real responsive to coaching and he's getting better."

Assuming everyone is healthy when camp opens in August you could make the argument that the weakest position on the team entering 2008 will be the strongest one just one year later.

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