Secondary battle to continue through season

Secondary battle to continue through season

With cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Keanu Neal locked into starting jobs, Will Muschamp isn’t sure when he’ll settle on the rest of the starters. Practice will determine who is on the field to start Saturday’s opener against Idaho, but the coaches will rotate the young players to see how they handle game situations.

The practice reps only mean so much. The Gators haven’t practiced in front of more than 1,000 people this fall, and once they take the field on August 30, that changes. They’ll be in front of a large crowd in The Swamp, and the younger players will need to handle the emotions.

“I think to get a true indicator of where some of those guys is in game time situations,” Will Muschamp said. “I think that they’re all athletically more than capable. How they’re going to adapt with going through the anxiety of game day, playing in front of 90,000 people, computing the call communicating the call within that, taking their eyes in the right spots.

“There’s nothing athletically those guys can’t do. They’re extremely talented, but what would be the best combination right now, I couldn’t answer that.”

There are still a lot of options in the second. Marcus Maye’s hamstring injury complicates things, as he was expected to play the nickel. If he can’t, the Gators can slide Jabari Gorman or Brian Poole inside to the nickel position. Poole has played well as an outside cornerback this fall and will get reps thee during the season.

Muschamp also mentioned safeties Marcell Harris and Nick Washington as two that “continue to do a pretty good job” but need to be more consistent.

Most of the players that have at least a year of experience don’t need to show the coaches what they can do on the field. They’ve already handled the emotions of game day in The Swamp, and the coaches know what can be expected from them.

The questions come with the freshmen.

Muschamp has been impressed with four of them and said Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson will all have a chance to show what they can do on the field. Dawson suffered a head injury that set him back, but he has shown “flashes and athleticism to be very good” at cornerback and safety.

After practices next week, the coaches will decide what the first team secondary will look time when the season opens against Idaho. But after that opening drive, they’ll rotate players and give them all a chance.

“All of those guys have earned the right to have the opportunity to step on the field and play, and I have confidence in all of them,” Muschamp said.

INJURY REPORT: Florida has welcomed its injury luck this camp. Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe (high ankle sprain) is expected to return on Monday. Defensive back Marcus Maye (hamstring) is expected to return to practice on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The lack of injuries has been a positive for the coaches after they battled multiple injuries last fall. There have been only two soft tissue injuries in camp.

“That’s outstanding,” Muschamp said. “That’s the best I’ve been around. That tells you we’re training the right way.”

Muschamp said the coaches continue to monitor Matt Rolin’s snaps. He’s barely over a year past his second ACL surgery, and they want to play it safe with the number of snaps he plays. D.J. Durkin said on Thursday that he is participating in position drills but hasn’t been on the field for 11-on-11 drills yet.

WALK-ONS EARN SCHOLARSHIPS: When the team wrapped up practice on Friday, Muschamp gave them a speech about being bought into the program and being a part of the success. He then called receiver Mike McNeely and kicker Frankie Velez in front of the team and told them they would be on a full scholarship this season.

For a former walk-on like Muschamp, it’s even more special.

“Awesome, absolutely awesome,” Muschamp said of it.. “I earned a scholarship when I went to school and I’ll never forget the feeling when my coach, Ray Goff, walked up to me and said you earned your scholarship. That means you have now gained the respect of your staff and your teammates, not that you didn’t have it before. But now you’re recognized as one of the guys, not that you weren’t before. And that’s why walk-ons are so important to me.

“They’re treated no different than a scholarship player. They’re not going to get as many turns and opportunities because obviously we have invested ourselves into some of these scholarship players that we feel like may be further along. But we’re not always right either. So there’s nothing better than that feeling of seeing that today and being able to do that on the field with Frankie and Mike. They’re two very well-deserved young men.”

BACKUP BATTLE RAGES ON: The coaches will meet on Friday to watch the film from practice and have more conversations about the backup quarterback job, but at the conclusion of practice when Muschamp spoke to the media, there was still no movement from Will Grier, Treon Harris or Skyler Mornhinweg.

" All three of those guys have done a nice job and all three of those guys bring good things to the table,” Muschamp said. “We just need to make the best decision for Florida."

The Florida coach has made it clear since the offseason that the backup quarterback will play this season. He wants to build depth at the position and avoid something like last season where Jeff Driskel got hurt and there was no experience behind him.

Muschamp said he would like to get the backup quarterback into the game by the second quarter of the season opener against Idaho.

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