Notebook: Gators looking for more out of humbled Dean

Sep 11, 2020 | 0 comments

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As a freshman in 2018, Trey Dean was thrown into the fire earlier than expected when starting cornerback Marco Wilson went down with a season-ending knee injury in the second game.

Dean started nine games at cornerback that season and fared well for the most part, although he did give up a couple of touchdowns by not turning his head around and looking for the ball. With Wilson back into the fold in 2019 and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson leaving, the Gators moved him to STAR, their version of the nickelback.

That experiment was nothing short of a disaster. Dean routinely struggled to make open-field tackles, one of the biggest components of the position, and seemed lost at times. After the Georgia loss, they moved him back outside to cornerback for the final four games.

With Dean splitting reps between corner and safety this fall, will the third time be the charm for him?

Safeties coach Ron English believes so because he’s seen a huge difference between Dean’s ears this offseason.

“He’s finally learned and matured in the sense that he’s really not arrogant like he was before,” English said. “I think we all know that when you’re arrogant, you miss stuff and you don’t grow as quickly as you could if you were more humble. So, that’s one of the biggest things he’s doing. He’s growing exponentially because he’s listening, which he didn’t always do that. He’s matured, and he’s humble. So, I’m really proud of him, and I’m really pleased.”

English wouldn’t reveal what exactly Dean had been immature about in the past but did say that it had nothing to do with rumors that Dean had resisted the coaches’ urges to move to safety in the past.

His teammates have noticed the increased maturity in him as well.

“He’s a real competitor, so he’s doing a good job of being versatile and just learning different things,” senior safety Donovan Stiner said. “He’s really focused on learning everything. He asks questions of all of us, and we all just try to help him and do what we can just to make sure he’s where he wants to be, and that’s someone who can play different positions.”

English believes Dean is more mature now simply because he’s older and he’s more confident. He thinks Dean’s arrogance might’ve simply been a coverup for a lack of internal confidence. Whatever the case, his newfound humility has translated into better performances on the practice field, English said.

“He had his best scrimmage in the last scrimmage,” he said. “His tackling has improved, his physicality has improved, his technique has improved, his discipline has improved. I’m pleased. He’ll help us this year at both those spots.

“Trey’s going to have a big year. I really think that. I really believe that in my heart, and I really like the way he’s come along.”

New approach to playing time at safety?

Last season, the Gators implemented a four-man rotation at the two safety spots. In theory, this decision made a lot of sense. The four players had similar skill and experience levels, and it’s important to have fresh players on the field in the fourth quarter of big games.

Still, the rotation became a bit frustrating at times for fans. Shawn Davis made two interceptions against Kentucky and a one-handed pick against Auburn but barely saw his playing time increased as the season went on. Meanwhile, Jeawon Taylor and Brad Stewart struggled mightily at times but still found themselves splitting snaps with Davis and Stiner.

English said they may consider tweaking the way they rotate this season to reward the players who are playing the best.

“When guys are kind of playing evenly, you can play them [interchangeably],” he said. “But when they’re not, you might have to react a little differently.”

Taylor is gone, but English likes what he’s seen from Davis, Stewart and Stiner so far this fall and feels comfortable with them.

“I feel good about going into the season with these players because they’ve played a lot of football and they’re mature and they’re physically mature,” he said. “When you watch them practice, they’re pretty physical players right now, and they’re smart.”

Becoming more physical was a point of emphasis for UF’s safeties this offseason. Toward that front, Stiner tacked on about six or seven pounds of muscle, and images have surfaced on social media that show Davis and Stewart looking noticeably more muscular. Their stronger bodies have led to more physical plays in practice.

“They’re striking linemen and knocking them around,” English said. “They’re finally getting it, the technique of striking. Once you understand the technique and what leverage really is and what power really is and what force really is and you can apply it, it works for you. I just think they’re going to be really, really physical, and I just talk to them all the time about lowering their targets. I really do because you’re going to get kicked out.”

Freshmen garnering rave reviews

The Gators signed three safeties in their 2020 recruiting class, and they’ll be counted on to provide quality depth this season and develop quickly, as UF will lose three seniors after this season.

Rashad Torrence II was the highest-rated of the trio and is ahead of the other two by virtue of enrolling in January and getting a couple of months in with the program before the virus shutdown, English said.

“He just flashes, he makes plays,” he said. “We certainly didn’t miss on him. He’s a really good football player. He’s mature, he’s smart, he’s conscientious. He’s everything you would want. I think our evaluation was spot-on there.”

Mordecai McDaniel, meanwhile, has been the biggest surprise of the newcomers.

“He is probably more athletic than I thought he would be,” English said. “He’s a big guy; he’s going to be a big man. But, he’s fast and athletic and explosive, even more so than I thought he would be.”

Tre’Vez Johnson has had the toughest adjustment to college because he’s training at STAR, a position that essentially requires him to do everything a defensive player could possibly do – cover, blitz, tackle in open space and set the edge against the run. When English coached at Michigan in the mid-2000s, they put their best defensive player at STAR.

Johnson struggled a bit at the beginning of the fall, but English believes that he has the physical tools that will allow him to succeed at the position eventually. They never clocked him over 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and he’s a physical player as well.

“I like his speed,” Stiner said. “I think he’s really fast. He seems fast and athletic, and I see him turn around with receivers, and he’s running step-for-step with everyone.”

Stiner likes what he’s seen from all three of them.

“I’ve been impressed by them, in my opinion,” he said. “They’re ballers. Just watching them in the scrimmage and stuff like that, they really fly around, they make plays and they play really hard.”

As a senior, Stiner feels an increased sense of responsibility to get the freshmen up to speed.

“I think leadership is a lot more important,” he said. “Last year, all of us were pretty much old guys, and we knew what we were doing already. But this year, we have to help the coaches in teaching the younger guys and being leaders out there and doing what we can to bring the younger guys up to the level that we’re at.”

They haven’t played in a game yet, but English thinks he hit a home run with his latest recruiting haul.

“I just feel like we did a nice job of evaluation, and we took the right guys,” English said.


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