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Florida Defensive Backs Spring Preview: Spring a time for reshuffling

March 11, 2019

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The Florida Gators are preparing for year two under Dan Mullen with significant hype after a 10 win 2018 season with a New Years Six bowl victory over Michigan. The Gators will begin preparations for 2019 with spring practice, which kicks off on March 12. In anticipation, Inside the Gators takes a look at every position; who’s returning, what needs to be proven and more.

To conclude we look at the defensive backs. 


Related: Read the entire spring practice preview series


Main Participants 

  • C.J. Henderson
  • Marco Wilson
  • Trey Dean
  • Donovan Stiner
  • Brad Stewart
  • Jeawon Taylor
  • Quincy Lenton
  • Shawn Davis
  • Brian Edwards
  • David Reese
  • C.J. McWilliams
  • Chris Steele
  • Jaydon Hill
  • John Huggins

Out this spring 

  • Marco Wilson will still be limited while recovering from an ACL injury

Arriving this summer 

  • Kaiir Elam
  • Chester Kimbrough


  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (early NFL departure)

Key Question:  How quickly will Trey Dean adapt to the STAR role?

Trey Dean is extremely talented, an incredible corner and grew up fast after being thrown into the fire as a freshman. There’s no doubting his abilities as a defensive back. The STAR position in Todd Grantham’s defense requires a lot of communication and flexibility and this is where it’s going to be interesting to watch Dean as he adjusts to the position. We believe he’ll be fine, but there’s going to be a learning curve. If he can replicate his spring practice performance from last year though he’ll have it largely down by the Orange and Blue game and fall training camp will be more a time for him to fine-tune his play at the coveted nickel spot.

Dean’s move to STAR will also cause a ripple at corner as coaches could turn to younger guys, like incoming freshman, to fill the rotational spots behind Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson.

Something to Prove:  Chris Steele

As a true freshman, we don’t want to place too many heavy expectations on Steele. But coming in as the Gators highest rated recruit from the 2019 class, he’s going to receiver the most eyes and therefore will need to navigate the tricky balance between doing enough to build off his recruiting momentum while not doing too much that could lead to faltering. He’s also coming into a position that has seen tremendous success from true freshmen the last two seasons (Wilson, Henderson then Dean) so the bar is high for the young corner.

He could surprise: Brad Stewart Jr.  

Stewart has an opportunity to take control of the safeties and become the number one guy there. He was one of the more exciting guys to watch in the back last season and a year of maturity and experience will have done him well. A good spring performance can prove he’s ready to become the leader here and take the safeties from somewhat of a liability to a dependable aspect of the secondary.

Keep an eye out for:  Quincy Lenton

Between a sparse redshirt freshman season then a season ending injury before the 2018 slate began, Lenton hasn’t been able to get on the field much. He’s always been a consistently productive guy when seen in practice though and could slip into the starting rotation at safety this season if he stays healthy long enough to show coaches what he’s got. Watch out for him to start his campaign this spring.

Florida Defensive Backs Spring Preview: Spring a time for reshuffling

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For a guy who isn't exactly programmed or built like a true corner I thought Dean did admirably holding Marco's spot last season. He's more physical, likes to mix it up at the line ...I think the STAR is a good fit for him. He needs to be on the field.

Steele looks more like a natural athlete than a true corner, but what do I know? ...some said the same about CJ when he was coming in too. I thought Elam looked more refined ...but I'm sure both will see the field a lot.

Safety is the big (?). Stewart has the ability to be All-SEC and I loved Sean Davis low near the line... and I'm still curious how they squeeze Burney out there for a majority of the snaps. I just hope it's not a position "by committee" type deal and 3-4 dudes really step up and separate themselves.
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Couple of my thoughts....

Cornerbacks & Star: 2018 Grade B+ / 2019 Expectation A
Henderson, Wilson & Dean.....not sure if it will be on the same level as the 2015 & 2016 (which were A+ elite) units, but 2019 promises to be MUCH improved over 2018!

Dean did an amazing job filling in for Wilson and while he flashed some "freshman" mistakes, he was pretty steady most of the season. Henderson was awesome in coverage and for the most part teams just avoided throwing the ball in his direction. McWilliams was by far the weakest link in this unit with respect to pass coverage (watch the LSU game first drive at how many passes went his way until he was replaced by Dean). Gardner was good in coverage and improved his tackling (thank you Savage) and was pretty much everywhere all of the time.

The obvious "watch to watch" this spring will be Chris Steele. With Wilson being limited due to his ACL recovery, Steele is probably going to get a lot of action at DB and that will be very interesting to watch for. Aside from that, this unit is pretty well known and I do not expect to see any surprises with respect to starters, but we may get a few transfer casualties post spring depending on how the depth chart settles.

Something that has been running around in my head is this...could we see Burney and Dean alternating at the STAR position depending on the situation? Meaning, Burney (who is a hybrid DB/LB) could play that position during run situations and Dean (who is a DB) could play that position in passing situations. Just a thought....

Safety: 2018 Grade C / 2019 Expectation B
As we suspected going into the 2018 season, this was going to be one of the trouble areas for the defense. The good news is, with the exception of Lock (Mizzu), Fromm (UGA), and Bentley (SC), Francois (FSU), Florida didn't face a lot of average to above average quarterbacks capable to exploiting them...but when we did face them, they pretty much lit them up! The only exception to that was the FSU game and that is probably because they are a hot mess (love it!).

Everyone is coming back, so that at least means we can expect a slight improvement in 2019 than what we saw in 2018.

The "what to watch" this spring will be Stiner & Taylor as I suspect that Stewart will lock down one of the starting positions (probably SS). The area to watch will be if someone else, perhaps Burney or Steele, get some time at this position too during the spring as the staff tries to figure out "position flexibility" in trying to get the best talent on the field. If Dean locks down the STAR position and is able to help in run support (which is critical for that role) then I would look for Burney to make a hard charge at the FS position...
---Go Gators!
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