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Florida Football

Florida's corners working overtime to upgrade outlook of defense

August 8, 2018
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Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson were the only one’s left. As the rest of their teammates (a handful of whom had also stayed after practice on their own) filed away to the locker room following another hot afternoon of fall camp, the two sophomore corners remained on the field, going one-on-one against each other.

They provided a fitting background as Charlton Warren, their position coach, stood just inside the indoor practice facility and talked about the focus he wants to see from his corners.

“I think in this generation with cell phones and all the distractions they have, all the social media, I think when they come to the football facility they have to block all that out. Not that other things in their life aren't important but for these two hours or three hours we get these guys, the most important thing you can do in that moment is know what to do for your teammates, be accountable to your teammates.

“So I think just always telling those guys 'ok we're here now. Before you got here that was great. Everything now is blocked out. Let's focus on your brothers in the room and get better for each other.' And I think for these guys, putting their cell phones away; put them in your locker, don't touch them again. That's the kind of mindset they gotta have as we get through camp because they're learning playbook, they're learning tempo. They got the heat, they got the daily grind of school still, they're still taking school. So this is sorta the escape for the moments they're here, they gotta be fully invested in what we're doing in the building." 

The message comes a day after Warren had to bark at his players in practice a reminder that camp had started so no outside distractions were to get their attention while they were on that field.

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Telling that to Wilson and Henderson may be preaching to the choir a bit as the two come in already touted as one of the best cornerback duo’s in college football. But it’s also because of that exact fact that Warren doesn’t want anyone to get too comfortable in their hype and instead is constantly pushing competition between the two with freshman Trey Dean and sophomore Brian Edwards. And as Marco Wilson has continually said, that competition can be with their own selves just as much as each other.

“I wasn’t really excited about my freshman year performance,” he admitted during the Gators media day.

“Yea people might think it was good but I know I have a lot more to handle and I don’t want, I just don’t want to stay like this. I want to keep growing…I want to be the best, I want to be better than everybody out there.”

It’s a mindset that lends itself to the competition Warren wants to see and subsequently the growth that will make a difference in a unit.

“The way you win in football is to have depth at positions so all these guys are out there battling every single day because no one's been penciled in 'this is the guy that's starting on the first game.' They're proving that out here in camp every day. So I think that they, it's a competition. Everybody's working, everybody's grinding cause everybody wants to play. So whether they're young or old, they just gotta grow up fast." 

Growing up fast will almost be a necessity for a unit that boast one freshman and three sophomores. But that can work in the favor of a young guy ready to play, explains Warren.

“I tell them their time is now. You don't come to University of Florida saying I have to wait. You come to University, find ways to contribute and whatever that is. We talk about special teams, we talk about playing corner, talk about playing STAR. There's a bunch of ways and you want to have depth.”

Speaking of STAR—the name the Gators use for the nickelback position—Warren says the competition extends there as well as Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has taken to the role like a fish with water and began to challenge even himself.

“He's savvy, he's very versatile. He's played at the safety position in his career here, he's played the corner position, he's blitzed before. So I think that makes him a very versatile guy that has the ability to play really three positions on our defense. He studies the game well. He's into it so I think for him it's a challenge to be a versatile football player that can make plays in different areas on the field so I think the position's really good for him and I think he's embraced it." 

The Gators finished in the Top 30 in passing defense in 2017, giving up 195.4 yards per game, but it’s still a far cry from where this defense normally sits and where they expect to be; the corners can go a long way towards changing that this season. It’s what’s on their minds as they work this fall, late into the day and by themselves as the sun sets on them.

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