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Gators Cornerback Room: Turning the Tide?

In the past few seasons, the Gators’ cornerback group has left much to be desired. Struggling with physicality and making one-on-one tackles has led to a plethora of griping from the fans. Deciding to switch things up, Billy Napier has brought in Will Harris as the new defensive backs coach. Coming over from the Los Angeles Chargers, Coach Harris has emphasized tackling during Spring Practices. Already showing improvement during the Orange and Blue game, fans are beginning to grow excited about this unit. Adding in some veteran transfers and bringing back core players was essential to the Gators’ success. Finally, with some momentum and expectations heading into next season, fans are no longer grumbling. Needing to start fast in week one against Miami, this Gators’ cornerback group will be pivotal toward a positive season.

5-star Leader

The undisputed leader of this group decided to forgo the NFL Draft and instead come back for his senior season. Jason Marshall Jr. has been in the Florida system for three seasons and will enter his fourth. He was initially rated as a 5-star prospect by, but he still has something to prove. Starting every game the past two seasons, the results have been mixed. His coverage skills are not questioned, as he led the Gators with 10 pass breakups. Recording three tackles for loss and a sack led to him having quite a productive season. Lately, the knock-on Marshall has been his consistency and effort. Showing a lack of effort to make tackles on tape, Marshall simply needs to work on his physicality. He is already top-notch when the ball is in the air; if he brings physicality, he will be a premier SEC cornerback.

Rising Playmaker

Injured for the better part of his career, Devin Moore has shown flashes when healthy. Forced to miss nearly half the season from injuries, he’s now ready to step up. Playing as a true freshman back in 2022, fans were pleasantly surprised by his contributions. Suffering from injuries since now is the time for him to make his mark on this defense. Widely expected to slate in next to Marshall as the other starting cornerback, this offseason is pivotal. He has proven productive on the field, with one interception and three pass breakups last season. Keeping his head down and working towards making a comeback, this is now his season to prove himself. If the Gators’ cornerback room wants to succeed, Moore will be the critical piece. Look for him to make plays for a team that has been lacking in creating turnovers.

Young Guns

Part of the Gators 2023 recruiting class, Ja’Keem Jackson received some early playing time. Seeing action in 11 out of the Gators’ 12 games, he had seven tackles and three pass breakups. Rated as a 4-star coming out of high school, Jackson was part of quite an impressive cornerback haul for the Gators. Bringing in three 4-star corners, he was the highest-rated out of the group. He played more as the season progressed, and he finished the last game against Florida State with two tackles. Mostly thought of as one of the weaker position groups, the Gators slowly turn this group into a strength. With six starting caliber players in this unit, the depth will be of no issue. Most likely not being a starter this upcoming season, Jackson will still be a vital part of this rotation.

The STAR position opened with cornerback Jaydon Hill opting to transfer to Texas A&M. A hybrid safety type of position, and this spot allows whoever is playing it to float around the defense. Rising sophomore Sharif Denson will look to fill that void. Perhaps having to compete with transfer Trikweze Bridges, many expect Bridges to stick to safety. If Bridges stays in the safety position, Denson could have a big season in his new role. Finishing last season with seven tackles and a tackle for loss, Denson carved his role on special teams. He was more of a reserve cornerback and had his best performance in the last game of the season. He showed flashes of what he could accomplish and should have significantly contributed this season. With a year of learning the system under his belt, he should be ready to go in week one against the Miami Hurricanes.

New Additions

Landing the commitment of the former number-one cornerback in the country is beneficial for this unit. Entering the portal after one season in Colorado, Cormani McClain was initially rated as a consensus 5-star prospect. Tabbed as a top 25 player in the transfer portal, he decided to take his talents to Gainesville. Playing one season for Deion Sanders in Boulder, he gave the Buffaloes plenty of ups and downs. Starting in four contests, he ended the season with 13 tackles and two pass breakups. Not having the season that many expected, he struggled often in coverage, with many dictating that he needed to put on weight. Many reports have indicated that he had quite an attitude problem when deciding to leave the Colorado program. He is a talented young man; if the Gators can harness his skills, McClain will be a stellar addition.

Napier found himself quite busy in the transfer portal, as he was also able to land cornerback Jameer Grimsley. Deciding to leave Alabama when Nick Saban retired, Grimsley found himself landing in Gainesville. As part of the 2024 recruiting class, he has yet to play a college down. Only at the Alabama program for a couple of weeks, he will have all four years of eligibility remaining. Rated as a 4-star out of high school and a top 100 transfer portal prospect, the Gators are getting quite the talent. Playing both ways in high school, the consensus has been that he will play cornerback at the next level. Providing the Gators with a lengthy corner, Grimsley measured in at 6 foot 2.5 and 187 pounds. Transferring to Florida early, he had the opportunity to take part in Spring Practice, learning the system.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports


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