Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Saturday, June 15, 2024

There are certain things I know you just can't say to a UF fan.

Some statements are considered blasphemy, like "Tebow is overrated," or "the Swamp is ugly."

Relax, I'm not saying either of those things, but what I am saying has been met with almost equal opposition: Chris Rainey should play defensive back.

Before you crumple up the page or start drawing on my charmingly handsome picture, at least hear me out. There are several reasons why the move would make sense, and the coaches think so, too. In fact, Rainey worked out with the defensive backs during the two-minute drill on Wednesday.

First of all, I think anyone would agree that Rainey is immensely talented and could handle a switch, especially this early in his career.

In addition to his role as a wide receiver/running back, he is also being used on virtually every special teams combination.

This year, you will see him touch the ball on offense, return kicks and maybe attempt to block a few punts or field goals.

It's hard to pin down the best way to utilize his talents. At Lakeland High that meant getting him the ball as often as possible by putting him at running back.

His small frame - 5-foot-9, 156 pounds - wasn't a factor in high school because he faced few opponents capable of even catching him, much less laying a solid hit on him.

In the Southeastern Conference, things will be a lot different.

Every team the Gators face has players on defense that can do some serious damage to a running back's body - even Western Kentucky and Troy.

In spring practice, Rainey got a wakeup call when safety Major Wright hit him hard enough that the clip could be featured in Urban Meyer's "Hit City" video, and that lick was from a true freshman.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

Even if he did remain a primarily offensive player, Rainey faces a logjam in the backfield that will only get worse next year when USC transfer Emmanuel Moody is able to play.

Moody will probably be around for two years, with Kestahn Moore, Mon Williams, Chevon Walker and Bo Williams also in the mix, not to mention potential recruits.

Those five are much more likely to be every-down backs than Rainey, because their size allows for more durability and blocking, something that is very high on Meyer's list.

UF is also loaded at receiver, where Rainey would have to outwork bigger, stronger players to see the field with any regularity.

Meanwhile, the Gators noticeably lack depth at defensive back, where a stable of young, inexperienced players are competing for field time.

In that slot, Rainey's size wouldn't be as much of a factor because he would be clashing with wideouts and the occasional running back rather than taking on linebackers and defensive linemen.

The fact that Rainey is faster and more athletic than all of the current defensive backs makes the idea more enticing.

Also, a switch would put Rainey in a better position for an NFL career, where the "slash" players that Meyer values are not as wanted.

None of this is to say that Rainey can't get bigger - he has been eating and working out furiously since arriving in Gainesville - or that he isn't tough - he popped right up after the hit he took from Wright - but giving him a few touches per game on offense with a limited special teams role while hoping he stays healthy isn't the best way to use him. Letting him have those same few touches while making him a regular on defense and special teams is, and it will benefit the Gators much more if Rainey can learn the defensive schemes.

It's clear Rainey has the talent, but he must gain the mind of a defensive player.

"At corner you have to have a brain as well," said UF safety Tony Joiner after Wednesday's practice. "I really don't know his mental capacity or how well he will learn the game. Athletic-wise, for Chris Rainey, he definitely can play that position."

In fact, there aren't many reasons not to use Rainey on defense if he can handle the mental side of it.

This can be accomplished best by easing Rainey into the role, maybe starting in dime and nickel packages.

He'll have a great study partner. His roommate, Joe Haden, recently switched from receiver to corner and will start on Saturday.

UF wouldn't be losing a playmaker if Rainey switches. They'd be gaining a bigger one. A sad fact is that athletic ability isn't valued as heavily on defense by fans.

Imagine if the Gators had decided to put Reggie Nelson on offense last year. The idea would have been met with wild excitement, but the thought of Rainey on defense gives UF fans fits.

Plenty of teams have used their most talented athletes on defense. Consider Michigan's Charles Woodson, Florida State's Deion Sanders and Georgia's Champ Bailey - all of whom contributed on offense and special teams but were primarily defensive players. The three of them were a major force in every game and went on to successful NFL careers.

Are you sick of hearing your FSU buddies yap about how great Deion was?

Well, Chris Rainey has a chance to be the Gators' "Prime Time," except perhaps Rainey would occasionally make a tackle or two.

Besides, Rainey has already shown that he has the charisma and personality to match Sanders, and with his athleticism and work ethic, he could score just as many touchdowns from the defensive side as he would on offense.

He has the potential to be a star, and he needs to be on the field as much as possible.

Playing on defense will provide him with more playing time, a longer career and maybe even more wins for the Gators.

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.