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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Though UF's secondary may want to erase every memory from last season, the Gators don't plan to any time soon.

When Reggie Nelson decided to forgo his senior season last year to turn pro, his absence left a gaping hole. UF had to rely on two starting freshmen, cornerback Joe Haden and free safety Major Wright, and nearly every opponent torched the Gators' secondary.

The reality was hard to face for a team that had just won a national championship and boasted a stellar defense. In the Capital One Bowl alone, Michigan put up 524 total yards.

"We went from winning the BCS Championship the year before and having one of the best pass defenses and rushing defenses in the country to that," corner Markihe Anderson said. "That's the way we want to put ourselves back to. The way they put up yards on us is not the way UF plays defense. That's motivation for us to go and become the best pass defense and rush defense in the nation."

Now, with new coach Vance Bedford heading the pack, the Gators hope a sophomore class and some highly regarded recruits can stop being the team's weakest link.

"The biggest thing to me is the confidence they have in themselves," Bedford said. "No matter what anyone else says, if you don't believe in yourself, I don't care what type of ability you have, you can't go out there and perform."

So he praises them when they merit it and pulls them aside when they do something wrong to explain how to perform better. The players have taken to their new coach quickly, and two of UF's most promising early enrollees belong to the secondary.

Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Jeremy Brown have been the prized pair of the group. They haven't missed a class or a workout, and coach Urban Meyer said he expects their dedication to trickle onto the field.

After the first practice last Wednesday, Jenkins admitted he felt frustrated with getting used to the college game.

"I didn't even know the plays," Jenkins said. "They (the coaches) didn't give me the plays. It just means I have to take matters into my own hands and go get the plays and learn them myself."

Returning players, like Haden, have tried to guide the freshmen through spring practice by offering advice and keeping up the enthusiasm. Any time a defensive player breaks out against the offense, the group joins together to jump around, chanting and slapping each other on the back.

"There's probably more pressure this year because last year, they knew all of us were young, so they weren't expecting as much," Haden said. "I feel like we're doing really good this off-season. A lot more so compared to last year. This is just a really good defensive team."

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