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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Safeties coach Chuck Heater jokingly called himself Mother Teresa after practice last week.

He was referring to his ability to resurrect Ahmad Black's career a year ago, but he could have been talking about his work with the entire secondary in 2008.

UF allowed an average of 258.5 yards through the air a game in 2007 and ended the season on a sour note when the Gators let Michigan quarterback Chad Henne complete 25 of 39 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns albeit with two interceptions.

The secondary faced plenty of criticism during the 2008 preseason, especially with Black, a cornerback turned safety, forced into use due to Dorian Munroe's preseason ACL injury.

The tune is much different in 2009 after UF allowed only 179.9 passing yards per game last season, and the Gators return all four starters - Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins at corner and Major Wright and Black at safety.

"It seems like every year he pulls a guy out," coach Urban Meyer said of Heater. "He's one of the best coaches in America, and we're fortunate to have him."

The battle to start at safety this season will be even more heated with Munroe recovered from his knee injury and sophomore Will Hill quickly developing into one of the defense's most improved players.

Heater said Hill wasn't really ready to play until midway through last season but finished the year strong while seeing plenty of time at the nickel corner position.

That will likely continue in 2009 as Meyer said UF will likely play a lot of three-safety sets to maximize the Gators' talent.

"We want to make sure we have creative ways to have (Hill) on the field because he's going to be one of our best players," Heater said. "Last year, we made sure he was on the field at the end of the season."

Having four experienced guys at safety changes the tone of two-a-days as well.

"You know what they can do," Heater said. "The challenge is to get them to do it again and then to get them to do it better. It's easy to get distracted and forget about how you got there."

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The corner position should have plenty of depth as well, with Jenkins and Haden returning and Moses Jenkins and Markihe Anderson the likely backups. Redshirt freshmen Adrian Bushell and Jeremy Brown could also see significant time.

Heater doesn't worry about bruising egos with playing time.

"I tell them, 'You earn the right to play, and our job is to find ways to get them on the field and play,'" Heater said. "I've always prided myself on that. Honestly, it's rare to have a situation where you have everyone deserving to play.

"If that happens, that's great for the Gators."

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