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Gators defensive backs group looking for improvement, depth

<p>UF cornerback Jalen Tabor participates in Spring practice on March 11, 2016, at the Sanders Practice Facility. </p>

UF cornerback Jalen Tabor participates in Spring practice on March 11, 2016, at the Sanders Practice Facility. 

As Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson walked into Florida’s Indoor Practice Facility on Tuesday, teammate Marcus Maye made sure everyone in the building knew they had arrived.

"Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, everybody," he said, his voice echoing up and down the hollow building.

But his introduction, while courteous, was unnecessary.

Tabor and Wilson — along with Maye himself — are already proven, well-known commodities in UF's defensive backfield.

Last season, the trio was responsible for 25 pass breakups — the rest of the team combined had 29 — and grabbed eight of Florida’s 14 interceptions.

But in addition, the Gators also had NFL-Draft-pick-to-be Vernon Hargreaves, senior nickelback Brian Poole and hard-hitting safety Keanu Neal roaming the secondary.

All three are now gone.

Without counting other departed players or Tabor, Wilson and Maye, the rest of the team was responsible for only 10 pass breakups and had no interceptions in 2015

Who will fill the void alongside the trio in 2016?

Junior Duke Dawson seems like a likely candidate to replace Poole at nickel back, and he expects as much.

"I’ll be starting at nickel," he said.

"I’m rotating in at corner as well."

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Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said he's been happy with Dawson’s progress and noted that he’s seen him improve in spring.

"Duke’s been awesome," he said. "He’s explosive, a very good player… I tell you, I’m excited about Duke’s progression."

But beyond Dawson, question marks surround the secondary.

Wilson mentioned teammates who have played well this spring — Marcell Harris, Nick Washington, McArthur Burnett and Chauncey Gardner — but didn’t sound too inspired about where the team is at corner right now.

"There’s not really that much depth," he said, "so we all gotta stay healthy."

At safety, Harris and Washington will be counted on to step in and fill Neal’s old spot alongside Maye.

The two have underwhelmed during their time in Gainesville, but coaches seem to be gaining confidence in them.

And at corner, while depth is lacking, Tabor believes that the younger guys will step up when the time comes.

"They’re looking real good," he said. "A lot of people don’t know about them yet because of obviously who they got in front of them, but (they) are really going to be pretty good once they … get their opportunity."

Contact Ethan Bauer at ebauer@alligator.org and you can follow him on Twitter @ebaueri

UF cornerback Jalen Tabor participates in Spring practice on March 11, 2016, at the Sanders Practice Facility. 

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