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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Florida position previews: cornerbacks and safeties

Young secondary room features just one true senior

Freshman cornerback Ja'Keem Jackson lines up against freshman wide receiver Aidan Mizell in the Orange and Blue Spring Game Thursday, Aug. 15, 2023.
Freshman cornerback Ja'Keem Jackson lines up against freshman wide receiver Aidan Mizell in the Orange and Blue Spring Game Thursday, Aug. 15, 2023.

The Florida Gators will look to new faces to try to reclaim their title as “Defensive Back U” for the 2023 season. 

The secondary room went through several changes during the offseason. Of the nine defensive backs who recorded at least one start last season, five departed the team either through the NCAA Transfer Portal or through the 2023 NFL Draft. 

Junior cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. is the only returning defensive back who started in every game in 2022. 

His 20 career starts are the most of any current Florida cornerback. The former five-star recruit compiled nine pass deflections, one interception and 20 tackles last season. Marshall’s performances in Spring camp also did not go unnoticed by coaches. 

“Jason Marshall has been lights out,” said UF head coach Billy Napier in a March 28 press conference. 

The Gators' secondary will also be coached solely by Corey Raymond after Napier promoted him from cornerbacks' coach to assistant head coach and secondary coach. 

Redshirt junior cornerback Jaydon Hill noted how the team feels closer after the coaching change. 

“We're all on the same page to an extent,” Hill said in a July 30 press conference. “We communicate well, and I feel like our communication on the field has gotten way better.”

Hill has the chance to be the starting cornerback opposite Marshall for the 2023 season. He caught two interceptions — including one for a pick-six — and made four pass deflections in nine starts last season. 

Two more notable returnees at corner are redshirt junior Jalen Kimber and sophomore Devin Moore. Kimber — who transferred from Georgia — played all 13 games and had a 39-yard pick-six against South Florida Sept. 17, 2022. Moore only featured in five games but joined UF as a four-star recruit. 

The Gators also added four new freshman cornerbacks. Freshman cornerback Ja’Keem Jackson — Florida’s highest-rated recruit from the 2023 class — is expected to make the most immediate impact. 

Napier noted Jackson as one of the young players on the team who has made significant progress in training camps, he said.

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Other new additions include freshmen cornerbacks Sharif Denson, Dijon Johnson and Aaron Gates.

The safety room features the only true senior in the entire secondary. Senior safety Jadarrius Perkins appeared in 12 games last season but didn’t start in any of them. He racked up 14 tackles, two pass deflections and one interception. 

Perkins could look to fill one of the starting safety spots left by former Gators Rashad Torrence II and Trey Dean who both left for the NFL Draft. 

Napier described the safety position as one that will rely on the younger players on the team due to the lack of depth and experience. 

“That's a position where we're a little thin,” Napier said in a March 11 press conference. “It's one of the positions in our team where the young players will be forced into the mix”

Former four-star freshman safety Jordan Castell is a player who has flashed in practices, Napier said. The 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound safety has already made significant progress in training camps, Napier added.

A notable returner is sophomore safety Kamari Wilson. The Fort Pierce, Florida, native played in all 13 games in his first season at UF and started two games. He made 39 total tackles, made one pass deflection and forced one fumble. 

Although Wilson is only a sophomore, the former top-100 recruit is already one of the more experienced Gators and has been looked at as a veteran presence amongst the other defensive backs. 

“I feel like he's accepted that role, he's doing it at a pretty good high level,” Hill said in a March 11 press conference. 

Florida bolstered the safety group with more experience after it added Michigan transfer R.J. Moten. The junior safety played in all 14 of the Wolverine’s games last season and made 10 starts. 

He recorded 31 total tackles, two pass breakups and hurries and caught one interception. 

Moten has started the most games out of any other player in UF’s current safety room and could add some key veteran experience. 

Florida will return some key players to the secondary, but overall it will be a position group where freshmen will have the chance to step up and make an immediate impact. 

The Gators will open the 2023 season on the road against the No. 14 Utah Utes at 8 p.m. Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. 

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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