Florida is known as “DBU” for a reason.
Year after year, the team’s secondary boasts some of the best defensive backs in not only the SEC, but in all of college football.
In 2019, the unit figures to again be one of the strongest on UF’s depth chart.
The tandem of CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson should be reunited on the field when the Gators matchup with Miami in the season opener on Aug. 24.
Henderson, a junior from Miami, was a mainstay in the lineup during the 2018 season, starting all 13 games. He accumulated 38 total tackles as a sophomore, hauling in two interceptions and defending nine passes on the year. He collected his first three sacks as a Gator during his sophomore campaign, forcing two fumbles as well.
Expect the 6-foot-1, 191-pound corner to contend for the Jim Thorpe Award this season, the honor given to college football’s best defensive back.
Wilson appeared in just two games in 2018 after he sustained a season-ending knee injury against Kentucky.
The redshirt sophomore wore a knee brace through all of spring practice but still managed to show some of the athletic ability that allowed him to make the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2017. His 10 pass breakups were the most by a true freshman since Vernon Hargreaves knocked down 11 in 2013.
After those two, sophomore Trey Dean III stands out the most.
Now that Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a New Orleans Saint, Dean figures to assume the STAR position (hybrid linebacker/cornerback) that Gardner-Johnson has left vacant.
Due to Wilson’s injury and Florida’s lack of corner depth in 2018, Dean was thrown into the starting lineup opposite of Henderson in the third game of the season. He started nine of the final 10 games, picking up the second-most pass breakups on the team with six. Against Florida State, he picked off FSU quarterback Deondre Francois for his first-career interception.
His aggressive style of play and overall physicality on the field should mesh well with his new role for Florida’s secondary in 2019.
The backside of the secondary isn’t quite as talented, but the returning experience should help bridge that gap.
Safeties Donovan Stiner, Brad Stewart Jr. and Jeawon Taylor all went through up and down seasons in 2018, but the trio showed enough flash that, with more consistency, should give Gators fans hope for 2019.
Taylor is the most experienced, entering this season as a senior. Though he has battled injuries throughout his career at UF, he stayed on the field in his junior season and played in all 13 games.
Taylor had 64 total tackles, including an eight-tackle performance against Michigan in the Peach Bowl.
Stiner and Stewart fought inconsistencies throughout 2018, but both share key moments in 2018 that sealed huge victories for the Gators.
Against Mississippi State, Stiner fired in from the secondary on a safety blitz to sack Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and seal a 13-6 victory for UF. He started in 12 games at safety, totaling 49 tackles and two interceptions.
Stewart was behind what was probably the most exciting play during Florida football’s 2018 season.
Against LSU, with UF up 20-19 late in the fourth, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior from New Orleans stepped in front of a Joe Burrow pass, picking it off and returning it into the endzone to help secure arguably UF’s biggest win of 2018. He had 41 tackles during his sophomore season, tallying two interceptions and two pass breakups in seven starts.
Follow Evan Lepak on Twitter @evanmplepak. Contact him at [email protected].