NCF Nation: Moses Jenkins

Things will look a lot different for the Gators this season.

There will be a new coaching staff, which will feature the coordinators alongside the head coach on the ground instead of the booth, and there are a ton of new faces out there.

Monday, Florida released its depth chart for Saturday's opener against Florida Atlantic and there were a few surprises.

The first thing that stands out is that the Gators could line up with two true freshmen starters in the secondary. If that were to happen, it would be first time in school history that two true freshmen started in the secondary for the Gators during the season opener.

Coach Will Muschamp currently has De'Ante Saunders penciled in as the starter at free safety and Marcus Roberson at one of the corner positions. If Saunders starts, he would be the first true freshman to start for the Gators at safety on opening day. Saunders is also listed as the starter at the nickel.

Junior cornerback Jeremy Brown is questionable with a knee injury, so Moses Jenkins or Cody Riggs could start opposite Roberson.

Sophomore Sharrif Floyd is listed as a starting defensive end. Floyd began his career as a defensive tackle, but Muschamp wants to get the best players on the field and Floyd is versatile and strong enough to play outside. Senior William Green is behind him on the depth chart.

Sophomore Dominique Easley is set to start next to Jaye Howard inside.

On offense, Matt Patchan is listed as the starting right tackle. He's dealt with a handful of injuries through the years, but if he's healthy, he could be the Gators' top lineman.

Notre Dame transfer Dan Wenger, who had his Irish career cut short by concussions, came in as a center, but is listed as the starting left guard. Former guard Jonotthan Harrison is the starting center.

Quinton Dunbar is listed as the starting receiver at the X position. Dunbar has been one of the coaches' favorite players to watch this year and the thought is he could be a big-time deep threat this fall.

One other interesting note is that tight end Jordan Reed is also listed as the backup punt returner behind Chris Rainey. Reed isn't the shiftiest player, but he's very athletic and tough to bring down. Still, you'd think Florida would want to get one of its faster, more elusive players in the open space.
We head into high-flyer mode as we discuss defensive backs today. They are athletic as ever this season, and some teams return a bevy of secondary talent in 2011.

Here’s how the teams look:

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMark Barron decided to return to Alabama instead of making himself eligible for the NFL draft.
1. Alabama: This was an area of the team that was a problem and it wasn’t so much the yardage given up but the lack of consistency, especially in big games (see the Auburn game). This year, the Tide should have one of the best defensive backfields in the country. Safety Mark Barron could have entered the NFL draft, but stayed. And while he was in a non-contact jersey this spring, he’ll be one of the top safeties around this fall. Robert Lester is another solid safety who is also making everyone’s short list of top safeties for next year’s draft. At corner, everyone knows Dre Kirkpatrick, but DeQuan Menzie could be Alabama’s best weapon in the secondary. Dee Milliner is still in the mix at corner and there is a lot of good young talent as well.

2. LSU: No Patrick Peterson? No problem. The Tigers are once again loaded in their secondary with corners Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Both are All-SEC material and Claiborne led the Tigers with five interceptions last season. Mathieu found a way to get to the ball often last season and both should make it tough for any quarterback to throw on LSU this fall. Sophomore Tharold Simon made strong improvements at corner this spring as well. Safety Brandon Taylor is another top player at his position and he should be fine after suffering a foot injury at the end of last season. Youngsters Eric Reid and Craig Loston look like stars in the making at safety.

3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return five players who started at some point in 2010. Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley each recorded three interceptions and had 50-plus tackles last year. Broomfield should be the Bulldogs' top option at corner, while Banks can play both corner and safety. Charles Mitchell returns at safety and was third on the team with 93 tackles last season. All of Mississippi State’s defensive backs not only have a knack for making big plays down field but they can each play efficiently in the box.

4. Arkansas: This group is a little inexperienced, but there is a lot of talent to go around. Things start with safety Tramain Thomas. Thomas was fourth on the team in tackles last season and grabbed four interceptions. Thomas looked even better this spring, making play after play. Fellow senior Elton Ford should get time at safety, and converted corner Eric Bennett should get reps as well. Hybrid linebacker Jerico Nelson enhances the group when he drops back with the safeties and Isaac Madison returns at one of the corner spots and should team up with Darius Winston. The two have 27 career starts under their belts.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ secondary has to improve after underachieving a year ago, and South Carolina has the weapons to do it. Corner Stephon Gilmore wasn’t at his best last year, but has tremendous cover ability and speed to be tops at his position. Akeem Auguste moved from safety back to his more natural position at corner and should give the Gamecocks one of the top corner tandems in the SEC. DeVonte Holloman moved to the Spur linebacker spot, so there are still questions at safety, but D.J. Swearinger really impressed this spring and some think he’s the most gifted defensive back in Columbia. Replacing Holloman’s spot is going to be tough, and the coaches have yet to find someone to solidify that position.

6. Vanderbilt: This is the strongest part of Vanderbilt’s team. The Commodores return a heap of talent, starting with senior corner Casey Hayward, who was a second-team All-SEC pick a year ago. Hayward led the SEC with 11 pass breakups and had six interceptions. Safety Sean Richardson led the team with 98 tackles and would start on a lot of teams in the SEC. The other safety spot is occupied by Kenny Ladler, who was one of the top safeties in the league last season, even as a freshman. Junior Trey Wilson had a great spring and could move past last year’s starter Eddie Foster on the depth chart.

7. Georgia: Like most positions at Georgia, there’s no shortage of talent. However, there are still questions. Senior Brandon Boykin is solid at one of the corner spots with his natural corner instincts, great speed and is the defensive leader. Sanders Commings is talented and has the best size, but he’ll have to battle Branden Smith at the other corner spot. Smith is a total athlete, but he has to improve his coverage skills. Bacarri Rambo is solid at safety, but he needs to return to the form he had as a freshman. Finding someone to line up next to him is important. With Alec Ogletree moving to linebacker, there is a hole at safety and one of Georgia’s newcomers might have to step in this fall.

8. Florida: The Gators would have been higher on this list had it not been for the dismissal of All-SEC corner Janoris Jenkins. There’s a gaping hole at corner, and the hope is that junior Jeremy Brown can help fill it. He finally played after a severe back injury kept him out for two years, and while he struggled at times, Florida’s coaches were very impressed with his play this spring. Sophomore Cody Riggs was a pleasant surprise at corner last season and is battling unproven senior Moses Jenkins. There is nothing but youth and inexperience behind them. At safety, Matt Elam had a good spring at strong safety, while free safety wasn’t totally locked down by Josh Evans. The good news is that Florida signed six defensive backs this year.

9. Tennessee: This group could be decent, but there are so many questions. We aren’t sure if star Janzen Jackson will return after leaving school this spring. Prentiss Waggner moved from safety to corner last season, where he was an All-SEC performer, and then back to safety when Jackson left. But he might be back at corner this fall. If Waggner is a corner and there’s no Jackson, there’s an enormous hole at safety. If he stays at safety, then there’s one at corner. Fortunately, Brent Brewer, a former minor league baseball player, is a solid safety, and corner Marsalis Teague returns after converting from receiver last season. Incoming junior college transfer Byron Moore should compete immediately for time at corner.

10. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience with four senior starters returning, but the unit has to show that it can be consistent in big games. Safety/linebacker hybrid Winston Guy leads the group with his speed, strength and athleticism, and will move down into the box as the nickel linebacker. Seniors Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley are back at corner after combing for 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. Junior Martavius Neloms began the spring as the starter at corner, but could see more time at safety this fall. Mychal Bailey will line up at safety and was second behind Guy with two interceptions last season. Inexperience behind this group is still a problem.

11. Auburn: Things started off poorly when senior safety Michael McNeil was one of the four players arrested for robbery and later dismissed this spring. McNeil, who started seven games last season, was supposed to be one of the stars of the Tigers’ defense this fall. Now he’s gone and former corner Neiko Thorpe is moving over to safety. The move actually benefits the hit-first defensive back. T’Sharvan Bell is at corner and has the speed and tight cover skills to be one of the best at his position. After that, it’s a free-for-all. Incoming freshman Erique Florence should get an opportunity to come in and play immediately at safety.

12. Ole Miss: This group had to hear about how it was the goat of last season’s 4-8 campaign after allowing 246 passing yards a game. It was a motivational tool this spring, but there’s a lot of work to do. New defensive backs coach Keith Burns was pleased with the spring progress and really liked how JUCO transfer Wesley Pendleton played at corner. He’s competing to take one of those spots from either Marcus Temple, who missed spring with injury, or Charles Sawyer, who had to be pushed at times this spring. The reliable Damien Jackson is back at safety and could line up next to Brishen Mathews, who got good playing time last season, but is still unproven. JUCO transfer Ivan Nicholas and freshman Cliff Coleman will compete for time at safety and corner, respectively.
Florida won't be getting over the loss of All-SEC cornerback Janoris Jenkins anytime soon. His speed, athleticism, game knowledge and field range were too much to replace.

But new coach Will Muschamp, who made the terribly difficult decision to cut ties with Jenkins, is letting on that he's not concerned about the bodies he'll be putting out on the field at the position this season. While there might be internal hysteria for Muschamp, he's been pretty calm and collected about the subject while on the road for his many Gator Club meetings.

Muschamp hasn't shied away from the issue, but he meets each question about Jenkins and the other corners with pretty much the same response.

"We’ll be fine," Muschamp said at the Central Florida Gator Club in Orlando. "I’ll take the guys we’ve got."

[+] EnlargeJeremy Brown
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesRedshirt junior Jeremy Brown started 10 games at corner in 2010.
The guys he's referring to are redshirt junior Jeremy Brown, sophomores Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins, fifth-year senior Moses Jenkins, and freshman De'Ante "Pop" Saunders.

Muschamp might be OK with the players looking to fill Jenkins' void, but that's a pretty big void. And while he might have a handful of athletes to pick from, experience isn't a main attribute for them.

Riggs appeared in 13 games last fall, starting three. He made significant improvements, but at 5-foot-9, 166 pounds, can he start an entire season having to play opposite bigger, more physical receivers?

Brown missed his first two seasons at Florida because of a severe back injury. Before his injury, Brown was actually ahead of Jenkins on the depth chart.

Brown started 10 of the 11 games he played in last season and had three interceptions. However, he did get picked on at times, which could have been a sign that his body might not have been completely ready for a full season of football yet.

"We have to manage Jeremy and be very smart in training camp," Muschamp said. "He’s got a chronic back deal and that’s something we can manage him through, make sure that he gets good tackling work and still not put him at risk to injuring his back."

Moses Jenkins has the most years to his name, but has never been a true impact player for the Gators on defense. He's only started three of the 29 games he's played in and injuries cut his past two seasons short.

Watkins played mostly on special teams last season, while Saunders enrolled this spring. Muschamp said Watkins should be valuable to the position because of his knowledge of both corner spots. Saunders has very raw corner skills and he still has some learning to do in the coverage department.

This leaves Florida's new defensive staff with the task of getting a handful of incoming freshmen ready. The top prospect should be Fort Lauderdale, Fla., St. Thomas Aquinas' Marcus Roberson. While he looks like he'll eventually develop into a safety, Roberson will start off at corner this summer. He was No. 112 on the ESPNU 150 and was rated the ninth-best safety.

The Gators also brought in Loucheiz Purifoy and Valdez Showers to play corner. Both are extremely athletic, but also have raw corner skills.

Muschamp hasn't named starters and plans to work everyone out equally before the fall. He doesn't seem concerned with youth. He just wants to put the right players out on the field.

"Obviously, the freshmen will always get an opportunity if they’re good enough," he said. "If they can help us win football games they’ll have that opportunity."
The loss of senior cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was dismissed from the team Tuesday, leaves a major hole in Florida’s already inexperienced secondary.

Let’s face it: Jenkins was Florida’s best defensive player and arguably the Gators’ best player overall. So, it took a lot of guts for Florida coach Will Muschamp to dismiss him.

[+] EnlargeJanoris Jenkins
Kim Klement/US PresswireSenior corner Janoris Jenkins was dismissed from the Gators after his second drug-related arrest in three months.
Jenkins, a three-year starter, was named to the All-SEC first team by the Associated Press in 2010 and held the SEC’s top two receivers from 2010 -- South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery and Alabama’s Julio Jones -- to a combined 10 catches for 72 yards in two games.

He seemed to take his entire side of the field out of play and had eight career interceptions.

So where does Florida turn now that Jenkins is gone?

Florida now turns to sophomore Cody Riggs, redshirt junior Jeremy Brown and fifth-year senior Moses Jenkins to carry its secondary.

Fortunately, they all received quality reps in practice after Janoris Jenkins missed all of spring practice recovering from shoulder surgery.

None of Florida’s immediate options has a lot of experience, but Brown and Riggs did play extensively in 2010.

Brown, who missed his first two seasons at Florida because of a severe back injury, started 10 of the 11 games he appeared in last season. He recorded three interceptions, including one that went 52 yards for a touchdown.

Riggs played in all 13 of Florida’s games in 2010, starting three, and recorded one interception.

Moses Jenkins started Florida’s season opener, but missed most of the rest of the season with an elbow injury. He returned on Nov. 20 against Appalachian State and started in Florida’s 31-7 loss to Florida State -- a game in which FSU quarterback Christian Ponder picked on him.

Then there’s sophomore Jaylen Watkins, who appeared in 10 games last season, but mostly on special teams.

Of those four, Riggs and Brown could be the best options at the two corner spots for Florida. Brown was impressive at times last year and didn’t seem to be bothered by his back, but he occasionally looked like a player who had been out of football for two years by getting turned around on deep plays.

Riggs was a pleasant surprise for the Gators last season, earning more playing time throughout the season, but he was picked on from time to time. In his defense, he was fresh out of high school and going up against SEC talent.

Moses Jenkins has the most experience, but a concussion in 2009 and an elbow injury in 2010 have really impacted his career.

After that, Florida will have to look at its incoming freshmen for help.

Florida signed four potential corner prospects in its 2011 recruiting class. One of those signees -- De’Ante Saunders -- went through spring practice, but struggled at times and was listed as a backup in the nickel corner spot.

Former Fort Lauderdale, Fla., St. Thomas Aquinas standout Marcus Roberson probably has the most skill of Florida’s defensive back signees, but with his size he could potentially move to safety. This recent development could force Florida’s coaches to keep him at cornerback longer than expected.

Signees Louchiez Purifoy and Valdez Showers were two of Florida’s most athletic recruits in this class, but are pretty raw at the corner position. It would be hard to believe Florida’s coaches would expect either to be able to contribute at the corner spot early for the Gators.

There is talent there, but it clearly lacks experience. It says a lot about Muschamp to kick a player off with Janoris Jenkins' ability, especially considering the bind his secondary is now in.

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