Gators' secondary grows up the hard way

August, 8, 2008
8/08/08
9:50
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A few leftovers from the Gators' media day after spending much of the day on Florida's campus:

* Joe Haden, one of two true freshmen starting in the Gators' much maligned secondary last season, is sporting a new number. He's gone from No. 12 to No. 5.

Part of the switch is that Haden has always worn a single-digit number, but he also wanted a fresh start after the Gators finished last in the SEC in pass defense a year ago.

"It's a whole new beginning. I just wanted to start off fresh again," said Haden, a cornerback.

Haden conceded that he was a "freshman that really didn't know what was going on" last season. He said he watched the Michigan tape from the Capital One Bowl just once, and that was enough. The Woverines had 524 yards in total offense in a 41-35 win.

"We've come together as a defense," he said. "We're much tighter, and we've got guys who've gone through the growing pains. Our goal is to lead the SEC in interceptions. We know we're way better than what we showed last year."

* There won't be any shortage of speed on this Florida team. In fact, freshman Jeffrey Demps thinks he could put four guys together and win the 4x400 relay at the NCAA track championships.

Demps, who ran the 100 meters in 10.01 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Trials, will get a shot at running back, the slot and on returns. Demps might be the fastest on the team, but Chris Rainey, Louis Murphy and Harvin aren't far behind.

This summer, Rainey actually beat Demps in a race.

"I think we're the fastest team in football," Demps said. "Every time I talked to Coach (Urban) Meyer in the recruiting process, he'd say, 'Speed kills,' and I'd say, 'Definitely in the Swamp.' "

* Meyer thinks the Gators' offensive line will be the most underrated part of the team.

And with senior left tackle Phil Trautwein returning after missing last season with a stress fracture in his right foot, Florida offensive line coach Steve Addazio thinks the Gators will also be as versatile as they've been.

"I think we have the power and the relentlessness to be a grind-it-out, knock-em-back (line)," Addazio said. "But I think we have the athleticism to protect in this conference and also play what is perceived to be more of a finesse style, some option on the perimeter. That's a combination of athleticism and then power. We have the guys that can do both."

* The Nov. 1 Georgia game came up more than once Friday, and most of the Florida players did their best to bite their tongues.

But not everybody was completely diplomatic about the Bulldogs' celebration in the end zone last season after scoring their first touchdown.

"I know our program would never do anything like," sophomore center Maurkice Pouncey said. "But that's the difference between us and them. If that's what their program is based on, doing stuff like that, that's their deal. I know our program would never do anything like that, especially with Coach Meyer here."

* Some of the best news for the Gators on offense has been senior running back Kestahn Moore's start to preseason camp.

Meyer knocked on wood as he was saying it, but said that Moore had been dynamic. The Gators also plan to use Moore some at fullback and would love to see him take some of the burden off Tim Tebow in short-yardage situations.

"He won't be a traditional fullback, but can catch it and run it," Meyer said. "That's another little wrinkle we have."

* Meyer said one of the most improved players on the team to this point has been redshirt freshman Jaye Howard, who's moved from defensive end to tackle.

The Gators are looking for help at tackle, although defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said the talent and bodies are there.

"We'll roll guys in and try to wear people down," Strong said. "We just need some guys to develop."

Strong said it's time for guys like third-year sophomores Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh to step up and be players.

* The early word on the most likely true freshmen to play this season, according to the different coaches I talked with, are safety Will Hill, defensive tackle Omar Hunter, cornerbacks Jeremy Brown and Janoris Jenkins, receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr., defensive end William Green and Demps.

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