The debate over “Defensive Back University” — or #DBU — has received a fair amount of play on the Internet this offseason.
A Florida Gators fan made a highlight video touting UF’s credentials at the “DBU,” quickly sparking an online squabble between fans and players from Florida, LSU, Ohio State and Texas.
Gators All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III — widely regarded as one of the premier defensive players in the country — insists he isn’t interested in a silly “Twitter debate,” but the junior did say, “I’m not a big talker. I don’t like to talk but this year we’ll prove it. … We can be the best if we want to be.”
UF certainly has the talent.
Florida’s secondary is the team’s preeminent strength, and the best or not, it’s a star-studded unit with at least half a dozen legitimate NFL prospects.
Hargreaves is the group’s centerpiece, but Jalen Tabor was a freshman All-American last season; junior safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye are veteran playmakers; versatile senior Brian Poole is among the most underrated defensive backs in the SEC; and sophomores Quincy Wilson and Duke Dawson appear poised for breakout seasons.
“We’ve got a lot of range and a lot of depth,” said Neal, who has exceled early in training camp, including making the highlight of practice Saturday with a ridiculous one-handed interception.
“We say we’re the best in the country, and now we’ve got to do it.”
The Gators didn’t have the best secondary in 2014, but they consistently improved as the season progressed. Last year, UF’s secondary was comprised almost exclusively of underclassmen, and it was subsequently torched early in the season by Alabama (449 yards, five touchdowns) and Kentucky (369 yards, three touchdowns).
But UF’s defensive backs rebounded with standout performances against Missouri, South Carolina and Florida State. The Gators picked off Jameis Winston four times, nearly upsetting the No. 5 Seminoles in Tallahassee.
“We had mental errors earlier in the season,” Neal explained. “Now we’ve built more chemistry. We had young guys. We had myself out there, [we] didn’t have much experience.
“But as we went throughout the season, we built more chemistry, got closer, and understood each other and how we play together. That helped us a lot.”
Said Maye: “We’ve gotten better every year. The more you do anything, the better you get at it. The more opportunities you have to be around each other makes a difference. We’re close. … We set high expectations for each other.”
The Gators finished last season just 42nd nationally in yards per game (213.6), but they ranked No. 10 in passing defense efficiency.
Now they’ve set their eyes on being No. 1.
Neal spent the offseason improving his communication. Hargreaves added 15 pounds of muscle. Wilson, Dawson and Tabor all changed their bodies in the new strength-and-conditioning program.
UF’s secondary stable is so deep that former four-star prospects Nick Washington, Marcell Harris and freshman Chris Williamson are buried on the depth chart.
“We’ve had pretty good secondaries [in the past], but I think this one can really be special,” Poole said. “We’ve got all the pieces. We’ve all played together. There’s a lot of chemistry involved. That really helps.”