Geoff Collins is a little crazy.
Florida’s new defensive coordinator downs Mountain Dews in a Swag Chalice, rocks his hat sideways and is nicknamed the Minister of Mayhem.
The former Mississippi State coordinator is a social media star, too, tweeting out cryptic messages and silly acronyms.
“We’re big on hashtags and nicknames,” Collins said.
#BDN — or Best Defense in the Nation — is a popular Twitter hashtag among Florida players and coaches.
“I believe in setting high expectations,” Collins said. “The kids have those expectations in themselves. Why shy away from it? We want to do our best every single day to try to personally be the best we can possibly be. Whatever level that is at the end of the day is one thing. Every day the stress is to be the absolute best.”
Collins inherits a stockpiled defense, one that ranked in the top 10 nationally in all four seasons under former coach Will Muschamp.
The Gators’ secondary is loaded, while Florida’s linebackers and defensive linemen are mostly former four- and-five-star recruits.
With an excess of talent, there is no defensive depth chart in Gainesville anymore.
Just a line.
“There’s no depth chart on defense around here,” Collins said. “If you’re above the line, you’re going to play. If you’re not, you still have some work to do. Those guys take it to heart, and we stress it every single day with them. They’re competing to get reps on that field, and it fluctuates every single day. They do a great job earning their spots and playing time.”
#BDN is posted all over UF’s locker room, and the players have embraced the hype and lofty expectations that come with it.
Guys like senior linebacker Antonio Morrison and junior defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. fully expect Florida to be the nation’s top defense at season’s end.
“You want to be the best at what you do,” said Morrison, who will anchor an athletic group of linebackers. “You look at the players we got, you look at the coaching staff we have, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the best.”
Added Cox Jr.: “We talk about being the best all the time. Not just in the SEC — overall. We’re trying to be the best defense in the country.”
Collins hopes his expertise elevates Florida’s defense from really good to great. He brings a new freedom and aggressive edge to the Gators’ unit, stressing “chaos” and situational football.
Last season at Mississippi State, Collins fielded the nation’s stingiest red zone defense. His attacking style — he estimated he blitzed around 35 percent of the time in 2014 — produced 37 sacks, second in the SEC.
“You get them into a third-down situation and you gotta excel,” he said. “When it’s in the red zone you’ve gotta excel. All of those situations, two minutes before the half, two minutes after the half, four minutes into the game, whatever it may be, understand the situation that you are in and be able to perform at a high level when it’s that time.”
From #BDN to #DBU — defensive back university — the Gators have done plenty of talking this offseason, but Collins said they can back it up.
“This might be the most competitive group of kids I’ve ever been around,” Collins said. “If you put a ball down or say there’s a winner or loser or some kind of competitive situation, these guys just thrive and shine.”
It starts Saturday against New Mexico State.
HARRIS WILL START IN OPENER
Florida has finally named a starting quarterback. Sort of.
Sophomore Treon Harris, the former Booker T. Washington standout, will start Saturday’s season opener against New Mexico State.
“It was really close,” UF coach Jim McElwain said.
And it’s still not over. Harris somewhat surprisingly beat out redshirt freshman Will Grier, who exited spring practice with a slight lead in the competition.
“Somebody has got to take the first snap,” McElwain insisted. “Treon’s going to start the football game. Will’s going to play in that game a lot, too. It’s a painting in progress. We’ve got to figure out what the backdrop is going to be.”
Harris was 4-2 as a starter last year with 12 touchdowns while completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes.
McElwain praised Harris’ ability to “affect the people around [him] in a positive way.”
The quarterbacks won’t rotate series, but McElwain said both signal-callers have a scripted set of plays and then he’ll stick with the hot hand.
“If a guy is 11 for 11 you’re not going to take [him] out,” he said.