University of Florida

Brash UF cornerback Jalen Tabor upstaging heralded teammate Vernon Hargreaves III

Florida defensive backs Vernon Hargreaves III (1) and Jalen Tabor (31) celebrate after defeating Georgia 27-3 on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Florida defensive backs Vernon Hargreaves III (1) and Jalen Tabor (31) celebrate after defeating Georgia 27-3 on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. AP

Vernon Hargreaves III is an All-American, a projected top 10 NFL Draft pick and the centerpiece of one of the best defenses in the nation.

The Florida junior is regarded as the country’s top shutdown cornerback, but Hargreaves’ sophomore sidekick isn’t so sure.

“Everybody thinks Vernon is the best,” UF cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “But I feel like when I’m on and when I’m doing what I got to do, I feel like I’m the best.”

He might be right.

Although Hargreaves has continued to perform at an elite level, recording four interceptions, Tabor, a former five-star prospect out of Washington D.C., has actually been better.

The sophomore ranks second in the SEC in pass breakups with 12 and has tallied three interceptions, returning two for touchdowns.

“I’m just a guy in disguise,” Tabor said. “Nobody really knows about me yet.”

That’s quickly changing.

The 6-1, 195-pound cornerback is blessed with a special skill set (size, speed, swagger) and a playmaking appetite. Tabor hasn’t allowed a completion longer than 19 yards this season.

Although Tabor speaks with great aplomb, he doesn’t hide his admiration or respect for his mentor, either.

“That’s why I’m glad I came here, just to be alongside him,” said Tabor about Hargreaves.

“I learned a lot from him. He stays on me. He never lets me just chill and relax. If I get a ball thrown on me in practice, he’s livid. He sees more in me than I probably see in myself. He just wants the best for me. And him being there is just a big plus knowing I can just watch every day in practice to see what he does and just implement it in my game.”

Hargreaves calls Tabor his “little brother,” and the sophomore certainly had some growing up to do this season.

Tabor showed flashes as a freshman (one interception, eight pass breakups), but he was plagued by inconsistency and a lack of maturity.

Tabor was suspended for the Tennessee game this season, too. But since then, first-year coach Jim McElwain and co-defensive coordinator Randy Shannon have noticed a change in Tabor’s habits and work ethic.

Both praised the sophomore’s progress.

“He’s having a big-time season,” Shannon said. “Here’s a kid that has changed so much, that has grown up so much maturity-wise since we got here in the spring to the beginning of the season to where he is now.”

McElwain added: “He’s one of those guys that I think has come the farthest and has gotten better because of it. Understanding the importance of detail, understanding the importance of it isn’t just rolling the ball out there and go play.

“It’s about studying. It’s about perfecting your craft and really how you can affect those around you. That guy’s done an unbelievable job. Since we’ve been here I’ve seen an absolute investment in himself for the better.”

By honing his craft and eliminating distractions, Tabor has emerged as a co-No. 1 cornerback with Hargreaves.

He’s only going to get better, too, and senior linebacker Antonio Morrison dished out some lofty praise, saying Tabor reminds him of former LSU star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

“He’s a little bigger, a little longer, but this guy is a ballhawk, man,” Morrison said. “He’s going to make plays on anybody, cover anybody, receivers, tight ends, a great blitzer — probably one of our best blitzers on defense. This kid, I can’t say too much about him. He’s just great.”

Sharpe re-injures foot

Sophomore left tackle David Sharpe re-injured his foot at Wednesday’s practice, and his status is uncertain for Saturday’s game against Florida Atlantic.

“Who knows there?” McElwain said. “I don’t know whether he would go down to doubtful.”

Sharpe originally injured the foot in the victory over Georgia. He was questionable to play the next week against Vanderbilt, but with Florida’s offense struggling he was inserted into the game in the second half.

▪ Defensive end Alex McCalister, who leads UF in sacks, will miss Saturday’s game with a foot injury. His backup, Jordan Sherit, is also “probably out,” McElwain said. Sherit had 1 1/2 sacks against South Carolina before leaving with a hamstring strain. Defensive tackle Joey Ivie (leg) will miss his third game in a row.

▪ ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said McElwain is his current choice for National Coach of the Year.

▪ A number of UF players participated in a food drive Wednesday, preparing Thanksgiving baskets at the St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center.

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