|Florida's secondary opens season trying to rebound|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 29 August 2008 12:34|
Now, the words echo in his mind like a coverage scheme.
``We have nothing in the bank,'' Haden says, reciting the simple message.
It's fitting, too. Florida's defensive secondary struggled most of last season, letting receivers run uncovered, missing tackles, getting penalized and giving up way too many big plays. The breakdowns were a big reason Florida finished 9-4 and out of contention in the Southeastern Conference.
The fifth-ranked Gators don't expect it to happen again. They should get an early indication whether they turned it around in Saturday's season opener against pass-happy Hawaii.
``This is going to be a real good test for us because they're going to come out and throw the ball at least 40 times,'' Haden said. ``It's a way for the secondary to make a name for ourselves in the first game.''
The secondary heard plenty of name-calling last season - none of it good.
The Gators gave up at least 250 yards passing seven times, allowing big yardage to just about anyone who chose to throw against them. Sure, Kentucky and South Carolina tossed it around against almost everyone. But Troy, Mississippi and Florida Atlantic?
Florida's secondary was at its worst in the Capital One Bowl against Michigan. Chad Henne threw for 373 yards, finding receivers Adrian Arrington (9 catches for 153 yards), Mario Manningham (5-78) and Greg Mathews (7-62) open all over the field.
``The Michigan game was really a wake-up call for us,'' Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. ``We did not stop them the whole day. They were up and down the field. Now, when you go into the offseason, at least you have something to point to when guys start thinking about how good they think they are.
``All you had to do is just turn on the film and just say, 'Hey guys, let's just go back to last season and let's look at that and we'll see how good we really think we are.'''
With three of four starters returning in the secondary, the Gators believe that the experience of last season and an offseason of work will make them better back there.
The Warriors should provide the first challenge.
Hawaii has finished no lower than fourth nationally in passing in each of the last nine years. Even though coach June Jones and Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan left after last season, the Warriors still have longtime receivers coach Ron Lee organizing the run-and-shoot offense.
Junior college transfer Brent Rausch is expected to start at quarterback for Hawaii despite missing practice last week because of a strained shoulder. He's one of eight new starters on offense, but Florida expects to see much of the same things from a program that led the nation in scoring in 2007 and started 12-0 before losing 41-10 to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
``They do throw the ball around a lot, and we do need to improve,'' Strong said. ``This game, just because of what happened last year, is going to be an early test for us.''
Florida attributed much of its secondary woes to youth last season. Haden and safety Major Wright started as true freshmen and cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis was a sophomore. Those three won't be able to use inexperience as an excuse this time around, but that's fine with Haden.
``I feel like I've been playing corner forever now,'' he said. ``Everything's fluid. It feels natural.''
Nonetheless, the secondary is still a concern for Florida, but not because of Haden, Pierre-Louis or Wright. The Gators lost starting safety Tony Joiner and backup Kyle Jackson to graduation, then lost Dorian Munroe and John Curtis to season-ending knee injuries. Jerimy Finch transferred, Jamar Hornsby was kicked off the team for allegedly using the credit card of a deceased student, and incoming freshman Dee Finley failed to qualify academically and enrolled at a prep school.
After all the attrition, sophomore Ahmad Black emerged as the other starting safety. And like Haden, he's heard all about the secondary having ``nothing in the bank.''
Strong makes sure of it.
``Every time you pick up the paper, everyone is saying this team will go as their defense goes,'' Strong said. ``Our players are taking hold of that. I don't know if it'll be a rallying cry or what, but I just know this: They'll play a lot better than they played last year.''