Donovan Stiner's Veteran Presence Essential to Florida Gators Safety Room

michaelknauff

Auburn was driving down the field, looking to take their first lead of the game against Florida. The Gators led 17-13, but that lead was in jeopardy after quarterback Bo Nix hit wide receiver Seth Williams on a deep pass down the left side that gave the Tigers a first down inside the 15-yard-line.

It got to 3rd-and-12 and Florida needed the stop. Nix dropped back with three receivers to his right. WR Sal Cannella ran a post from outside the near hash and Nix fired a pass to him, only to have it picked off.

It wasn’t eventual first-round pick, cornerback C.J. Henderson, intercepting the pass, nor was it former four-star and starting CB Marco Wilson.

It was safety Donovan Stiner. The former mid-tier three-star prospect who’d been heavily criticized for his lack of tackling ability and physicality.

But, like he’s done multiple times throughout his career, he came up big in a big moment.

The Houston product is entering his senior season with the Gators, and it will be his third season as a starter in the secondary. While defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and safeties coach Ron English run rotation at the position, Stiner tends to get the nod to start games.

The 6-1, 203 lb safety put up decent numbers in his two full seasons as a starter. In 2018, he racked up 49 tackles and intercepted two passes and in 2019 he doubled his interception total to four.

His interception against Auburn was just one of the big-moment plays he’s made in his career. In 2018, his fourth-down sack of Nick Fitzgerald on Mississippi State’s final drive of the game sealed a 13-6 victory. A week later, he intercepted Joe Burrow’s final pass of the game to ice a 27-19 win for the Gators over then fifth-ranked LSU.

Stiner’s importance to the secondary, primarily this upcoming season, tends to be overlooked. While his ability to tackle in space was questioned early in 2019, he’s one of the most intelligent players on the defense. He lines the secondary up well and always is in position to at least attempt to make a play. He rotates well over the top and has underrated ball-skills that have allowed him to intercept six passes in his career.

Even more important, he’ll be tasked with preparing the young safety class that will take over once he and the other three senior safeties, Shawn Davis, Brad Stewart Jr. and Quincy Lenton, graduate.

Aside from Trey Dean III, who is a hybrid corner/safety, the other three safeties, Rashad Torrence II, Tre’vez Johnson and Mordecai McDaniel, are true freshmen.

Stiner’s knowledge and experience in Todd Grantham’s hybrid scheme is paramount in making sure there isn’t a significant drop off in safety play from 2020 to 2021.

Not to mention, with a veteran safety group in 2020, the secondary for the Gators should be quite good once again. Stiner and Davis will more than likely be the starting duo, but Stewart will rotate in frequently. The fourth safety spot is still up in the air, as Lenton and Dean will more than likely battle for that spot. But don’t count any of the three freshmen, as all of them have the ability to play early according to the coaching staff.

However, the success of the safety group comes down to the likes of Stiner, using their knowledge and leadership to manage the back end of the defense, and make sure the trio of freshmen are game ready early, especially with the delayed and shortened off-season due to the pandemic.

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