While everyone knows how one of the Florida Gators' newest coaches, cornerbacks coach Jules Montinar, feels about cornerback Kaiir Elam, how the rest of the cornerback group shakes out will be equally as important.
The Gators are entering a year with a lot of turnover within the defensive backs room. Multiple cornerbacks and safeties are off to the 2021 NFL Draft or have since transferred out of the university looking for greener pastures with another program.
Their starting cornerbacks are slated to be Elam and Jaydon Hill, two players who have plenty of experience and are the two players that will likely earn the most playing time when fall begins. Montinar is hopeful and has already begun a deep dive into older and newer cornerbacks on the team.
"I watched all the games from the past season to see what I was working with. Kaiir is a stud and Jaydon Hill, he did a really nice job as well for us too the past year. Has really good size, very athletic, very physical, so he's a guy that's going to do a really good job for us coming up this season," Montinar said earlier this month when asked about the other cornerbacks within the program.
Hill, a true junior, was one of the more valuable players for the Florida defense last season, becoming a key player after the team moved typical boundary cornerback Marco Wilson inside at the STAR position. Hill would go on to play in all 12 games, making five starts. He was credited with 14 tackles and seven pass breakups.
The Gators will hope that Hill can provide an impact this season following a disappointing 2020 marred with miscommunication and an overall lack of talent at the deep levels of the secondary.
The next two players on Montinar's list are players he remembers recruiting while coaching at Texas State - Jahari Rogers and Avery Helm, two players who have shown plenty of potential during practices and that have competed at a high level during spring practices this year. Both players are expected to be important depth players within the Florida cornerback room.
"Jahari was a high school quarterback, he ran track, had really good speed. Avery was a really good player out of high school. I was also trying to get those guys when I was at Georgia. So for whatever reason, it didn't work out," he said.
Now, Montinar gets to get his hands on players that he wanted to coach back in the day at several stops during his coaching tree.
He will also be working with new prospects, ones he didn't specifically recruit for Florida, but come to the program with high pedigree including Jason Marshall Jr. and Jordan Young. Both players participated in the team's spring practices as early enrollees.
"Those guys have done an unbelievable job learning the defense," Montinar noted. "Those guys should be in high school. Jason has done a great job this camp, has an unbelievable attitude, comes to work every day, very smart, very athletic. Jordan Young has done a great job for us too. Very smart, very athletic and he loves football."
Marshall, 6-foot, 191 pounds, is noted as one of the best prospects within the 2021 recruiting class, earning SI All-American honors along with other high-praise from the standard recruiting websites. His presence on the field will only make the Florida secondary better, adding to a group that will be improving for years to come.
The remainder of the Florida cornerbacks group, including Ethan Pouncey, Patrick Moorer and Khamal Ellison round out the young players. While Mooer is a veteran, this is the first time that Montinar has been able to get his hands on him. We have heard plenty of praise about his spring practices, too.
"But those guys have done a nice job as well. The biggest thing for those guys is this is the first time they're going through a spring practice. This is the first time they're actually getting meaningful reps and learning the defense, making plays and making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. So it's been good. We're really fired up."
The next steps for the Gators' secondary will be to continue receiving repetitions, vital for a young secondary Montinar said.
"We've got to get them in the situations, that's the only way they're going to learn. Guys playing multiple positions, extra meetings, whatever the case may be, man. Because it's a challenging deal. I mean, this is a tough league and nobody feels sorry for you," he said.
"We play a tough position at the cornerback position and we're going to have to mature early. The good news is we've got Kaiir, and Jaydon has got some experience and then the young guys, they've done a really nice job of answering the bell and really competing and learning the defense."
Multiple players such as Helm and Rogers didn't get an opportunity to compete in spring practices last season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with those slowly going away, the team has been able to compete in Spring which ended just a week ago.
"I'm saying that we had a really good 13 practices thus far. We're looking forward to finishing strong."
The team ultimately competed in 15 practices since February, and now are set to go on break until fall camp resumes in the coming months. For now, players will go back to their regular lives, but now with the added experience that is so vital for young players. Finish strong.