Photo: Jason Marshall; Credit: Zach Goodall, AllGators.com
The Florida Gators No. 2 cornerback position has been in flux since junior Jaydon Hill went down with a torn ACL in fall camp. However, three weeks into the season, two youthful defensive backs have emerged as key contributors at the position.
That being redshirt freshman Avery Helm and true freshman Jason Marshall.
Those two, along with some others, have rotated at cornerback opposite of Kaiir Elam through the first three games of Florida's season. Helm has earned starts in each contest, but in Florida's biggest game of the season to date against Alabama, he and Marshall solely split snaps at outside cornerback across from UF's No. 1 corner.
Considering Marshall's true freshman status, that may come as a surprise, particularly that he was utilized so much against the nation's No. 1 team. But perhaps it shouldn't: Marshall was a five-star prospect coming out of high school in the class of 2021 and was expected to take the field sooner rather than later. Hill's injury accelerated that expectation.
"[Hill's] injury, it creates opportunities for guys," head coach Dan Mullen said on Monday, speaking to Marshall's progress. "I know it’s unfortunate, but [Marshall is] taking advantage of that opportunity."
Helm and Marshall took the field for an even 31 defensive snaps apiece vs. Alabama. Both played extremely well in coverage. Helm allowed one reception for four yards on two targets, per Pro Football Focus, but was flagged for defensive pass interference on a fourth quarter third-and-seven - although, the call was extremely questionable.
Marshall, meanwhile, allowed one completion as well, on his only target in coverage, which went for seven yards. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young barely targeted the two young cornerbacks, instead opting for Elam, which didn't turn out well either. Elam would finish with two receptions allowed for 36 yards on seven targets, breaking up three passes.
The elder, Preseason All-American corner was particularly impressed with Marshall's capability against the Crimson Tide, although Elam expects continual maturation from the true freshman moving forward.
“I think he's a great young player. He reminds me a little bit of myself, a bigger corner. Great ball skills," Elam said of Marshall. "I feel like, he's still learning a lot and getting his confidence and his wings underneath him. But I mean, I like Jason, I just want to just continue keep seeing him grow."
Marshall will certainly have opportunities to impress Elam, and the Gators as a whole, with his growth as a college football player. As Hill is out for the year, it is clear that Florida will depend on the true freshman corner to fill in alongside Helm and opposite of Elam, as his utilization against Alabama in the third game of his career speaks volumes.
"It’s a long season and when you lose a starter, the trick-down effect of it – it’s not just the next guy in the game, it’s your overall depth you gotta be concerned about," Mullen remarked. "So I’m pleased with how [Marshall] has picked it up and his ability to get out there on the field and go play.”
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