GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Freshman safety Shawn Davis has been one of the most impressive newcomers in camp so far for Florida and caught everybody’s attention while lining up with the first-team defense the last few times practice was open to reporters.
There’s a caveat to that, though, as coach Jim McElwain revealed that senior safety Nick Washington has been held out of non-contact drills lately because of a shoulder injury.
That’s created the opportunity for Davis to seize a bigger spotlight in practice.
“He’s earned his respect,” cornerback Duke Dawson said. “Right now we have Nick on third team because of his shoulders, but Shawn is doing a phenomenal job right now communicating with the older guys. If he needs help on anything he feels free to ask somebody older than him. He asks me, he asks Nick. Just him being able to take in the install every day and learning what to do is great for him.”
Safety is arguably Florida’s thinnest position group with three-year starter Marcus Maye now in the NFL and leading tackler Marcell Harris lost for the season to a torn right Achilles tendon.
The starting safeties earlier in camp were sophomore Chauncey Gardner Jr. and Washington, with Davis stepping in recently.
The Gators are just as thin at cornerback, though, and Gardner could be moved there if the coaches deem that’s where he’s most needed.
Either way, Florida will be counting on unproven young players to step up at safety. Sophomore Jeawon Taylor came into camp hoping to compete for one of those starting spots and will be in the rotation this fall.
But another guy the Gators were looking at as an expected contributor there has been unable to showcase himself. Redshirt freshman Quincy Lenton missed last season after having surgery to repair a broken foot, and McElwain said earlier this week the young safety has had “a little bit of a flare-up with that foot.” Presumably the same one, though he didn’t specify.
That lost practice time has dealt another setback to Lenton’s attempts to earn a larger role.
“You can say that about whoever misses practice when you’re in a battle,” McElwain said. “The big piece is how you come back and what did you learn when you weren’t in there and how far behind are you or how far ahead are you based on that, too? But he will be a guy that he’s going to have to be not only playing on the field but being a core special teams guy for us as well.”
Beyond that, the Gators will need the freshmen to step up.
Davis has created the most buzz out of that group of young DBs getting work at safety, but McElwain was complimentary of what he’s seen from Brad Stewart and Donovan Stiner as well.
“I think that’s one of those positions you kind of talk about next man up and [Davis] has taken advantage of a lot of that,” McElwain said. “As Brad Stewart has. As Stiner has. Donovan has done a really good job. I’m really pleased with those guys in that group as to how quickly they’ve picked it up, but more than that, how willing they are to go compete. I think that speaks a lot for kind of who they are.”
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