Duke Dawson focused on his potential at cornerback for Gators, not on who he’s replacing

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In taking over one of Florida’s vacated high-profile cornerback spots this year, Duke Dawson doesn’t like to think of himself as replacing either Jalen Tabor or Quincy Wilson.

He doesn’t view it that way, as filling the shoes of one potential first-round NFL draft pick or the other.

The senior simply looks at it as his opportunity.

“I mean, I (don’t have) to fill no shoes. I know what I can do, so just coming out working every day and just perfecting my craft, it’s going to be all right,” Dawson said Thursday after Florida’s second spring practice.

The reality, though, is the Gators have two considerable voids to plug at that position after Tabor and Wilson combined for 7 interceptions, 2 touchdown returns and altogether stifling coverage in 2016.

The reality is, no matter where Tabor or Wilson end up playing next fall, they will maintain a presence in The Swamp. Florida’s cornerback play will be judged according to the standard that has been set, most recently by that duo.

Dawson doesn’t need any extra motivation, though.

He made the logical decision to return for his senior season so he could prove himself as a full-time corner, shifting over from his nickel role. Now, the spotlight is his.

“I mean, I played corner in high school, so it’s really nothing different. It’s just me knocking the rust off,” he said. “I’ve been playing nickel for the past year, safety. I mean, I’ve been moving around a lot, so just getting my feet back wet at the corner position, it’s going to be all right.”

That’s what the Gators are hoping. They are largely rebuilding the defense that carried them to 9 wins, another SEC East title and a bowl victory last season. The defensive line must replace a couple of key cogs, the linebackers will be young, but the secondary remains perhaps the biggest question of all.

The Gators have pieces, led by Dawson, fifth-year senior safeties Marcell Harris (the team’s leading tackler in 2016) and Nick Washington and promising sophomore Chauncey Gardner Jr. (the Outback Bowl MVP), whose position is yet to be determined.

And then Florida will add 6 incoming freshmen defensive backs in the summer, with a couple likely needing to contribute right away.

Dawson, though, could do a lot to solidify the back of that defense if he can prove himself as a primary cornerback.All the while solidifying his professional football prospects.Dawson says in the end it was not a hard decision to return for his final season and take advantage of that opportunity.“Sheesh, some days I wake up, I mean, I have different thoughts. Just sitting down with my parents, we talked that day before (making the decision) and my parents, they’re going to always tell me what’s right,” he said. “They’re not going to make me do something that I don’t want to do. They made me make my own decision and that’s what I did.”Dawson had a terrific second half of his junior season and ended up with a team-best […]