The loss of safety Marcell Harris is significant for Florida

Until last season, this might not have been a big deal. But Harris emerged as a significant contributor for the Gators defense last season, particularly in the run game.

Former Gators defensive coordinator Geoff Collins liked playing nickel defenses. This was partly because his scheme called for it, but the other reason was that his personnel fit what he wanted to do. Importance of run support in the Gators defensive scheme

With corners as talented as Vernon Hargreaves III, Teez Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Duke Dawson, it just made sense to get them on the field in coverage as much as possible. It’s not a coincidence that opponents of the 2016 Gators defense only completed 45.2 percent of their passes.

But playing that way only leaves you with two linebackers to contribute against the run game. That means the safeties have a critical role in run support. Keanu Neal was that enforcer who allowed the corners on the field together in 2014 and especially 2015. Marcell Harris was that player in 2016.

Nowhere was that more evident than in goal-line situations. You’ve likely heard that in traditional run plays, the defense has one more player than the offense can block because the quarterback is not involved in the play. This means if the running back can break one tackle, he’s in for the touchdown. The play above against Iowa in the Outback Bowl shows this perfectly. On this play, Harris is unblocked, reads where the running back is headed, and wraps him up perfectly to take him down.

You could also argue that Harris is the player most responsible for the Gators winning the SEC East last year. Thinking they had to beat LSU to secure its spot in Atlanta, the Gators defense played a bend-but-don’t-break style all day. The Tigers put up a ton of yardage, but couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone despite multiple trips inside the 20. Gators fans have spent all offseason taunting Tigers fans with the clip from above. But it isn’t a lineman like Caleb Brantley or CeCe Jefferson or a linebacker like Vosean Joseph or David Reese who makes the tackle to hold LSU running back Derrius Guice short of the end zone. There — on the most important play of the season — in run support is safety Marcell Harris. Likely change of scheme in 2017

Harris’ run responsibilities were likely to decrease slightly in ’17, partly because of personnel changes. With the departure of Wilson, Tabor and safety Marcus Maye, Florida likely will play more zone and keep its safeties in coverage more.

The other reason is that Randy Shannon is taking over as defensive coordinator. Shannon has always preferred a 4-3 defense with limited nickel packages. Last season Florida’s base defense was a nickel package with Harris a significant player in run support.

This season the base defense is likely going to have starting linebackers Vosean Joseph, David Reese and Kylan Johnson up against the run with the safeties helping in […]