UF freshman Vernon Hargreaves earns playing time the hard way

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Earning playing time as a freshman in the Southeastern Conference is impressive enough even when depth issues at a given position make climbing the ladder a bit easier.

Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III, however, is doing it the hard way. The Gators' true freshman joined perhaps the most talented group of cornerbacks in the nation in August, including potential high NFL draft picks in Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. UF coach Will Muschamp has praised Hargreaves' efforts almost from day one, but on Wednesday, the UF staff declared him a starter.

"Vernon Hargreaves is considered a starter for us at this time based on how he is playing and performing and producing," Muschamp said, according to gatorsports.com.

So whose job has been lost as a result? Really, nobody's. Yet.

Jaylen Watkins has been moved from cornerback to safety in part due to Hargreaves' emergence. And although Purifoy and Roberson continue to be listed as starters at corner, Hargreaves is listed as the No. 2 corner behind both, plus the No. 2 nickelback on UF's depth chart. With the rising popularity of the spread offense, three cornerbacks frequently are on the field at the same time. And that means starter-level playing time for the freshman, according to UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.

"We play so many different packages on defense where we bring five or six DBs on the field. He's definitely considered a starter. Wherever that is at, he's one of those guys in the mix," Durkin said.

Hargreaves has the team's only two interceptions this season. With Purifoy and Roberson roving the secondary, he may not hold that team lead for long. But he's clearly earned a major role in what may be the toughest position at UF for a freshman to do so.

"He produces in practice every single day, going back to camp from day one all the way through until he was injured (midway through August)," Muschamp added. "Then he came back off his injury and he was productive again. Then he does it on game day. That's why he is playing, and really a guy that is going to be in the rotation as far as starting."

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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