BOCA RATON – True freshman Zyon Gilbert has taken the lead in the battle to start at free safety, but it’s unclear whether that’s a full-time jump or if it’s a move to try to thwart opening-week opponent Navy’s unusual flexbone offense.
Kiffin praised Gilbert as one of the standouts in Friday night’s situational scrimmage, the Owls’ last prior to the season-opening game on Friday against the Midshipmen.
“If we played right now, Zyon would start across from Jalen [Young],” Kiffin said.
Redshirt junior Andrew Soroh is the incumbent free safety. Ocie Rose, who moved from nickel to safety during the spring, was also in the mix.
The elevation of Gilbert to the starting spot may not be a demotion for Soroh as much as it is a tactical decision specifically designed for Navy’s offense.
“I don’t think I’m playing safety this game,” Soroh said when the Owls began their Navy preparations. “I think they’ve got me playing a different position because of the type of offense they run.”
Regardless of whether Gilbert’s promotion is temporary or permanent, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Gilbert has impressed during his first camp.
“He’s made a lot of plays,” Kiffin said. “Very long. Really, this is a guy that we’re used to seeing at SEC-type places. This guy has obviously never played a game, but as you look at him as a prospect – height, weight, speed, play-making ability – this is an NFL-type guy.”
Joining Gilbert as defensive standouts in Friday’s scrimmage were Young, linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni.
On the offensive side, Kiffin praised wide receivers Ladante Harris and DeAndre McNeal, along with tackle Reggie Bain and running back Tyrek Tisdale.
As for the quarterback battle, it will continue during the week.
Wide receiver John Franklin, who transferred from Auburn to FAU late last week, participated in the scrimmage and made some plays, but he’s still limited by his knowledge of the playbook.
“It’s hard this late for a guy to just jump in and know everything and be able to play fast,” Kiffin said. “I think he’ll continue to improve.”
OwlAccess.com first reported earlier in the day that wide receiver Kalib Woods, who was banned from campus following his arrest on two counts of battery, has been allowed back on campus as a student.
Kiffin said Woods is not with the football team.