Kaiir Elam’s main goal as a freshman was to start in Florida’s secondary.
Once the Rivals100 member enrolled and began practicing with cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson, however, he realized how much more they knew than him. His focus shifted to soaking up knowledge, instead of getting the nod.
“I didn’t really focus on starting because that isn’t going to help me as a player,” Elam said. “So I made it my main focus to get better every day.
“When CJ and Marco were out there playing, I was trying to pick up and learn as much as I could. When it was my turn to play, I tried to maximize my opportunities.”
Elam accomplished his initial goal by Week 4 last year, making his first career start against Tennessee in place of the injured Henderson. He started the following week against Towson and the final three games of the season, finishing with 11 tackles, three interceptions and four pass breakups.
Elam spent this offseason trying to perfect his technique in press coverage and getting into his best playing shape. He studied film on Patrick Peterson, Stephon Gilmore and Jalen Ramsey, while doing speed training and CB drills with his father, former NFL safety Abram Elam.
“I would run hills every day. I would run the beach early in the morning, like a mile or two,” Elam said. “Basically resistance running to help build my speed.”
Elam wasn’t sure of his most recent 40-yard dash time, but said he doesn’t run in the 4.4 range.
“No,” Elam responded, “I’m faster than that.”
The 6-foot-2, 187-pound corner made the Jim Thorpe Award watch list and was named a preseason second-team All-SEC selection by league coaches and Athlon Sports. Elam isn’t worried about any accolades, only continuing to improve.
“My biggest goal every day is just to get better, keep elevating my game, keep learning and continue to be coachable,” he said. “Not worrying about the media, not worrying about what people say. Whatever my coaches ask me to do, I’m going to do it 110 percent and make plays. … Just keep being me and good things will have paid off.”
Elam congratulated Henderson on his NFL debut last Sunday and said one day he’ll be in “those same shoes” if he stays humble and focused. When asked if he’s driven by the defensive back lineage at UF, Elam paid homage to the Gator Greats before setting the bar high for himself.
“Those guys are a big inspiration to me,” Elam said. “I’ll watch their highlights and see how they play and the swagger they play will. I try to model my game after them. But I can’t really compare myself to those guys.
“I don’t want to set a limit for myself because I want to be the greatest. For me to say I want to be like them, that’s just something I don’t want to do. I want to be the greatest. That’s my main focus right now.”
Miller slims down
Early during the 2018, linebacker Ventrell Miller came to position coach Christian Robinson and said he wanted an opportunity to play.
Robinson told him he had the ability, but needed to improve his coverage and how he fit blocks. It took Miller that year, but by the next season he was starting the opener against Miami.
He led the team with six tackles, recorded a career-high two sacks and broke up a third-down pass intended for UM tight end Brevin Jordan in the game’s final seconds.
“Right before that, we had a timeout,” Robinson recalled. “And he said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if I can go.’ And I said, ‘You wanted to be in these moments.’
“To see him grow from a guy that needs the reps to get the confidence to go execute, to a guy that can withstand being in the game when the game is on the line, to a guy that is a leader in the locker room, that is exactly what this program is about. … That’s Ventrell Miller in a heartbeat.”
Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham credited him earlier this month for losing weight in the offseason and filling the leadership void left by senior linebacker David Reese II. Robinson said Miller has “transformed his body” by dropping 15 pounds and is keeping up with Gators tight end Kyle Pitts in practice.
“Ventrell Miller’s been just great. I’ve talked to anybody and everybody that will listen that he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and had a great attitude,” Robinson said. “With David Reese moving on, it was a great leadership loss. But when you have those guys move on, guys like Ventrell Miller step up.
“And if you talk to anybody on the staff, he’s been vocal. He’s on the leadership committee. .. If I was say who my leader is, the guy I think captain-type material, that’s Ventrell Miller.”
Diabate more boisterous
Robinson confirmed this week that sophomore Mohamoud Diabate is playing middle linebacker along with Miller, James Houston and Lacedrick Brunson.
Diabate made his first career start at outside linebacker against Vanderbilt and also played some BUCK in 2019. But the Rivals100 member actually started his freshman campaign playing inside, so Robinson knew he could make the move this fall in camp.
“He’s a guy that obviously flashed last year on the edge and played for me in the middle at the beginning of the season at times,” Robinson said of Diabate. “And so having him in my room, talking to the players that are in my room and knowing techniques, basically he knows our system.
“I expect him to kind of move around and be able to be diverse in the ways that he lines up. I think that’s his strength, really, is just being able to move. You’re really never going to know where he’s at. That’s kind of the blessing of having him in my room this year.”
Outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon said Diabate is still taking reps on the edge, where he earned SEC Freshman of the Week last season after tallying career-highs in tackles (4), sacks (3.0) and forced fumbles (1.0) against Vandy. Don’t expect a sophomore slump from him.
“He’s looking great,” Moon said. “They’ve got him coming off the edge, standing up and he’s improved so much. He’s definitely stepped up and become more boisterous. And so I’m excited to see what he does this year.”
News & notes
* Robinson on five-star freshman linebacker Derek Wingo: “It’s been a blessing to have him. Loved getting to know them in the recruiting process, and he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do. Just his work ethic, his approach. He’s a guy that makes me have to do my job all the time, in the sense that I’m getting calls and texts at night. I’m like ‘Who’s calling me, texting me?’ He’s got questions, and that’s what we loved about him. Obviously he didn’t get a full offseason, he didn’t get a full spring with us, but I do believe that he’s going to find a way to contribute and that he’s going to help us.”
* Robinson’s message to players regarding COVID-19: “Just do your part. I think in a team setting it’s easier for our guys to understand that because everything we do is team based. Just knowing at the end of the day that decisions you make when you leave here are going to affect what we do and how we play. Just remember that’s not just about you. This just happens to be one of the greatest challenges of our time. Our kids have done an amazing job of doing what we ask them to do. It’s not easy in any way. It’s not easy for anybody. I haven’t seen my family in a long time. But the dreams and goals we have, and aspirations, are high. Our guys have accepted the challenge. I can’t wait to go see them perform in a little over a week.”
* Moon on if any players considered opting opt: “There was talk, but nobody was going to opt out. Everybody has a goal … to win the SEC and national championship. And since we’re able to play, everybody’s gonna play.”