Morrison Has "Big Opportunity" on Saturday

Jelani Jenkins' fractured thumb provides an opportunity for Antonio Morrison to take over. The freshman played more than three quarters of the game at Texas A&M after the Jenkins injury happened early, and Morrison showed he was capable of handling the job. After enrolling early and going through spring practice, the Florida coaches knew Morrison would be able to contribute early.

"Even though he's a freshman, I don't really see him in that way because I've known him," Dan Quinn said on Wednesday. "He went through the spring, went through training camp. Although he is a freshman, I don't see him in that way, more so because of the way he handles himself and his experience going through spring practice and training camp and getting the experience in the first two games."

The signs showed early that Morrison would be able to handle this kind of role. The Gators found out about him during the recruiting process because of connections that defensive line coach Bryant Young had with his high school. Morrison made it clear from the start the he wanted to play in the SEC, and that was always a plus for the Florida coaches.

They saw his big hits and toughness while watching his high school film. His desire to leave Illinois and play in the SEC helped the coaches see that he wanted to compete.

"He really wanted to play in the SEC. What a challenge," Quinn said. "This guy's a real competitor saying, ‘Ok, I'm from Illinois, I want to go to the SEC, I'm going early, I'm going to Florida.' He really came in with this competitive linebacker mindset that you love.

"That's one of the things I respect most about him. Early on in his career, it was not too big. It was not that he just wanted to fit in early. It was wanting to come in and wanting to play and wanting to show that he belongs. He's certainly done that."

When Morrison got to campus, they saw the same competitive fire and desire to play that they learned about while recruiting him. He was mature and worked hard on and off the field. Florida linebacker Jon Bostic said that there have been multiple times where he shows up to the film room early, only to see Morrison already in there watching his mistakes.

After the weekend of learning in a hostile environment like Texas A&M, Morrison is in line for his biggest opportunity yet when he starts at WILL linebacker on Saturday.

"When he came in early as an early enrollee, he really had a maturity level that wasn't of the normal college freshman," Quinn said. He asked really good questions. He was really on it in terms of the details of playing linebacker. I think that carried through in the spring and all the way through training camp."

Morrison isn't the only freshman seeing his role increase. It has been a theme through the Florida defense. Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler have gotten time on the defensive line and played well. Even if it isn't freshmen, the youth on the Florida defense grew up in College Station.

"I think you can build confidence," Quinn said. "During the ball game, (the youth is) the furthest thing from your mind. Sometimes afterwards I think you can benefit from that because there's new things that may come up for them in a ball game that they haven't seen, this is how we'll react to that. In that way, it has been good.

"Moving forward, we all have a lot of confidence in all those guys we put out there. If we're going to put them out there, then we know we have the confidence that they can get the job done. For those in particular, who are young players, we have a lot of confidence in them that they can get the job done."

Bullard saw increased playing time at Texas A&M, too. In two games this season, the freshman has recorded five tackles, one quarterback hurry and half of a tackle for a loss. He has earned more playing time throughout the first two games and Quinn thinks that will increase as the Gators head to Knoxville this weekend.

"He had a good, physical set of skills coming into it," Quinn said. "He's got good strength, and for us, it was a matter of how fast we could teach him the system and that kind of thing. It's kind of like each week there are some things to build on with both of them. I'm really excited about where Jon is right now and where we think we can get him to."

The next freshman to get increased time could be defensive back Brian Poole. He has switched between safety and cornerback throughout the season, but Quinn said Poole is primarily playing cornerback now.

With Cody Riggs being out 4-6 weeks, Poole could earn time on the field, especially since Riggs was playing at cornerback and safety, too.

"(Poole would) probably be the next (freshman to play) in my opinion," Quinn said. "He's had a good couple weeks of practice and is coming on, so he'd be another one that I'm excited about. He's put some good practice reps together so he's pushing."

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