Replacing Bostic will be tough

Senior linebacker Jon Bostic always had the tools. He came to Gainesville with an impressive blend of size and speed, adding coverage skills from a childhood of playing in the secondary before he hit a growth spurt. He finally put it all together in 2012 to complete a strong season. The Gators have candidates to replace Bostic next season, but they'll need some inexperienced players to improve.

Bostic ended the regular season third on the team with 62 total tackles. He tied for third with 6.5 tackles for a loss and was second on the team with three sacks. The senior added two interceptions, two pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and fumble recovery.

The stat sheet was full, but it was parts of his game that didn't show up on the stat sheet that improved the most. Bostic was tougher. He played better at the line of scrimmage and was improved at getting off blocks.

"Jon Bostic has been a terrific player for us this year inside," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "He plays in all of our packages. He plays Mike. He's our signal caller. He makes a lot of adjustments.

"He's a smart guy but not all smart guys are able to carry it over on to the grass and do that."

The role as Florida's middle linebacker is the same as it was in 2011. Bostic was just more effective in 2012. He understood the scheme better, and that confidence helped his overall play.

"Me playing linebacker really holds down the defense, but it's really everyone helping each other out," Jon Bostic said. "We help the secondary out and get in the passing lanes. Our whole defense really ties together."

Bostic is the anchor of the defense

The defensive scheme wasn't an easy one for the players to pick up during the first season, and it showed in 2011. Bostic's commitment to learning and studying in the offseason played a big role in his emergence during 2012. The Florida scheme is multiple. The Gators have multiple different looks for the opposition to prepare for, but it takes an intelligent player to make it all work.

"We play 3-4 some, 4-3 some," Quinn said. "You have to be a bright guy to do that. I've been very impressed by the way he's handled himself this year and the leadership he gives us out on the field."

While Bostic graduates and moves onto the NFL in 2013, the Gators will spend the spring trying to find out who will replace him. An injury-plagued 2012 for redshirt junior Jelani Jenkins earned some extra playing time for younger players. It also made it more likely that Jenkins will return for the 2013 season, but the final decision still hasn't been made.

Freshman linebacker Antonio Morrison replaced Jenkins when he was hurt, and he spent his time playing next to Bostic. Morrison could now be the favorite to replace Bostic next year.

"Morrison is one that's really caught my attention," Quinn said. "He's a physical guy who came in as a true freshman enrolled early was able to fast and get the system down. He's one that had to step up for us.

"As early on as our second ballgame, I think is when (Jenkins) might have hurt his thumb, (for Morrison) to step in that environment, second game as a true freshman to take the load, I thought was good. The future's bright."

Morrison isn't afraid of contact

Quinn mentioned redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Taylor as a player that could also fill in as an inside linebacker in 2013.

If Jenkins elects to stay in school, Bostic and Lerentee McCray will be the only departures at linebacker for the Gators. Neiron Ball could emerge to replace McCray's ability as a pass rusher. Ball missed the entire 2011 season because of an arteriovenous malformation.

He was also limited in the offseason before the 2012 season. Starting around the middle of the season, Florida head coach Will Muschamp started to talk about the consistent improvement Ball was showing on the field. With a full offseason under his belt before 2013, Quinn expects Ball to play a big role in next year's defense.

"Neiron Ball is someone that's improving, missed a whole year last year, but he has speed and length to play outside linebacker," Quinn said.

The question at the linebacker position centers on Jenkins. He only played in nine of 12 regular season games, and he didn't play long in two of those games because injuries took him out of the Texas A&M and LSU games in the first half.

Florida draft-eligible players will not address their futures until after the Sugar Bowl.

"I hope so," Quinn said about Jenkins returning. "We'll kind of visit those guys after the ballgame in terms of who will go, who won't. To the guys' credit, they've done a good job staying locked in on the ballgame. There hasn't been a lot of talk, certainly not with me."

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