Filling needs: Linebacker

The Gators lost three linebackers last season — two to graduation and one to an early departure for the NFL — and set out to fix it. They added four linebackers in the 2013 class, but the benefit is that three of them are already on campus and will go through spring practice. The linebackers were productive last season, and the Gators will still have talent at the position next year.

Linebackers Jon Bostic and Lerentee McCray both graduated and will head to the NFL after each had the best season of their career at Florida. Jenkins Jenkins made a surprise decision to leave school early after an injury-plagued season.

As the trio left, so did most of the experience Florida has at linebacker.

The emergence of Antonio Morrison during his freshman season in 2012 should help at the position. He'll start at one of the linebacker positions in 2013. The rest of the position isn't as clear. Michael Taylor will be a redshirt junior in 2013 after spending the last two seasons as a backup that still saw extended playing time.

The only other experienced players returning are redshirt junior Neiron Ball and senior Darrin Kitchens. Jeremi Powell took a redshirt in 2012 during his first season on campus.

As the Gators try to fill out the linebacker position, it would be a surprise if freshmen didn't contribute in 2013. The good news for the Florida coaching staff is that they signed an elite group, with two Under Armour All-Americans and one Army All-American in the group of four players.

"They need to get ready," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said on Wednesday. "They're going to have a bunch of chances to go in and rep and play. They've got playmaking ability."

Their inclusion in the class should be a sign that they are ready to compete. If that wasn't the case, they might've signed somewhere else. Muschamp made it clear throughout the process that he wanted to sign four or five linebackers, and he wanted the signees to know that. If that was an issue for them, the Florida head coach didn't want them.

He wanted linebackers that weren't afraid of the depth chart. He wanted them coming in to compete because they would be needed on the field early.

"Those guys want to come in and understand that there's going to be competition at Florida," Muschamp said. "I always tell them that we're going to promise you an opportunity. I'm not going to promise you anything past that. We're going to recruit real good again next year, so we're going to have a bunch of good players coming behind you, so you better understand you're going to compete at Florida.

"When you sign four linebackers, it's four competitive guys."

Rolin will rehab his ACL during spring

The bad news for Matt Rolin is that he won't be able to compete in the spring. He enrolled early and is on campus after switching his commitment from South Carolina, but he will spend the spring rehabbing his torn ACL. Muschamp said the rehab is "going very well" in the month he has been in Gainesville.

For Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian, it's about the competition. Muschamp wants to give all three of the freshmen a shot at the SAM linebacker position, and that will start immediately when the Gators open spring practice on March 13.

McMillian was an early commitment

"I think all three of the freshmen we will give an opportunity at the SAM in the spring in Alex (Anzalone) and Daniel (McMillian)," Muschamp said. "Matt (Rolin) obviously will be held up in the spring. All three of those guys have pass rush ability, which for a linebacker, is really a huge benefit."

Muschamp credited the entire linebacker class as having playmaking ability. He singled out Florida's bye week when he watched a First Coast High School game and saw McMillian take a fake punt around 80 yards for a touchdown. Anzalone put together impressive offensive numbers, too, while Rolin played receiver and tight end for his team before the injury occurred.

Anzalone is an elite athlete

Three-star Jarrad Davis from Camden County High School was a late addition after going through his senior season being committed to Auburn. His 6-2, 225-pound frame will fit into a linebacker position that needs playmakers.

And from the looks of the four-linebacker class, there are multiple playmakers in the group.

"I always look at linebackers, you have to have instincts. There's certain things you can teach in the position and certain things you can't. (The linebackers) have very good instincts and very good short area explosion and quickness. Within a short area, they can change direction and they can generate power.

"These guys have length, so we can play more two-gap, and more 3-4 when you've got guys that can keep the bigger linemen off of them, and that is what we're trying to develop. They're very similar to what Jelani and Jon were for us this year."

Davis joined the Florida class late in the process

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