Spring preview: Linebacker

There was no doubt the Gators would be losing Jon Bostic to graduation after the 2012 season. The surprise came when redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins decided to leave early and begin his professional career. The pair of three-year starters will be tough for Florida to replace. With a thin group of returners, the Gators also have three freshmen on campus for the spring.

There are options for how the Florida coaching staff will do it, and there will be plenty of time to experiment through the spring.

Antonio Morrison made his mark in 2012 as a freshman. When Jelani Jenkins was out with multiple injuries, Morrison stepped into his place and made big play. His most memorable moment came when creating a forced fumble of Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel that turned the momentum of Florida's win in Tallahassee.

He played in all 13 games and made starts against Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Louisville, earning a spot on the SEC Coaches' All-Freshman Team.

Morrison had a strong freshman year

Michael Taylor also played in all 13 games and earned the start against LSU. Despite coming off the bench for most of the season, Taylor was ninth on the team in tackles with 32, adding 1.5 tackles for a loss and one sack.

The combination of Morrison and Taylor is one the coaching staff can be creative with. Morrison is a big hitter, but listed at 218 pounds going into the spring, there are questions about whether or not he's big enough to take over for Jon Bostic at middle linebacker.

Taylor, a redshirt junior, is listed at 226 pounds and has been versatile during his first two years playing in Gainesville.

Morrison and Taylor fit as two candidates to replace Bostic at the MIKE and Jenkins at the WILL.

Redshirt junior Ronald Powell should fill the BUCK linebacker spot. Florida coaches and players were raving about how quickly Powell was coming on last spring before he tore his ACL in the spring game and missed the 2012 season. He has started 13 games in his Florida career with 12 of them coming in 2011.

Florida needs Powell back to his old form

The 6-4, 244-pound former five-star recruit led the Gators with six sacks in 2011 and should compliment an explosive defensive line that can get to the quarterback. After playing his first year in the defense in 2011 and sitting out in 2012, Powell should have a much better grasp on the defense.

Darrin Kitchens played in all 13 games in 2012 and earned starts against Florida State and Louisville as the SAM linebacker. The 6-1, 229-pound senior made 14 tackles in 2012, 10 unassisted and one tackles for a loss. He has played in every game over the last two years and provides stability for a unit that desperately needs it.

The breakout player at linebacker this spring could be Neiron Ball. He played in 11 games and started against Bowling Green and LSU in 2012 after missing the 2011 season because of blood on his brain. Ball was cleared in June of 2012 for the season that fall, so he wasn't able to go through all of the offseason workouts.

Ball should be better in 2013

Whenever Will Muschamp talked about that last season, he was always quick to point out how much better he expected Ball to be in 2013 with a full offseason under his belt. The 6-3, 231-pounder has a knack for getting to the quarterback, and after an offseason of working on his pass rush moves and adding weight, Ball could be a force off the edge for the Gators.

Gideon Ajagbe and Jeremi Powell also return and could fight for spots in the rotation. Powell is listed at 201 pounds going into the spring, so he'll need to bulk up. Ajagabe, a redshirt junior, has played in four games during his career.

The Gators also have three high school All-Americans on campus to go through spring practice. Matt Rolin will sit out during practice after tearing his ACL during his senior year at Briar Woods High School, but he still has the benefit of getting accustomed to college life and sitting in meeting rooms this spring. His status is up in the air for the fall.

Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian are healthy and will go through spring practice. Muschamp said on signing day that the freshmen would all get a shot at the SAM linebacker position, so it's likely they'll start out there and still be plugged into the other positions throughout the spring.

With the loss of experienced talent, it's a perfect time for the talented freshmen to be on campus and earn a spot on the depth chart.

Anzalone will fight for immediate playing time


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