Linebackers will rotate this fall

The Florida defense hasn't needed many substitutions at linebacker over the last three years. Pass coverage became the strength of WILL Jelani Jenkins' game while MIKE Jon Bostic improved throughout his career. When third down rolled around, the Gators didn't need to substitute other players onto the field. Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin expects more subs this year.

Pass coverage is a big reason why the Gators ended up moving Neiron Ball from SAM linebacker to WILL linebacker in the offseason. The 6-3, 235-pound linebacker was used for his pass rush skills last season, but the move to WILL puts him in the middle of the defense.

When third down rolls around for the Florida defense this fall, there's a chance that Antonio Morrison or Michael Taylor -- whoever is playing MIKE -- will be called off the field to bring in a linebacker that's better suited for coverage. Durkin mentioned Darrin Kitchens as another linebacker that thrives in coverage.

"We didn't have to sub out because we had those guys on the field," Durkin said about the 2012 season with Bostic and Jenkins. "Antonio and Mike, they're smart football players, they understand where their deficiencies are if they have them and how to compensate and make it right.

"We feel good about all those guys being on the field, obviously it comes down to us as coaches putting them in the right matchups too and that's what we're doing."

The rotation isn't something the Florida coaches will shy away from, but it also won't happen only on third down. Durkin shied away from sharing what the coaches think might happen on the earlier downs and how they will manage it. It's clear they have some linebackers they feel better about against the run and others they feel better about in coverage.

"You're going to see us rotating at linebacker on first second and third down," Durkin said. "I think we've got a good group of guys this spring w feel good about all of them, and they've earned the right and the trust to go play all those spots. We'll continue to play the guys that have earned the trust to be on the field.

"That helps your program with development, getting more guys out there being fresh. Especially with the tempo teams are playing, they need to be fresh.

The move to WILL has been a perfect fit for Ball. With Ronald Powell playing the SAM linebacker this season, the Gators wanted to find another way to get Ball on the field. The WILL allows him to use his speed to get to the edge, but now weighing 235 pounds after his first full offseason in the weight room, Ball is big enough shed offensive linemen in the middle of the field.

"He's had a really good camp," Durkin said. "Very proud of how he's handled a position change and what he's done. We're going to keep him there because he's doing a great job. He's really improved on playing square on blocks, being physical downhill, which is just not something we have asked him to do to this point in his career.

"He's done a great job with it. He's really embraced playing the linebacker position, and he is doing well. That guy, he can run, and he is very productive. He's around the ball a lot and we are looking for big things from him."

Whenever Antonio Morrison returns from his suspension, Ball will stay at the WILL linebacker position. Michael Taylor is expected to serve as the backup at MIKE and WILL but will still be on the field for plenty of snaps.

CORNERS READY: The Gators are expected to have one of the best cornerback positions in the country this year, led by Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. The coaching staff challenged Purifoy in the offseason. He's expected to play plenty of snaps on all three phases, but they want more as a cornerback. He has the measurables and speed to be a big time cornerback. They just want to see more production and better tackling.

"You've got a great skill set talent wise and all the things you look for in a corner, now you have to refine the position with the techniques and fundamentals," Durkin recalled his message to Purifoy. "He's worked hard at it. Loucheiz is a great competitor. When we start practice, he's ready to go and compete, and he's improved himself in that way. It's an ongoing thing but we feel good about where he's at now."

Roberson worked hard in the weight room and is almost up to 200 pounds. His work off the field has been noticeable, too. He has spent time in the film room working on his game and getting better.

"He's done a great job in the offseason," Durkin said. "He's really changed his body. I think he's moving well. He's practicing really well. There's not a guy that spends more time than him in the film room studying things and all that. I think he's going to have an unbelievable season."

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