Linebackers will be ready

The Florida defense is replacing a lot of muscle from a very strong defense in 2012. Five starters from last year's top 10 unit were drafted into the NFL in April opening up some possible holes. Some big shoes to fill come at linebacker, but junior Michael Taylor and company look to step in and make some noise.

Florida lost first round draft choices Sharrif Floyd (DT) and Matt Elam (Saf) in April. They also lost two star linebackers in Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic in the middle rounds of the draft. Along with safety Josh Evans, the Gators would normally be rebuilding on defense.

Don't tell that to linebacker Michael Taylor who likes the chances of this Gator unit and especially he and his fellow linebackers. He looks for his guys to start strong and continue on, they don't need time to really get on the same page.

"We've been practicing for a while now," Taylor said earlier in the week. "We've had about 30 practices now. We had fall camp. If cohesion's not built yet, it's not going to get much more gelled. We've been out there together for a while making calls, making checks without the people we had last year making a lot of those calls and checks. I think we've adjusted well and we'll be ready to handle anything."

He says the boys can't wait to get on the field against someone besides their own teammates that they see in practice every day.

"I mean in practice you're not going to hit your teammates. You're not going to feel that same animosity towards your teammates as you are another team. When we see that blue and yellow step on the field, it'll be a whole other level."

With 83,000 plus in the stands on Saturday, and the first game of the season, Taylor and company will be anticipating the kickoff as much as anything in the last nine months. Nerves will be everywhere before that ball is kicked.

"Football is something we've been doing for a while, but you still get those butterflies, you still get those jitters, especially in the first game of the season," he said. "You're hyped, you see everybody else hyped, everybody's going to be hyped for the first game running out in that stadium. It's just the nature of the beast having butterflies, yeah."

A lot of it goes away when the fans in The swamp start shaking the stadium to AC/DC's ‘Thunder Struck'.

"Yeah, then you know it's fixing to get ready," he said with a grin on his face.

Taylor should start at MIKE linebacker Saturday against Toledo. He is filling in for starter Antonio Morrison who will miss the game from a suspension, but says the guys got a lift this week when they found out Morrison, a real team leader, will only miss one game.

"It'll help us," Taylor said. "He knows the defense, he'll be a player who'll be able to come back and contribute.

"It was good news for all of us, because we know the type of player he is and what he brings to the table."

Morrison is out Saturday, but one big name back is junior SAM linebacker Ronald Powell. Powell brings his 6-4, 240 pound body to the game after missing all of last year with two tears to the same ACL. Taylor says that Powell was hard to keep from overdoing it during his ride back to a healthy knee.

"We'll be happy for him," he said of Powell. "That's a very, very serious injury that occurred to him and we're happy to have him back. He thought he was just going to come back after like a couple days and be ready. We had to tell him sometimes to slow down, 'you've got to take your time, you've got to give it time to heal.' I'll be happy for him. I know a lot of people on the defense will be happy for him. We'll be excited to have him back with us."

Powell's intangibles will be big for a unit replacing so much from a strong group a year ago.

"He brings a leadership, he brings a vocal word," Taylor said. "He's going to say something whether it needs to be said or not. He's going to let people know if they are slipping or not. He's going to bring a level of toughness that will be needed out there."

With Taylor on the inside and Powell on one side of him, the other side will be manned with junior Neiron Ball. Ball has had a particularly strong fall camp after finally being healthy during a season of football. Taylor says Ball has exceptional speed for a guy his size.

"Oh, the boy's quick now," he said of Ball. "He's gifted with some speed. It gives him a lot of ability to get outside the tackle, run fast in-between the tackles, so he can get to whatever play he wants to."

The Gators also added four freshmen linebackers to the squad. Matt Rolin is out for the year with an injury, but Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis, and Daniel McMillian should all make some kind of impact in 2013.

"They're good," Taylor said of the group. "They are coming along pretty well. From what I've heard, they are going to be helping us out a lot this year, special teams, defense. I'm excited for them, too."

Taylor knows he has to be a leader this week. The starting MIKE linebacker is that guy and he has that responsibility in week one. Still, he believes this defense is chock full of people that can lead in more ways than one.

"I mean, in general the MIKE linebacker is (the leader) in our defense, but we have a team full of leaders," he said. "Everybody has leadership characteristics. So I wouldn't point out just one person. Everybody feeds off of each other, that's just the defense. So we have 11 leaders out there, we have 11 team captains out there. We're all one unit. So we don't like to be singular individuals."

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