Spring Forward: Linebackers

With less than three weeks from the start of spring practice and the team actually on spring break we can start taking a look at each of the individual units the staff will have available for the short 15 practices. With that in mind we can start at the linebacker position where the numbers will be short but experience levels high for spring drills.

Sophomores Jeremi Powell and Alex Anzalone, along with red-shirt freshman Matt Rolin will all miss spring drills as they recover from injuries sustained last year. All are expected back in the Fall, but that leaves the spring depth chart with only five scholarship players.

It is the spring and numbers are usually low anyway, and we also need to remember that Florida has been running close to 80% NICKEL defense (just two linebackers) in the Fall, so it isn't the end of the world to only have five available in the Spring.

With the three out, here is what we are looking at.

The WILL and MIKE linebackers are basically the same position in the Will Muschamp defense. Both will line up parallel to the offensive guards most of the time and about 3-5 yards deep from the line of scrimmage. The WILL is asked to cover backs out of the backfield a little more often, but both act as inside linebackers.

We all should be very familiar with the three names that will vie for the two spots… sophomore Jarrad Davis, junior Antonio Morrison, and senior Michael Taylor. All three played extensively by the end of the year last season.

Davis looks to be the starter at MIKE (middle linebacker). He started just one game, but played a lot of defense coming down the stretch of the season. Despite just one start, he totaled 24 tackles on the season, albeit most of those on special teams. The 6-foot-2, 226 pounder needs to get a little bigger and this weight may be off now, but he plays middle linebacker with a purpose and seems very good at getting off blocks and squaring up on the ball carrier.

The starter at the WILL (weak side linebacker) should be Taylor. The 6-foot, 233 pound senior is the team's leading returning career tackler with 130 in his three years on the field and has quite a few head hunting type hits to his resume. Taylor started in 10 of the 11 games he played a year ago.

Michael Taylor

Morrison is a bit of an enigma. The 6-foot-1, 230 pound junior came into last season with all the hype from the coaching staff and really struggled at times on the field, especially when trying to get off of blocks. Morrison started seven of the eight games he played last year and has a ton of experience now. He was second on the team in tackles with 77, including three tackles for loss. He very well could land one of the starting spots, but he has some things to prove coming into this spring.

The SAM (strong side linebacker) is more specialized and will be asked to rush the passer a bit more than the other two spots. Lined up outside the tight end side of the line of scrimmage, they need to be long and lean and really be able to get after the quarterback. The two prime candidates for the spring are senior Neiron Ball and sophomore Daniel McMillian.

Despite playing so much NICKEL, Ball did manage to start in seven games a year ago and was asked to play one of the other spots a few times because of the injuries at the position. He finished with 25 tackles on the year. He is fast and plays well in space and t 6-foot-3, 235 pounds he has the long arms and body to get to the backfield and stay away from the blocks of offensive tackles.

Neiron Ball

Although he played in nine games as a freshman, McMillian saw all of his time on special teams registering two tackles on kickoff coverage. He is a film rat but that didn't help him learn the defense good enough to get on the field a year ago. He may be the most physically gifted of the linebackers and at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds is a legitimate force when he gets to the ball carrier. This spring is big for his development and he should grow in terms of learning the defense as much as anyone.

Jeremi Powell, Alex Anzalone, and Matt Rolin will spend the Spring on the exercise bike, but should all be plenty healthy by the start of the season. Powell was made for the WILL, Anzalone is more of a MIKE or WILL, and Rolin can be a star at the SAM when ready.

The bottom line for the linebackers this Spring is to stay healthy and really get into the scheme so that they aren't thinking at all and cn watch everything in front of them. They will need the defensive tackles to play better in front of them to help keep linemen off of them, but they have to do their part and get off of blocks when they come. Technique will be key for some this spring.

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