Muschamp sees leaders among linebackers

The injuries compounded the issue a year ago, but one of the things that was missing on both sides of the ball for the Florida Gators was leadership. On defense, Florida lost two starting linebackers from 2012 after both were drafted to the NFL. Their leader up front was hurt early in the year when Dominique Easley went down. Now they have some returning players that need to step up.

Florida returns senior linebackers Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor, along with junior Antonio Morrison, and sophomore Jarrad Davis who made his presence felt at the end of last season. Florida head coach Will Muschamp says he sees some measure of leadership from all four.

"I think if you look defensively, Mike Taylor, Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis are three guys," Muschamp pointed out as leaders on the team. "Neiron Ball's work habits are off the charts. Now, Neiron is not a very vocal guy, but I mean from a work-habit standpoint there's nobody who works harder than he does.

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Muschamp says the linebackers understand that they weren't as good as they needed to be at times a year ago. They are the type that are dead set on getting it right. He thinks Morrison got a little taste of humble pie a year ago and is ready to redeem himself.

"I think Antonio speaks more with his work habits and how he works in the weight room and how he works in practice," Muschamp said. "He's an intense player. I think he speaks volumes, like Jarrad Davis does, like Mike Taylor does. Those guys work hard. Those guys have a good work ethic. Those guys realize we need to be more productive at the position than we were a year ago. But I've seen a guy (in Morrison) that's again, you get humbled, you get knocked down like we were last season, you just shut up and go to work."

The Florida defense really has two inside linebackers. The WILL and the MIKE linebackers basically have the same duties on defense. With as much NICKEL as Florida runs, the Gators will rely on the MIKE and WILL the most and the four guys mentioned above should be really competent in playing the two spots.

Neiron Ball

"We've got great competition," Muschamp said. "Our Mike and Will are mirrored, I mean there's not a whole lot of difference about the two inside backersWhen you talk in terms of outside for us, it's Sam linebacker and Buck. Those are a little different. But those two positions, I think you've got five quality guys that will go through spring. Jarrad Davis, being one of them, and Antonio Morrison, Mike Taylor and Neiron Ball, who can play multiple positions because he can go play Sam or Buck as well."

One guy that made a statement for the defense in 2013 was freshman Jarrad Davis. The only one of four freshman linebackers that wasn't on campus last January as an early signee, Davis worked hard and smart and saw early playing time on special teams before being inserted late in the season after injuries. He performed at a high level when in there.

Muschamp really likes his sophomore star.

"Well I think it's a guy that's got a lot of maturity about him," he said of Davis. "Football is very important to him. When you've earned the respect of the coaching staff it's one thing, when you've earned the respect of your teammates it's another. He might be as well-respected of a player in our locker room because it's real. He works hard. Football is important to him. He's a physical, tough player. He works hard in the weight room. He works hard in the class room. He works hard on the practice fields. He's got great work habits and was a productive player as a true freshman. I think all of those things combined, he's a natural leader as far as those things are concerned."

After a season when an inexperienced sophomore was supposed to step in and be the leader of the defense, it appears the Gators have a few more candidates in 2014. There is still a lot to prove with this bunch, but the best thing is that they know it. <>

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