What’s left: Linebacker

Not taking a linebacker in the 2014 recruiting class seems even more questionable when looking at how thin the Gators are at the position going into next season.

Florida linebackers Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor will graduate and move on after this season. Ball suffered a season-ending knee injury against South Carolina, but he made 49 tackles in nine games with two sacks, three tackles for a loss, one pass breakup, five quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.

Taylor was second on the team with 58 tackles, adding five tackles for a loss, one sack, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry.

The Gators relied on a four-man rotation at linebacker with Ball, Taylor, Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis, who was also lost for the year with a knee injury against South Carolina.

Florida is now set to return Davis and Morrison next season, but Morrison could elect to leave early and enter the NFL Draft. That would further complicate a position without much depth. As a junior, Morrison led the Gators with 98 tackles -- 40 more than the player with the second most.

Morrison had one sack, one interception and three quarterback hurries, but his most important role was as a downhill linebacker. He bounced back after a disappointing year and was a force for the Gators. The question now is what he’ll do next season.

Davis continued to show flashes. He was a nightmare for opponents as a freshman on special teams, and even though he didn’t get as many snaps as expected on defense, Davis still had 23 tackles and three quarterback hurries. The Gators need his knee to heal so that he can be an important part of the defense next year.

Even if Morrison returns to join Davis, the Gators don’t have a third linebacker with much experience. Alex Anzalone came off the bench to get snaps as the SAM linebacker last season, and he played well when he got a chance. He needs to be ready for a much bigger role next season. He played in all 11 games in 2014 and made 11 tackles, but his biggest role came on special teams.

When Ball and Davis were lost for the season, Will Muschamp expected Anzalone and Daniel McMillian to take over a bigger role. McMillian didn’t end up getting the chance. After struggling to see the field as a freshman in 2013 because he didn’t know the playbook, McMillian dedicated himself to it in the offseason and memorized what he was doing. However, he still couldn’t make a big impact when the Gators lacked numbers, recording just six tackles in six games played.

Jeremi Powell will be a redshirt junior but lacks size. He has been an important part of Florida’s specials teams in recent years, but at 6-0, 215 pounds, it’s hard to imagine the guys can rely on him to play a big role next season with the defense. He might have to because of the numbers, though.

The wildcard here remains Matt Rolin. After tearing his ACL during his senior year of high school, he rushed back too fast and re-tore it in fall camp before the 2013 season. The staff took it very slow with Rolin in 2014, but he didn’t get on the field in the regular season. Heading into 2015 as a redshirt sophomore, Rolin still has the motor to be an important piece of the Florida defense, but his knee has to hold up to make that happen.

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