The new Florida coaching staff puts a lot on the linebacker position to lead the defense. They want a middle linebacker to be vocal and confident when making calls. This spring, that player is Alex Anzalone. The numbers are thin at linebacker because Florida has only signed one in the last two recruiting classes and the injuries to Davis and Morrison, forcing Anzalone to be ready to lead.
“I guess it’s something I’ve grown into,” Alex Anzalone said. “At Mike linebacker on the defense, you kind of have to be the quarterback of the defense and be confident in everything. I think it’s just something that I came in to.”?
Even in the 15-20 minutes of spring practice that is open to the media, it’s easy to spot Anzalone. Just follow your ears. He’s loud, screaming out information to other defenders before the snaps. When they aren’t preparing for a play, the junior is encouraging his teammates.
When the new staff challenged him to take the next step as a leader, they saw Anzalone buy in and take it serious.
"I think he has embraced it,” Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. “The expectations that have been set for him, he has embraced those and he's in there studying, he's in there making calls. One of the biggest challenges for him is making sure the guys believe in you when you're making a call. So he'll make it with confidence and he'll stay after with guys.
“I think he's done a great job, and Coach Shannon's done a great job with him, developing him, making the calls, getting us lined up and having enough juice and energy that guys believe in it and go execute the defense the way it should be."
Leading and being vocal came easy to Anzalone since there wasn’t much of a defensive transition. He didn’t have to spend an extended amount of time studying a brand new scheme with new terms. Collins and the defensive staff were able to keep most of the verbiage used to ease the transitions on the players.
The linebackers do believe the new defense will give them a chance to make more plays.
“We’ll make a lot of plays because, specifically the linebackers, we’re playing downhill a lot,” Anzalone said. “Playing downhill you make more plays in the backfield and everything. I think that’s something, that’s the main thing that’s different in this defense.”?
The transition to a leader has also been made easy learning under Randy Shannon. When he was hired to coach the linebackers, it immediately earned the respect of the players at the position. They knew they would have a position coach that has worked with some of the best at linebacker.
“It’s awesome. It’s like learning from a legend, almost,” Anzalone said. “You hear about he was the head coach at Miami; he coached Ray Lewis and all these other people. The other day we pulled out film from 2000, watching Jonathan Vilma from Miami. I think it’s pretty cool. There’s a lot to learn from him.
“You get to see how they were in college and specifically, schematically what they were doing and how they played.”