Kan Li / Scout

Gators' Spring Football: Young linebackers will work

Jim McElwain says he doesn’t have enough linebackers right now, but there is a healthy group that will be practicing for the Florida Gators this spring. It certainly is a bigger and group than a year ago.

The loss of Antonio Morrison is a good one, but a couple of backers that were banged up a year ago should be back in full swing at least by fall. There is also some youth that will put in work. There will be lots to look for in March and April.


The leader of the pack…

Kan Li / Scout
 Senior Jarrad Davis (6-2, 230) had a pretty big year in 2015 and didn’t begin the year as the starter. By the end of the year he finished second on the team in tackles (98), third on the team in tackles for loss (11), tied for third on the team in sacks (3.5), tops among non-DB’s in pass break ups (4), and tied at the top on the team with quarterback hurries (7). He was a big play maker on defense.


The thing about Davis that sticks out to this writer is that when he gets a bead on the ball, he hits another gear to get to the ball carrier and make the play. He plays tenaciously and when he makes contact the ball carrier goes down. He will be asked to lead this group this spring, some of which have been here a while and still learning, and others that are pretty new and have a lot to learn.


Will he be healthy…

 Redshirt junior Alex Anzalone (6-3, 244) is expected to play again, he won’t have contact this spring.  Still listed as a senior on the official roster, Anzalone should get his appeal to gain his fifth year back. He started the first two games of 2015 before getting injured. He made six tackles before getting hurt.


Anzalone brings a steadying force at linebacker and should be able to help any of the young guys. He is surprisingly quick for his size and is the biggest linebacker on the roster.  He also brings a punch with him when he tackles the ball carrier.


Start off where he ended…

Kan Li / Scout
 Redshirt junior Matt Rolin (6-3, 216) is one guy that I pretty much wrote off before the end of that season. Then the Gators got in a pinch with numbers and he showed up on the field. In three games he finished with 11 tackles and looked good doing it.


Long and rangy Rolin pursues very well. If he can stay healthy he is an added bonus to what was thought to be a depleted unit due to insignificant numbers signing in the last few years. He’s an older player too with still two years of playing time available.


Is he mentally ready…

Kan Li / Scout
 Senior Daniel McMillian (6-1, 219) possesses all of the physical skill you want in a prototype linebacker. It is the mental part of the game and making the right reads on the field that have been the issue for McMillian. In 2015 he played in all 14 games and amassed 23 tackles, not enough for a third year guy at a position that needed help.


Maybe another year in the system will help as we have seen McMillian make a big play or two in his time. It is his senior year, so he has to turn it up a notch right now with no time to waste.


Needs to see the field…

Tim Casey / UAA Communications
 Redshirt freshman Rayshad Jackson (6-0, 221) has grown since he has arrived on campus and the 221 pounds should serve him well. A Randy Shannon prospect and the only linebacker signed in 2015, Jackson will get his chance this spring to see what he can do.


He is a hard-nosed, fast twitch de-cleater from Miami who won’t quit until the whistle is blown. Look for Jackson to get plenty of reps this spring to see what he can do and to better learn the defense.


Making the move…

Tim Casey / UAA Communications
 It was just a matter of time before redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson (6-1, 220) was going to be playing linebacker. When they update the weights in a day or so I expect him to be heavier and he just looks like a linebacker before he even puts his pads on.


The one thing about Johnson is that he was a quarterback in high school. That is a double edged sword when it comes to the position move. The first thing is that as a quarterback he will likely soak things up quickly. But, one has to worry about him being mean enough on defense to play linebacker. We should find out about both this spring.


Didn’t come to sit the bench…

Tim Casey / UAA Communications
 When true freshman David Reese (6-0, 240) enrolled at Florida in January, it wasn’t to sit the bench. A huge reason for Reese coming to Gainesville was the opportunity that presented itself in the form of early playing time.


What Reese brings is the size that is ready for the SEC already. He also brings a tenacity that he will need in those dark days this spring when he makes mistakes on top of mistakes as a freshman. That will happen, but Reese looks to have the mindset to shake out of it. 


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