Randy Shannon Grades the Linebacker Group

GAINESVILLE, Fla.-- Florida assistant Randy Shannon discusses where the linebackers stand halfway through spring practice.

 With spring football over half way over, Florida  linebackers coach/co-defensive coordinator, Randy Shannon, is happy at where the defense and the linebackers are right now. 

"There's a lot of guys trying to still compete for positions," said Shannon after Monday's practice. "That's the one thing about spring ball, any time, anywhere, anybody can move up or down no matter what, it just depends on what kind of energy, what kind of learning process you have on each day we come out to practice." 

Although Shannon is happy at where his group stands, he wants his team to work on communication moving forward this spring and to the fall. 

“That’s one that we’re going to continue to stress, is communication. We always have a saying – if we’re all wrong, then that means we’re all right," he said.  "We all on the same defensive call, the wrong defense, that means we’re going to execute it. When you’ve got guys playing two different defenses, bad things happen. So the communication factor, we want to be on point with that.”

Jarrad Davis' Return Critical for Gators

The one thing Shannon does not under estimate, is how critical having senior linebacker, Jarrad Davis, back this season.  

"It's big for us as a team, because he's a guy that coming back his senior year wanted to play for the University of Florida, have an opportunity to compete at a high level," said Shannon. "The way his energy is each and every day, the way he brings it in practice is something that's special, because every day he comes out, he competes at a high level and the players on the team see those things, and the young guys see it, and they take their step up to the next level."

The Georgia native's game has come very far since his first snap in Gainesville.

"Just watching him the year before I got here he didn't play that much, so it was just an unknown factor," he said. "He put the time in, he worked at it. He spent a lot of time on learning what we're trying to get done defensively, but also he plays the game like he's supposed to.

"He's into it. He's enthusiastic­­c. Everything he does, he competes at it, no matter if it's a one-on-one drill, if it's a half-speed drill, very competitive. When you have guys that's competitive like that, they can get a lot better."

According to Shannon, Davis has not reached his ceiling either. 

"He’s competitive like Jon Vilma was. Vilma, you couldn’t, if you played cards he’d play all night until he beat you. That’s how Jarrad is; he’ll never quit, he’s going to have to win. If you want to keep competing at dominos or a game you’re gonna be up all night with it until you let him win," said Shannon. "Very competitive in that aspect, he takes a lot of pride in himself.

"Athletically he has like Jon Beason-ness, the speed and the power and stuff like that and the knowledge like Ray [Lewis] was. He has the game, he knows what to do, he knows how to get the guys lined up, he knows how to protect certain guys on the defense with a call or something like that.”

His competitiveness was one of the big factors that led to Davis' return to The Swamp, especially after the team lost in the SEC Championship game. 

“That’s the way he said it. He said he feels like we’ve still got some things to accomplish," said Shannon. "With the team coming back, we’ve got a lot of people coming back. Yeah, we miss the guys on defense, but also we miss bringing a lot of guys back. So when you have a team where you bring a lot of guys back, guys believe in what we’re doing. Big things can happen.”

Stepping Up 

Antonio Morrison is gone, however, others have already stepped up. 

"Daniel McMillian played a lot last year for us, there's opportunity for him to come up," said Shannon.  "[Alex] Anzalone's been practicing a little bit non-contact, but he's been going through the seven-on-seven drills, been going over the things where it's not banging. So that's where a lot of leadership comes back also."

McMillian has seen his role with the team change this spring. The senior linebacker has been moved to the strong side position after playing at the nickel position and outside linebacker. 

"He’s adapted, he’s done well at it," said Shannon. "We’re kind of excited about the progress, the way he’s learning. Great things ahead for us and for him, because him learning the weakside and now he’s able to play the strongside, now we gain two positions out of one. That’s how you build depth. Just try to get guys who have been here for a long time. To get able to play two, that means if something happens you’ve always got an extra guy.”

Interest in the Freshman  

David Reese stepped onto campus this January, and the team has embraced the young linebacker from Michigan. Shannon and many of the veterans have taken Reese aside for some one-on-one teaching sessions. 

"They’re helping with Reese, I’m helping with Reese, but Reese has come a long way," said Shannon. "From where he was at first to where he is now is unbelievable. He had an unbelievable scrimmage last week, we put him in with the ones last week just to see what he can do and he didn’t go berserk on us. He called the defense, made them line up, made some plays, so we’re enthusiastic about that."

Shannon sees Reese as a middle linebacker. 

Depth Concerns at Linebacker? 

“I’d like to have eight guys," said Shannon.  "The most I’ve ever had over my career, to be honest with you, no matter where I’ve been is about four guys. To be honest with you, if you get five you’re doing really, really good. If you get four, that’s great. But if you get three you just have to work with it."

Odds and Ends 

Kylan Johnson playing linebacker:  "When we first started he was doing phenomenal but then he got banged up. Now he’s back today. I don’t really know what he did today until we watch film but we have a lot of expectations from him.

"He’s got great ball skills, vision and stuff on the pass game. But also he played free safety in high school and he’s a, run the alley hit guys. So he’s got that tenacity and that toughness. He sees things quicker than what you think he would." 

On Matt Rolin:  “He’s getting better. He’s not where we want him to be as a senior and a guy who’s been around the program a lot. He’s gotta keep grinding and keep working.”

 On Rayshad Jackson: "It’s still a learning process. But like anything, he’s going to get better if he just keeps the reps. The way we practice, Rayshad’s probably averaging about 35-40 snaps in practice, so he’s getting opportunities to get better.”

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