With Randy Shannon at the helm of the defense and now Tim Skipper along in charge of the linebackers, the group seems to be in the right hands with all the youth that will be involved in 2017. There is talent, but replacing two big time players that were leaders is a big time task.
The Bad Stuff
Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone were such big parts of the Gator defense early on last year. They were leaders, getting people in front lined up when they weren’t doing it properly and both just a big presence in the huddle every down. Even when they were down with injury, they maintained their leadership role with the defense from the sideline helping as much as they could. Their presence will be hard to replace.
While the numbers at the position have seemingly caught up, the depth in particular is almost totally inexperienced and a big question as to how much they can contribute. The second team guys are going to have to really work hard in August to earn the trust of the staff and try and get on the field.
Freshman Ventrel Miller senior year spring highlights...
Possible Bright Side
Experienced depth is the biggest issue, but there shouldn’t be a loss for talent. The biggest unknown that should make an impact is redshirt freshman linebacker Jeremiah Moon. Moon was ahead of all the other freshmen before he hurt his thumb and missed most of the season resulting in the redshirt last year. He’s long and lean and can run well enough to cover in the slot when necessary. He’s a big hitter as well. He will actually challenge for a starting spot in the fall.
Redshirt sophomore Rayshad Jackson had his moments in the spring and may be a guy they weren’t counting on that they could. The play of the true freshmen that show up will be a big part in all of this. It’s a group that includes Ventrell Miller, Lacedrick Brunson, Nick Smith, and James Houston IV. There is athleticism and size in that group, but we don’t really know what they are made of in terms of collegiate talent yet.
The Good Stuff
When pressed into duty as freshmen, sophomores David Reese and Vosean Joseph performed well. Reese will be asked to be the leader of the group in the fall and he did some of that at the end of last year when his head was undoubtedly swimming. He’s a big run stuffing linebacker that plays well in traffic and a pure middle guy. Joseph is a head hunter and probably the hardest hitter on the team. He’s a play maker with his attacking style and really impressed beyond what people thought of him coming out of high school. He brings nastiness to the defense that they really like.
Redshirt sophomore Kylan Johnson saw a lot of time on the field and will be asked to play both outside linebacker spots with his ability to cover as well. He hasn’t flashed the spectacular, but he is solid and will likely be in a fight for his spot with Moon as the fall progresses.
The depth is finally where it needs to be. Once the young guys gain some experience, they will have a solid two-deep that they really haven’t had in years around these parts. At a position that takes injuries more than others, depth is key so one or two of those freshmen need to step up early after their arrival.
This group is rated low among their peers because of the loss of two big time players to the NFL. The fact is this group played most of the last 4-5 games of the season without those two anyway, so they have become a bit seasoned without a choice. They very well could move up the unit ranking as the season progresses, but for now, this is where I will put them.