SPRING: Meyer Says Linebackers Stepping It Up

When the Florida Gators began spring practice three weeks ago, one of Coach Urban Meyer's chief concerns was to find some linebackers. The Gators entered the spring with only three scholarship linebackers and three players from other positions were being shifted with the hope that they could learn the position well enough to fill in backup roles.

After 11 days of practice, Meyer is still fretting depth at the position but he's found three players who can play in addition to returning starters Brandon Siler and Earl Everett. Todd McCullough, Brian Crum and Billy Latsko have all stepped it up enough in practice that when Meyer spoke about linebackers Monday he said, "I'm very pleased with that position."

McCullough, an oft-injured 6-5, 235-pounder from Jacksonville, was called a "nice guy" by Meyer in his pre-spring press conference. Meyer said at that time he needed to see McCullough spend more time on the playing field instead of in the training room.

Healthy for a change, McCullough has responded to Meyer's challenge. He's stepped up his game and shown consistency. He had excellent practices last Monday and Wednesday, then Saturday, with Everett unable to attend the scrimmage in The Swamp due to a family funeral, McCullough played lights out.

"Todd McCullough is doing really well," said Meyer. "He graded a champion effort in the scrimmage."

Brian Crum has been doing well, according to the staff.

Crum came to Florida as a multi-talented athlete. He's spent three years wandering from position to position, tried at wide receiver, linebacker, tight end and now once again at linebacker. At 6-3, 230, he has linebacker size and still has the speed that would enable him to play on the offensive side. He's come on strong recently as he seems to have finally figured out how to maneuver in traffic. No longer a target for a blocker, he's learned to sidestep and make the hit.

Latsko came to Florida as a walk-on linebacker who earned his way to a scholarship as a fullback under Ron Zook. He is a 5-10, 227-pounder who has always found ways to compensate for size and speed with determination and effort. He was a fine high school linebacker who won the best linebacker award at the Auburn camp after his junior year at Gainesville Buchholz.

"Crum, McCullough and Latsko have really stepped up," said Meyer. "Siler has not been himself, but he's been nursing a groin injury and today he said was the first day he's felt really good and we've had three linebackers step up. I think they're doing really good. I think Todd McCullough, Brian Crum and Billy Latsko are starting to separate themselves and they'll all three play."

The linebacker play has been one of the reasons the defense has started to step up its intensity. Monday the defense was dominating, completely overwhelming the offense at times. Blitzes came from all directions and there was great pursuit to the football.

"I know what good defense looks like," said Meyer. "I've been around some really good defenses and we're getting close. The emphasis on running to the ball… the effort … they're starting to believe in each other. I really enjoy watching the defense."

While the defense was playing with intensity and hitting on all cylinders, the offense was sputtering to the point that Meyer said "the offense is way behind and we've got a long way to go."

Meyer noted that in the new offense that he's installing, all 11 players have to be taking care of their assignments and that "if one guy struggles on offense it's a mess." He also mentioned the fact that after 12 days of practice, the defense has an advantage because it's familiarized itself with the offense.

"What happens also is you put a freshman in the starting lineup and Jim Tartt's our right guard and he's struggling," Meyer said. "What happens is he gets the brunt of it from the coaches and the players. Well, what about those juniors that are in front of him and not playing?

"Those are the ones sitting on the sidelines drinking water and Jim Tartt's out there getting screamed at, pushed, and all that. At the University of Florida a freshman shouldn't play in the offensive line. What happened is there are some guys in front of him that aren't worth a darn right now but we'll be fine, we'll get this thing going."

Meyer said that in an ideal situation, "Offensive linemen need to redshirt and then sit one more year, then play for three years. That's what happens in the big time, that's what you expect to happen."

DICKEY UPDATE: Quarter Gavin Dickey watched practice on crutches. He bruised a heel Saturday playing for Florida's baseball team against Kentucky.

Meyer laughed and said, "I know I could teach him how to run to first base without bruising your damn heel."

Gavin Dickey showed up in crutches at today's practice. He had a bruised heal from baseball.

Dickey is hitting .406 with the baseball team where he has worked his way into the starting lineup as the left fielder. Meyer said that he understands fully why both Dickey's baseball and football teammates love having him on their team.

"He's a great kid," said Meyer. "You can see why they want him so bad in baseball… great chemistry, great team guy."

While it's unlikely that Dickey will be able to participate in Saturday's Orange and Blue Game (baseball team plays Georgia in Athens), Meyer said he knows what to expect of his backup quarterback.

"I saw enough things Saturday that there's a role for him on this team," Meyer said. "Obviously I don't want to hear anything about baseball during two-a-days, and summer workouts and those kind of things."

Meyer said that actual game experience would make Dickey the likely backup but added that "Josh Portis is probably the best well rounded quarterback and CI (Cornelius Ingram) can really run and he's starting to learn the passing game."

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