Everett Might Be MVP Of UF's Defense

Just how valuable is junior linebacker Earl Everett to the University of Florida's defense? All you have to do is look at what happened about three days ago when he hurt his neck. It wasn't a major injury, but the coaches immediately had Everett in a non-contact jersey. This is one player the Gators can ill afford to do without this season.

"I just hurt my neck a little bit, nothing major," said Everett, who was held out of contact on Friday and Saturday. The neck is just sore and he will be back at full speed when practice resumes Monday after the Gators got a well deserved day off on Sunday.

This looks to be the breakout kind of season that everyone has expected from Everett since he signed with the Gators out of South Sumter in the talented recruiting class of 2003. This 6-2, 231-pound combination of speed and power from Webster, Florida is my choice to be the Gators' defensive MVP in 2005.

Everett is part of a starting group of linebackers (Brandon Siler and Todd McCullough are the other two) that may be as good a group as there is in the SEC this year. Siler made Freshman All-America last season while Everett made second team All-SEC as voted by the coaches. There is no question that McCullough has plenty of talent. He just has to find a way to stay healthy for an entire season to make his presence felt.

Everett spent last season playing mostly zone although he occasionally got to blitz or cover a skill position player from the offense. This year, the zone has been pretty much scrapped in favor of man-to-man coverage. For some linebackers that would be a scary thought, but with Everett's speed, it shouldn't be a problem.

"I will be in coverage a little more," he said. "I will also blitz a lot."

Earl Everett on the move at practice

Florida's defensive schemes will allow Everett to match up in several different places. He's got the speed and versatility to handle just about any assignment. Offensive coordinators look for mismatches but Everett is a mismatch that the offense has to account for on every play because he has safety speed to go with a linebacker's strength and size. Everett really doesn't care who he lines up against as long as he's out there on the field.

"Sometimes I will match up on the tight end and sometimes the slot receiver," he said. "It just depends on what defense we are in."

The first unit defense has shown signs of becoming a dominating unit in the first two weeks of practice in August. It's quite a change from the spring when the defense routinely was chewed up by the offense. Everett sees the improvement but knows that they need to develop some depth to do the things they want to do.

"We have a lot of things to work on," he said. "Our first group is pretty good, but we got to get the backups ready and get some depth."

During the offseason, Coach Urban Meyer continually praised Everett, often calling him the best football player on the team and one of the best he's ever coached. It is obvious from the spring and also from August practice that Everett has responded to Meyer and Florida's new coaching staff.

"New coaches … everyone is buying into everything they are bringing to the table," he said. "Everyone is fired up and ready to bring The Swamp back. Definitely a lot more experience too, we just want to get the show on the road."

Everett knows that his job at linebacker is made easier when the people up front are making plays. He sees tremendous improvement in the defensive line and that alone should make him a more productive player.

"They are actually chasing the ball," he said. "It is something they didn't do too well last year. They are firing off the ball."

As intense as Earl Everett is on the field, off the field he is still the same polite, cordial young man who came to the Gators from that small high school in Central Florida. When he's on the field he'll take an opponent's head off. Off the field, he's a team leader with character and the kind of qualities that make him invaluable to a team. He has a chance to be the MVP of the SEC's most improved defense this year.

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