FOOTBALL: Injury Bug Hits Linebacker Position

Never, not even in the spring, was the painful lack of depth at the linebacker position so obvious for the Florida Gators as it was Tuesday. Brandon Siler sat for precautionary measures after a minor concussion suffered Monday. Earl Everett left early as a precaution because of a stinger he suffered in his neck last week. Todd McCullough is being brought along slowly because of some soreness in his knee.

Florida started spring practice with just three experienced scholarship linebackers in Siler, Everett and McCullough, and of those three, McCullough has been prone to injury his entire career. The depth was alleviated somewhat in the spring when Brian Crum was moved from tight end to linebacker and fullbacks Billy Latsko and Eric Rutledge shifted from fullback to linebacker, a position they both played in high school. The Gators also signed four linebackers in the recruiting class to at least give Florida a three-deep at each of the slots.

Tuesday, however, the Gators looked thin and vulnerable. With just eight full practices remaining before Florida opens its season September 3 with Wyoming, the linebacker position is the most critical place on the team.

Asked about his linebackers after practice, Meyer responded quickly, "There are none," before reeling off a string of injuries that make the position seem like one in need of a M*A*S*H unit.

"You've got Earl Evertt … Siler got a little concussion yesterday (Monday) so they held him out but he's going to be fine," said Meyer. "When you take those two out and then Todd McCullough, you don't have a whole lot there."

McCullough was viewed as fragile when Meyer and his staff took over in January, but the senior from Macclenny has shown that he's a battler and one who will work his way through injuries. Meyer called him a "nice guy" when he took over, but McCullough has earned the coach's respect.

"He's a fifth-year guy who's been around a lot," said Meyer, noting that from a mental standpoint, there are no concerns with the 6-5, 235-pound senior. "Game speed is the only thing we're worried about. He actually went today a little bit so he'll be back. We just have to get him back to practice so he gets used to the tempo of the game."

Durability used to be an issue with McCullough but Meyer says he doesn't question that anymore.

"He's fought through some things," said Meyer. "I think Todd's prepared well. He's going to be fine."

With Everett, Meyer said that the training staff is just being careful getting the 6-3, 231-pound junior back to full speed.

"It's a sore neck," said Meyer. "He's had that for a few days and they're just being cautious about it."

Latsko emerged in the spring as a dependable backup, especially against the run, but he's been slowed by a groin injury. Meyer is hoping that the end of two-a-day practices will help that soreness go away.

"He's had a nagging injury," said Meyer. "He did pretty good in the spring but we've got to get him healthy."

With the veterans nursing injuries, the bulk of the snaps in Tuesday's situational scrimmage were taken by Latsko, Crum, Rutledge and "a bunch of freshmen … Gresham and some of those cats."

TUESDAY SCRIMMAGE: The Gators worked in scrimmage situations Tuesday, concentrating most of their efforts on Wyoming's tendencies on both sides of the football.

"We had more of an emphasis on Wyoming and identifying their playmakers," said Meyer, who said that he thinks the Gators are getting closer to where he thinks they should be in their first game preparations. With school starting back Wednesday and two-a-day practices a thing of the past, Meyer is hoping the team returns to practice energized and ready to go.

"I think we're getting there," he said. "A lot of it depends on how they'll come back tomorrow (Wednesday). If they mope around and kind of worry about how tired they are and everything else with school starting distractions starting, then I think we have a little problem but I don't see that in this team.

"I see a team that hopefully shows up tomorrow and with all the pretty girls on campus and everything, they'll have bright eyes and be ready to go with a little bounce in their step."

REGGIE NELSON UPDATE: Nelson, the junior college All-America transfer, was back in uniform Tuesday, able once again to run. He was held out of contact, however, but Meyer says that it's critical Nelson is back practicing full speed in the next couple of days.

"It's critical," he said. "I don't know how he's going to play if he's not in tomorrow or the next day … [if he is not] he won't play that first game so we're panicking a little bit.

"It's a very limited role what he'll play. It's not like we're asking him to learn the whole defense, just learn something simple, certain position, certain situations and he'll help us."

With Nelson out the past three or four days, Deshawn Carter has seen a lot more action at the nickel position and true freshman Avery Atkins is working a lot as a corner. Nelson has played both the corner and nickel slots during practices so far.

BACKUP QUARTERBACK: True freshman Josh Portis continues to make improvements, making it more likely that he'll be the first backup at quarterback. Junior Gavin Dickey is seeing some action both at quarterback and at wide receiver. Meyer would prefer to keep Dickey at wide receiver if he can.

"It's Josh Portis right now," said Meyer. "Gavin Dickey took a bunch of snaps again today and I actually like when he's in there. They're the guys that keep coming. They just need a bunch of reps. I feel better about it than I did a week ago."

Meyer said that Portis and Dickey have eased ahead of redshirt freshman Cornelius Ingram, who he said "just needs to continue to play. He'll be fine. Cornelius will be fine someday."

STARTING KICKER: Meyer said the Gators aren't ready to name a starting kicker. Chris Hetland was the leader last week but now he's being pushed.

"Eric Nappy is pushing right now for that starting spot," said Meyer. "I can't say right now … I can't name a kicker. Nappy's right there though."

Meyer called the lack of a starting kicker at this juncture a "big time concern." It was expected that true freshman Jonathon Phillips would come in and nail down the job, but that hasn't quite worked out.

"He's just a freshman," said Meyer. "He's got good leg strength. I thought he would take the job or compete for the job but he acts like a freshman. I've been around this game long enough … freshmen!"

Meyer said that Phillips has talent but "he's just got to grow up a little bit."

Where Phillips does have a chance to contribute is handling the kickoffs. He's battling with senior Nick Fleming to handle that role.

"Phillips might be our kickoff guy," said Meyer. "He's got a hammer for a leg. We actually tried him out on kickoffs today, and it's Fleming and Phillips for that spot."


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