Crum Steps Up To Play Critical Role At Linebacker

If there is one position that Florida fans hold their breath about this season it is linebacker. The starting threesome of Brandon Siler, Earl Everett and Todd McCullough could be one of the best in the Southeastern Conference if they all stay healthy. But what if someone gets hurt?

Who would step in? That's been the most critical question for Gator fans since spring practice.

Florida converted three players (Brian Crum, Billy Latsko and Eric Rutledge) from other positions to back up the starters at linebacker during the spring and the Gatos signed four linebackers (Jon Demps, Ryan Stamper, Daryl Gresham and Kalvin Baker) to scholarships back in February. In terms of numbers, depth isn't that great of an issue, but in terms of experience, this is a position that needs someone to grow up fast.

Through three weeks of preseason practice, the player showing the desire and the ability to step it up has been Crum, a fourth-year junior from Woodbine, Georgia, who has been shuffled around the previous three years as coaches have tried to find a position for him. Moved to linebacker from tight end in the spring, Crum has been on a path of steady improvement. At 6-3, 237, he has the size for the position and his speed and athletic ability is well documented. Now it appears that Crum is finally putting all the pieces together to become a player that the coaches can trust when he's on the field.

"Brian Crum has really improved and is doing a great job for us right now," said co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who also doubles as the linebackers coach for the Gators. "He is a guy that can play all three [linebacker] positions for us and has been a big surprise for us. Right now if something was to happen to any of the starters, he would be the first linebacker to go in for us."

Brian Crum tries to chase down Baker

Strong has always liked Crum's physical abilities for the position but he has had to patiently wait for the mental part of the game to catch up to Crum's physical abilities. In August practices, Crum is starting to react to make plays without thinking, a sure sign that the total game is coming together.

"He is so versatile," Strong said. "He is a guy that can cover and play the run. He is no different from the other three (starters), he is just doing a better job than he has done in the past."

Crum relishes the back-up role and looks forward to coming on to the field at any one of the three positions. He understands that even though the Gators are in "good shape" at the starting positions, he will see considerable time on the field.

"I am backing up all three right now," he said. "I feel good about knowing what I am doing out there. They just want me to play hard and make plays. Things are coming to me more. The game is just slowing down. Before I was out there like a chicken with his head cut off, now it is just more natural for me."

Moving back to defense was something Crum wanted. He was a linebacker before he made the move to tight end last year in an effort to find a position that could best take advantage of his size and speed. He never once complained about the move because he always puts the team first but he's happy that he's back to the position he always wanted to play.

"I didn't really want to go to offense, the coaches asked me and I was just trying to be a team player," Crum said.

Back on defense Crum is enjoying the game again. He calls the linebackers a "tight" and "real close knit group." Being back at linebacker is like going home. It's a place he's certainly more comfortable and it is a position where he will have the chance to provide critical depth for the Gators in 2005.

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