VETTEL: Charlie Strong Talks About LBs

Entering fall camp one of the biggest issues facing this Florida football team was the lack of depth at linebacker. Florida felt great about starters Brandon Siler and Earl Everett and pretty good about Todd McCullough. But after that you had three guys going through a position change and a collection of true freshmen.

With just a few days until the season opener I touched base with Gator co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Charlie Strong to get his thoughts on where the linebacking corps is heading into the 2005 campaign.

LV: You came into camp looking to build depth at linebacker. With a few days until the first game do you feel you've made enough progress in that area?

CS: Yeah, we've made progress with the linebacking corps when you look at the guys we've had develop over these last few weeks. We've got out three starters with Siler, Everett and McCullough. They're backed up by Latsko, Crum and Rutledge. Then you add in (Jon) Demps and (Ryan) Stamper who are a big part of the whole mix of guys we can rotate in there.

LV: Are there certain situations some of these guys are not ready for or can they all go in at any time?

CS: No, I can pretty much put them in anytime I want to. They've all practiced and they know what's going on and I feel comfortable with playing all eight of the guys.

LV: Talk about Brian Crum a little bit … he's been back and forth from tight end to linebacker to tight end and back again. He certainly has always looked the part. Has the light just come on for him, or why do you think he has become a guy you can rely on?

CS: I just think with Brian it took him a while to get used to the linebacker position. Coming out of high school he was a free safety then we moved him to tight end and then linebacker. Now that he's at linebacker again he's had a chance to develop and he's gotten more comfortable with the position. He's gotten bigger and stronger and now he can just go play. He loves to play and like you said, you look at him and think there's no reason this guy can't make plays. And that's just what he's doing now.

LV: What about Eric Rutledge.

CS: Same thing with Rut in that we started him at fullback last fall and moved him to linebacker in the spring. It's taken some time but he's developing and coming along.

LV: And Billy Latsko?

CS: Billy is in the same situation as Rut as far as the position change. The thing about Billy is he plays on so many of our special teams he's become very valuable to this football team.

LV: You got a pretty talented group of freshmen linebackers this fall. What have Demps and Stamper done to move ahead of the pack and get into the rotation?

CS: Well Demps just has great overall athletic ability and gives you the kind of size (6-4, 225) you like to have in the middle. The key for any freshman is understanding the system and whether or not he can pick it up. Demps can pick it up. It's the same thing with Stamper … he's very smart and can run well so that gives us two guys who are valuable and are going to help our defense.

LV: What about the Wyoming offense? Is there something they do that will put extra pressure on your unit?

CS: The main thing about Wyoming is that they can really throw the football. And they have a good enough running game to keep you off-balance. We've got to be able to match up with receivers because we want to be aggressive on defense and play some man coverage.

LV: What about their H-Back (Fullback/Tight End combo) John Wadkowski? What kind of problems does he pose as 6-4, 259?

CS: Their offense is similar to ours in that they don't have a fullback. Their fullback is their tight end so we have to be able to stand up and play the run, but also deal with him in the passing game. (Wadkowski caught 18 passes last year, averaging 8.4 yards/catch with two touchdowns) He does a good job in that he can go out and catch a pass, but he'll also knock you off the football in the running game.

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While Charlie Strong is talking up his reserves at linebacker, this still has to be one of the biggest concerns about this football team. When all of your reserve linebackers have combined for a total of two tackles in their collegiate career that's less than ideal. Maybe Crum or Latsko or one of the freshman will prove to be an effective reserve, but that remains to be seen. They should get plenty of chances to begin to show what they can do in the first two weeks of the season.

It amazes me Florida is in this position almost every year. For some reason the Gators always seemed a couple of linebackers short in the Spurrier era and while Ron Zook and his staff did a fine job of re-stocking the shelves, linebacker was a notable exception in terms of numbers. With Darryl Gresham Jr. semingly targeted for defensive end, Florida still comes up short in total numbers. The Gators lose McCullough this year and one cannot rule out an early departure for Earl Everett. Look for the Gators to sign another five linebackers this year, once again needing a couple to play right away. Dustin Doe is a heckuva start.

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