The Florida Gators run a 4-3 defense with two tackles and two ends making up the "four" and three linebackers taking care of the rest. So why is it that there is more and more of a feeling that Brandon Hicks has become the Gators' fourth starting linebacker? Well in a way it really does make some sense. Hicks is battling incumbent A.J. Jones for the starting spot at the SLB position, but he is the guy who fills in for inured WLB Dustin Doe. As a result, those three each have a reason to feel like they are starters along with star MLB Brandon Spikes.
Hicks has made a lot of progress in this his sophomore season after seeing action on special teams in all 13 games last year. He has added about 20 pounds since last season, although he could still add to his frame. He talked with a group of media guys about his efforts to win a job and I asked him how much further along he is now compared to a year ago.
BH: "I think I'm a whole lot more ready than I was last year. Last year I still had my concerns about whether I would make this mistake or that mistake, but this year I've been through all that baby stuff. I'm a year into it. I know where my pressures are. I know where I need to be. I know my assignments. I just got to go out there and do my thing, go hard, work hard and earn a starting spot."
LV: How does it feel to have a realistic chance to compete for a job?
BH: "You know it feels good. I have the support of my family and they help me out a lot. I try my hardest to do everything right and it's all paying off on the field. I starting to see improvements over what I did last year like breaking down and making tackles to coverage and it's all getting better and better."
LV: How are you and A.J. getting along now that you're trying to take his job?
BH: "Me and A.J. we're always cool. That's my boy right there. All the linebackers hang together with the rest of the defense and nobody has any animosity with any of us. There's no kind of conflict between us."
LV: Which comes more naturally to you run defense or pass coverage?
BH: "I'd say the pass coverage. I'm more of a runner (from sideline to sideline) than a downhill type outside linebacker. I'm not the biggest guy."
MG: What have you learned from veterans like Spikes and Doe?
BH: "Basically to bring that energy they bring every day. When they bring that energy everybody tries to get to that level. As long as I goes as hard as they do everybody's good and I'm good."
MG: Has Spikes ever really gotten in your face or called you out on something?
BH: "Spikes is the kind of person that he doesn't have to yell at you he can just look at you and you know what you did wrong. Put it this way he's kind of like the Daddy of the defense. He's say come on now, come on now. It's really cool to have someone like that."
LV: So what's worse, listening to coach Strong or having Spikes stare you down?
BH: "I'd says it's more Spikes staring you down because we have a saying never let your teammate down. If he looks at you it's like you let him down on that play and that's something you just can't do on our defense."
MG: Is he football's version of Greg Oden because he looks like he's about 38?
BH: "(laughing) At times. When Spikes shaves he looks young, but when he doesn't shave he looks really old."
LV: Last year's defense never really establish an identity. Is this defense going to have an identity?
BH: "Oh yeah, mostly speed on defense. Everybody's talking about us and we did things last year but this year we're trying to make a big impact. We threw all the bad stuff out and now it's time to bring in the new."
Florida is still undersized at linebacker despite the weight gains that Hicks and Jones have experienced in their first full year on campus. Still the athleticism is there where they can be effective, and each and think of himself as a starter.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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