Hicks Braces for Oklahoma Onslaught

There's near unanimous agreement that the most improved unit on the Florida football team is the secondary, but to me that was to be expected. Florida played a very young group last year and common sense said they would make strides, though no one could have predicted the impact that Janoris Jenkins and Ahmad Black would have.

That said, to be the most pleasant surprise this year has been the development of the Gator linebackers.

The scouting report on the Florida linebackers a year ago was pretty straightforward and brutally honest and would read something like this:

Brandon Spikes is a stud, but other than that there was nothing real special about the group. Ryan Stamper is smart and reliable but does not do anything special. A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks are undersized and Dustin Doe misses too many tackles.

But look up now and the Florida linebackers are dramatically better and that same person would have to write a very different scouting report:

Spikes remains an All-American talent and likely # 1 NFL pick. Doe has settled down and makes tremendous plays in coverage. Stamper is always in the right position, always runs to the ball and seems to never make a mistake. Hicks and Jones are much stronger and are reliable tacklers. Jones is surprisingly physical at the line of scrimmage and Hicks can run with the fastest tight ends on pass plays. Someone has done a helluva job bringing these guys this far this fast.

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That group faces its greatest challenge of the year Thursday night against an Oklahoma team that gains more than 500 yards a game and has excellent run/pass balance, multiple threats in the passing game and a tempo that would make the most intense aerobics instructor take a break to catch his/her breath. I spoke with Hicks about the Gators' preparations for Sooners.

LV: Brandon, tell me what it's been like getting ready for this game.

BH: It's been great. We as a team tried to speed up everything just to get adjusted to the way they play. Oklahoma is a faced pace team. We have to keep up the best and make their pace our pace.

LV: Have you ever seen anyone play like that where the center races to the ball to be ready the moment it's put in play?

BH: There's a couple of teams like that some of the time, but Oklahoma is a team that does it every play of the game. I feel that we're conditioned enough and have the speed enough to keep up with what they're doing.

LV: When I look at their personnel the guy who really stands out to me is their tight end Jermaine Gresham (58-888, 15.3, 12 TD). How good a player is he and how much do you think you'll be the guy dealing with him?

BH: He's a great player and definitely an NFL draft pick one day. I feel like I have to go out there and play as hard as I can. I know he's going to try to push me and get open and I'm going to do everything I can to lock him down.

LV: How do you view playing a team that scored over 700 points?

BH: We feel that this is going to be a challenge that we have yet to face in our season. They're the number one scoring team in America and we're going to try to slow them down.

LV: A number of people are expecting a big time shootout and maybe a 50-40 type of game. I was wondering if you think not only the Gator defense but also the Oklahoma defense is taking offense to that.

BH: Yes, absolutely. Everybody talks about how it's going to be a high scoring game but I know how hard our defense is working to be able to slow them down and I'm sure their defense is planning to do the same thing.

They'll both do everything they can to slow down the other offense. Thursday night we'll see if either/both can pull it off.


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