Spring Outlook: Linebacker

It is weird looking at the spring depth chart at linebacker for the Florida Gators and not seeing the likes of Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe, and Ryan Stamper. They were mainstays on the defense that has been special for two years, but there is still talent at the position for Florida heading into the2010 season. Here is a look at what we will see this spring from the linebackers.

Gone are three players that played a ton of football for Florida and were important pieces of the puzzle while they were here. Dustin Doe, Brandon Spikes , and Ryan Stamper left a huge stamp on the Florida program, but there is a lot of experience still on campus and some young guys that together will bring a lot more speed to the linebacker group.

This is going to be a different spring in that there are likely going to be some players that move around a bit, especially between the two outside linebacker positions. That includes the starters and they could play either one. Because of that, I am going to list the backers as a full unit until they start to settle into their positions.

One of the starters on the outside will be Brandon Hicks (SR. 6-2, 221). Hicks, when healthy, was the best linebacker on the field the last two seasons. He started at the SAM as a sophomore before injuries sidelined him for a lot of his junior season. I think Hicks will stay at the SAM because the Gators tend to bring the SAM off the edge and blitz the quarterback and he is very adept at getting into the backfield.

A.J. Jones (SR. 6-1, 226) wouldn't let Hicks get back on the field last year when he was inserted into the lineup due to Hicks injury. Jones had an all-SEC type season as a junior and I think he will be well suited to line up at WILL for his senior campaign. Either way I don't see any scenario where he and Hicks aren't starting. At WILL he brings a lot more speed to the position than Ryan Stamper did and now he has the confidence to play at that same level.

Lorenzo Edwards (SR. 6-3, 235) is my dark horse to see a lot of playing time from someone that hasn't. I seem to say that every year, but with a new coach and new coordinator, I am hoping it lights up Edwards to get on the field. He has all the physical tools and every time we watch him in practice he makes plays. He has a nose for the ball and seems the best at making a bee-line to the ball carrier to make a tackle. Hopefully for him , this will be his year and his versatility will allow him to substitute at any of the three linebacker positions.

Brendan Beal (SO. 6-3, 240) is trying to transition to SAM linebacker this spring and hopes to push Jones or Hicks, whoever ends up at that position. Beal never got much love early on but the truth is every time I have seen him line up on the football field, he just seems to make big plays. His first day back to practice after injury last spring he intercepted two passes and was a force. He also tore it up in the Orange and Blue Game last spring. This one will be interesting to watch this spring and see if he actually stays on the outside.

Jon Bostic (SO. 6-1, 235) is supposedly the heir apparent to Brandon Spikes at middle linebacker. That is what everyone expects and I expect. Bostic brings good size and a lot more speed to the position. He played with his head on a swivel last year looking lost at times, but that should be much better this season. When he can play full speed, he should be dangerous at middle linebacker. Bostic will be the big hitter we all love from our middle linebackers.

Dee Finley (SO. 6-2, 220) played in ten games last year as a freshman, mostly on special teams and a little at safety. Finley was always a candidate to move to linebacker, but I always thought he ran well enough to play safety. This is a move he wanted and he should be in good shape when the first whistle sounds on Wednesday. He certainly could end up at WILL or SAM.

Jelani Jenkins (FR. 6-1, 225) redshirted last season after injury but is fully healed and ready to go. He will start for at least three seasons at WILL in my opinion, and he can make a huge statement this spring. Jenkins plays fast and when he plays he plays extremely tough. He loves to mix it up and get after it. He will give Bostic a run for his money with the big hits he puts on opposing ball carriers.

Neiron Ball (FR. 6-4, 220) is growing fast but is slotted as a SAM linebacker to start the spring. His older brother was a defensive end at Georgia and there is speculation that he could grow into that, but for now he will play at the SAM. He is athletic and fluid and brings a wallop to the ball. It will be a sharp learning curve for him, but Ball was smart enough to be able to graduate high school early and enroll this semester.

A trio of linebackers will be enrolling this summer and not participate this spring. Gideon Ajagbe (FR. 6-2, 195), Darrin Kitchens (FR. 6-2, 215), Michael Taylor (FR. 6-0, 210) are all very athletic backers with Ajagbe and Kitchens being outside backer types and Taylor being more of an inside backer. They will provide excellent depth and a breather for next season when Hicks, Jones, and Edwards move on.

The battle at middle linebacker and the second team battles on the outside are going to be really what to look for this spring. You have to figure going in that Hicks, Jones, and Bostic will be your starters and Beal, Edwards, and Jenkins are going to be fighting hard to take them away and at least line up that second team spot on the depth chart. I can see a lot more rotation going on this year at linebacker than we have seen in years past.

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