Predicting the Starters: Linebackers

Linebackers coach D.J. Durkin will experience his first season on the Florida staff this fall, and with that comes a brand new depth chart. New coaches provide opportunities for players who seem to have been lost in the shuffle.

In the spring, D.J. Durkin worked all the linebackers at each of the three positions. He tried to get an idea of what players were successful in what situations, and the feedback was positive.

Jelani Jenkins came to campus projected as an outside linebacker, but Durkin's experimentation may have found something the Gators can use. With Brandon Spikes now playing for the New England Patriots, Durkin placed Jenkins at middle linebacker. He was one of the positive surprises of the spring because of his playmaking ability.

The redshirt freshman is 6-0, 220 pounds. Compared to the 6-3, 243-pound frame Spikes played with, Jenkins isn't ideal size for a middle linebacker. He hits with the authority of a bigger player, so the size won't be an issue if he is the best option at middle linebacker.

Another player could actually determine where Jenkins plays. Jon Bostic went into spring practice as the player projected to take over for Spikes at middle linebacker. He turned heads during his first semester on campus in spring 2009 and made plays when on the field in blowout games last season. But for some reason, he didn't step up and claim the position. Bostic didn't have a bad spring, but it wasn't as good as the spring he had in 2009.

If Bostic can play well in the fall and prove he can be the starting middle linebacker, it would allow Jenkins to play on the outside. If Bostic continues to stumble through practices, Jenkins could be the starting middle linebacker, pushing Bostic to the bench.

A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks provide leadership and playmaking as outside linebackers. It's hard to believe both players are already seniors, but they now have a shot to grab their spots as starters.

Jones made the All-SEC Freshman Team as a redshirt freshman in 2007. Last year, he led the Florida linebackers with three interceptions. He also recorded 37 tackles, 4.5 for loss. He is the steady veteran who is in position and makes the play.

Hicks led the Florida linebackers with four sacks last season. He has a quick first step when rushing the quarterback, so he could take over for the role Spikes had on third down plays. Spikes used to line up outside of the defensive end on third downs and was used as another pass rusher.

Hicks also had five tackles for loss, showing he has a knack for getting into the backfield to disrupt a play.

Senior Lorenzo Edwards was a pleasant surprise in the spring. It was assumed he would be a valuable backup in 2010, but he made a push to get on the field. Sometimes a new position coach can reenergize a player to make an impression, and it looked like that may have happened with Edwards. He knows the three linebacker positions and could step in if players get injured during the years.

Dee Finley is an intriguing player. He came to campus as a safety, but the coaches decided his 6-2, 208-pound frame would be better used at linebacker. He dented the facemask of a freshman in the spring, so there's no doubt he can hit. It may take him some time to get used to linebacker, but Finley could be a terror of an outside linebacker in 2011 when Jones and Hicks have graduated.

Florida will also have four freshmen linebackers this spring. Michael Taylor is a middle linebacker who will push for playing time immediately. Gideon Ajagbe could use a redshirt. Darrin Kitchens led Dade County in sacks last season, so he could eventually take over as the pass rushing specialist from the linebacker position. Neiron Ball could bounce between linebacker and defensive end, but he spent the spring working out as a linebacker.


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