2010 Roster Breakdown: Linebackers

Versatility and speed are the two things that best describe the 2010 version of the Florida linebacker corps. Three seniors dot the two-deep roster and there is experience even with the losses of all-American Brandon Spikes and Ryan Stamper. Youth will also be served in this group who will have to play a little differently due to the make up of the group, but it should be stellar nonetheless.

The loss of all-American and NFL linebacker Brandon Spikes as well as team leader Ryan Stamper would cripple most defenses and defensive coordinators. However, the Florida Gators return a lot of talented players to compete in the middle of the defense.

With Spikes and Stamper gone, they will be replaced with two guys that are smaller, but a lot faster. With a healthy dose of numbers and experience on the interior of the defensive line, the lack of size should be less detrimental, but the added speed is something the coaching staff at Florida should be able to scheme to.

The biggest battle in training camp among the linebackers appears to be at middle linebacker where sophomore Jon Bostic and freshman Jelani Jenkins are set to battle hard for the position. Before spring Bostic was seemingly the heir apparent at middle before Jenkins made a move to the inside and really played well there. Jenkins started the last seven practices of the spring in the middle, but Bostic is supposed to still be right there and in the hunt. Both guys are very explosive as hitters with Bostic bringing a bit more size in the 240 range and Jenkins a bit more speed.

With either one of them at the position, the middle linebacker will be a position of improved speed. This proved to be a major flaw in the defense in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama when the Gators had a slower linebacker group on the field and the Crimson Tide took advantage of that.

Senior Lorenzo Edwards will also be in the hunt and can't be ruled out at this point. Edwards has size at 240 pounds and runs well, but inherently lacks the killer instinct the staff wants. One thing he does bring to the table is intelligence and the ability to play all three linebacker positions.

Freshman Michael Taylor arrived on campus in June and should be able to redshirt, but brings award winning talent as a high schooler with his MVP honors in the under Armour All-American game. Taylor is a head hunter in the true sense of the phrase.

Seniors A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks will provide a bevy of experience on the outside while a young guy gets ready in the middle. Jones was probably the Gators' best linebacker on the field a year ago while Hicks probably garnered that award in 2008. Hicks will slide over from the strong side linebacker to the weak side as both guys were playing strong side a year ago.

The weakside backer is basically another middle linebacker in this Gator defense as they play tight in the box and in the fray from blocking linemen. Hicks has great quickness, broad shoulders, and long arms to fend off blocking linemen and should be a natural for the position.

Jelani Jenkins could play the weakside spot as well and will allow the top four guys to rotate in and out of the game to keep them all fresh.

Backing them up should be true freshman Darrin Kitchens. From Homestead in South Florida, Kitchens is a great athlete that would likely redshirt, but his athletic ability should get him immediate playing time on special teams. In turn, the little bit of time he sees the field with the defense will benefit him in future seasons.

With A.J. Jones starting on the strong side, he brings his speed and huge hitting to the table as key assets. The strong side backer is asked to cover the tight end or even slot receiver position at times, but also required to blitz the quarterback in the Gator defense. Jones has shown he can do both with great ability.

Of course veteran Brandon Hicks and Lorenzo Edwards could play here in some form of rotation with the linebackers.

Sophomore Dee Finley improved over the spring, but was still slowed by injury. He will play along the strong side and he flashes a mean streak, especially when he gets a chance to blitz the quarterback.

True freshman Neiron Ball had a couple of eye popping plays in the spring and is actually the fastest linebacker on campus. He will have great size before all is said and done with his Florida career and I suspect his early enrollee status and a chance to play this past spring will get him on the playing field in the fall. True freshman Gideon Ajagbe is another that might be hard to keep off of special teams in year one. Another south Florida native, he is such a great athlete that can run and has great strength.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: It has to be one of the middle linebackers, so I will go with Jelani Jenkins in a lose call. Jenkins has an innate ability to slide through blocks and meet the ball carrier with a full head of steam and a wallop. While ball may run the 40 the fastest, you will be hard pressed to find a linebacker that runs as well as Jenkins does with the pads on and with opponents on the field.

ON POINT WITH CODY JONES: The key with this unit will be the speed. Regardless of who starts at what positions, this unit will be able to run with any linebacker group in the country.

Jelani Jenkins opened eyes during the spring, and I think he starts at middle linebacker. The issue is getting Jon Bostic on the field if he rebounds from an off spring. He is the prototypical middle linebacker because of his size, but Jenkins is the choice because he is the better playmaker.

A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks provide leadership and experience on the outside. Hicks is as complete of a linebacker as there is on the team, and that was noticed as the media voted him to the Preseason First Team All-SEC. Hicks will be valuable in the blitzing game from the linebacker position.
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