Jenkins Wants To Be In The Middle Of It

The Florida Gators lost defensive coordinator and LB coach Charlie Strong after last season, but the on-field departures are arguably more significant. Florida lost three key veterans from the linebacker unit after last season -- Brandon Spikes (68), Ryan Stamper (78) and Dustin Doe (51) -- who combined for 197 tackles last season.

They were three of the top five tacklers on the Gator defense and someone has to make those plays this fall. Jelani Jenkins intends to make a bunch of them.

Jenkins is one of the five guys who consider themselves the veteran group that will get most of the playing time. Whether or not LB coach D.J. Durkin sees it that way remains to be seen. Jenkins, Jon Bostic, A.J. Jones, Brandon Hicks and Lorenzo Edwards are all capable of playing multiple spots in Florida's three-LB alignment, but Jenkins is hoping to be the man in the middle.

The Under Armor All-American from Maryland played in two games for the Gators last season registering six tackles before injuries sidelined him the rest of the way. Jenkins received a medical redshirt last season, keeping him a freshman in terms of eligibility. I got a chance to talk with him about training camp and the battles for playing time in the LB unit.

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LV: How is camp going so far?

JJ: "Everything is good. We're practicing really hard. I think I'm getting a lot better, and I think the team is getting a lot better. I think we're building good chemistry right now. There's a lot of competition for those starting spots, but it's all healthy competition. We're making each other better so everyone who is out there can make plays."

LV: Jelani what's it been like going from Coach Strong to Coach Durkin?

JJ: "Coach Durkin is a great coach and he's teaching us a lot. I think we've all gotten a lot better form Coach Durkin. In terms of an adjustment it wasn't really hard at all. He came in with a lot of passion and we were all hungry to get better, too. We just took it in stride and let him teach us."

LV: Talk about the process of learning multiple positions in the unit.

JJ: "Mike and Will are pretty similar. It's real big being able to play all the positions because you never know when somebody goes down. A guy like Stamper last year he was able to go in anywhere and not miss a beat. That's one of the goals Coach Durkin has for us is being able to play two or three positions."

LV: What's the key to learning them all?

JJ: "Well, the techniques are all the same, but the job descriptions are different. You have to learn the assignment for each position, but it's really not that difficult."

LV: Do you have a preference where you would like to line up?

JJ: "I'd probably have to say middle linebacker. That's the one I like the best. I just like being in the middle of everything and being able to go left or right, wherever the play goes. I like trying to run people down."

LV: Is it important to you guys to be starters?

JJ: "Obviously we all want to be part of that starting three, but really we're thinking about is as a unit. It's not about first team and second team it's about getting better as a unit and making plays out there."

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There are other guys who may try to work their way into that top five in the remaining weeks of camp. Dee Finley, a converted safety has been around the longest, but the word from players I've talked to is that Michael Taylor is the guy to watch out of the freshman LB class.


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