Linebackers Pushing Each Other

Odds are the two won't play the same position next year and will both be on the field a lot together, but for now sophomore Jon Bostic and freshman Jelani Jenkins seem to be in a pretty good competition for the middle linebacker position in the Florida defense. Linebacker coach D.J. Durkin talked to the media on Monday and shed some light on the situation and the rest of the linebackers.

Even though they won't come right out and say it, the outside linebacker starters are pretty much set right now. Seniors A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks have played a lot of football at Florida and at a very high level, and if they are healthy, it would be difficult to bring them off the field.

The middle linebacker spot is more than a little different. Competing right now for that starting spot are a pair of very inexperienced players that have worlds of talent and present different athletic traits when on the field. Sophomore Jon Bostic (6-1, 240) is a burly strong backer with good speed and the size to carry a punch when he hits. Freshman Jelani Jenkins (6-1, 230) is growing seemingly every day and has speed to burn that allows him to bring a pop as well when he meets the ball carrier.

For now, Durkin says Jenkins may have the slight edge inside.

"Yes, but those guys are playing different positions as well sometimes," Durkin said when asked if Jenkins was starting over Bostic. "Jelani is running with the one's right now and doing a great job with it. Jelani is a very talented football player. He loves football and is practicing very hard. He is having a great camp and he competes very well."

Jenkins may not be currently built in the mold of the traditional middle linebacker, but his intangibles are making it hard to keep him off the field.

"Athletically and speed wise, he almost moves like a DB," Durkin said of what makes him a quality defender. "He's really athletic and fast. But, you also like that inside too. He can run to the ball and is physical as well."

Bostic is really close though and making Jenkins work for it.

"Bostic is competing with the one's (also) ...I have about six-one's right now," Durkin said of different starting lineups. "...He is playing very well, he is pushing the other guys and taking reps with the one's as well. He is doing a phenomenal job."

"There is a lot of potential there. They are two very athletic guys that love football and really care about what is going on. Talk about a dream to coach, those guys are trying to do everything we ask of them and doing a great job of it."

Don't be surprised to see a great deal of Bostic and Jenkins on the field at the same time this year.

"We have been rotating guys pretty good," Durkin said. "Hicks and Jelani have been on the field, Jelani and Bostic on the field, Bostic and A.J., we have had some pretty good combinations. We are going to continue mixing it up until we get settled in on it.

Hicks returns to the practice field...

Brandon Hicks had a spell with the heat last week that ended with a stay in the hospital. Not likely to give up much if any details on the situation, Durkin did say Hicks was back practicing on Monday.

"Brandon is great...he is practicing and doing a heck of a job," Durkin said. "He's having a good camp. He's good to go. We have great doctors and great trainers and he is back out there practicing...he's all set."

Durkin made it a point to stress how important the program thinks about the heat and any possibility of complications with heat during workouts.

"The way we approach practice is we hydrate these guys like crazy...non stop," Durkin said. "We basically force them to drink as much water and Gatorade as they can and get out there and go. We go as hard as we can, as fast as we can, and for as long as we can. That is Coach Meyer's formula, it has worked really well here, so we are going to continue it."

The rest of the story...

The Gators scrimmaged on Saturday, and slowly, reports have surfaced about who has done well and who hasn't. Not prone to hyperbole, Durkin understated his group's role in the scrimmage.

"Like every first scrimmage, there was a lot to clean up, a lot of sloppy stuff," he said. "Overall, the best thing we can take is we have a lot of guys competing and running to the ball and everything we are asking. We need to get everyone on that page. We have a long ways to go."

Durkin did talk about two of his players that stood out.

"I thought they competed very well," he said of the group. "They were running around and was a long scrimmage, and they did a good job. The two guys that stood out the most were Jelani Jenkins and A.J. Jones, they got us lined up in the right spot and played real hard."

Senior Lorenzo Edwards isn't mentioned in the same breath as the other seniors, but he is seeing things better and has increased his intensity. Edwards has one more season to make a name for himself in a Gator uniform.

"Lorenzo is playing with great urgency right now," Durkin said. "He understands where that clock is for him right now. He is doing a great job and showing us he can be a guy that can really help us. ...He is performing really well."

Durkin said Jones has really stepped up to be a leader of the guys in his group. It is something that the linebackers need with the losses of Brandon Spikes and Ryan Stamper to the NFL.

"We are asking a lot of A.J. because he is learning more than one spot and we also need his leadership," Durkin said. "He hasn't had to have that role before because of the guys that were previously here. He could handle his own business and go about it. We are asking a lot of him and he is responding well. He is really stepping up and being a leader by example and kind of vocally off the field."

Durkin on Special Teams

The Gators will have to replace quite a few folks on special teams that have moved on. Team speed is something that is never at a loss with an Urban Meyer program, and it it seems it has increased every year under Meyer. Durkin, who is in charge of special teams, is on the lookout for who can help him.

"There are a lot of guys competing for those jobs as well," he said. "We put a lot of emphasis on special teams and those guys know that. We just need to keep going and get some young guys involved now."

The Gators best all time kick and punt returner has also moved on to the NFL. It is too difficult to add up just how important Brandon James was to the Gators in terms of field position and scoring. Either way, the Gators must find a replacement or two.

"We are still working several guys back there," Durkin said. "Chris Rainey will be involved in that some how and some way. He is getting reps at both. We have a bunch of kids back there that are going to work at it. There are a lot of them, Rainey, Clark, Demps, Debose, Janoris, and three or four more guys."

Durkin talked about the freshman from Palm Beach Dwyer, when asked.

"Robert Clark has shown up a lot," Durkin said. "That kid is a really good football player and is having a really good camp."
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