McMillian makes his case with strong spring

The linebacker depth on the Florida roster took a hit last season. Injuries crept into the position and veteran players didn't perform as they were expected to throughout the year. Even with the problems, Daniel McMillian wasn't able to see the field for the Florida defense. The spring showed that he's now ready to do that.

Most major schools in the southeast recruited Daniel McMillian, so it was somewhat of a surprise that he didn't see the field in 2013. A wrist injury hampered his progression and limited him to special teams duties. However, the linebacker also had a long way to go in his knowledge of the defense.

It started to improve as soon as the season ended. Florida coaches and players spent the spring raving about his desire to study film and learn what the Gators were doing on the defensive side of the ball. He was studying film on his own, asking questions about the scheme and preparing himself to stand out during the spring.

"No one works harder than Daniel McMillian off the field," Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "He spends a ton of time on his own watching film, coming up asking questions. He really works hard in the meeting room and he's made it a point to learn that. He's a really talented guy and he can play a lot of football. But that's always been the thing holding him back. He knows that. He's addressed it."

Once spring practice got started, the transition was easy to see. The 6-1, 225-pound linebacker has the ideal size and quickness to play the position, but his instincts and knowledge needed work. He went through the normal teaching from the coaching staff, but McMillian was rarely yelled at for being out of position or missing an assignment.

"He'd be a guy that I'd point to as one of the most improved guys throughout spring," Durkin said. "That's always been the deal for him. Just being sound assignment wise and knowing what you're doing so you're not thinking and instead reacting. He's got great ability. He's a really good football player. His progression has been a little slower than others just learning and picking up the defense, which is fine, but nobody works harder at it than him. We're really proud of him where he's at. We're happy where he's at and he'll be a contributor for us."

The depth chart doesn't get any easier for him to get on the field. While working out of the nickel, which Florida used during 70-80 percent of defensive plays last year, the Gators used Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison as the first team set. Behind them, Michael Taylor and McMillian served as the second team unit.

However, those lineups came with multiple injured linebackers held out during the spring. Linebackers Alex Anzalone (shoulder), Neiron Ball (MCL), Jeremi Powell (ACL rehab) and Matt Rolin (ACL rehab) were all held out for spring practice to ensure their return for fall camp. Will Muschamp said last week that all four linebackers should be back when the Gators open practice in the fall.

The path to playing time won't be easy, especially if Florida continues to play a majority from the nickel, but McMillian had the kind of spring he needed to put himself in the conversation for a better season.

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