Our pre-spring position by position previews for the Gators’ roster continues today with the linebackers:
Synopsis: Losing Antonio Morrison may hurt, but the Gators shouldn’t have too much of a problem filling his shoes. Jarrad Davis emerged late in the year as a true pass rusher, and Matt Rolin filled in nicely when the injury bug bit the linebacker corps. Now it’s up to Randy Shannon to find one or two more serviceable guys, and if he does, the middle level of the Gators’ defense could be just as nasty as it was last year.
What to watch for: Same thing as the synopsis indicated. Florida’s got to find more linebackers who can consistently produce. Alex Anzalone could be one of them… if he stays healthy. Or it could be Daniel McMillian. Or it could be one of the three freshmen: David Reese, Jeremiah Moon or Vosean Joseph. But somebody’s got to step up and show that he can play at a high level if Florida is going to trot out a great or even good linebacker unit.
Dark horse: David Reese was considered to be a steal from Michigan, and serves as a sort of consolation prize for Gator fans who don’t like Michigan. But he could have some real value for this team, and fast. He’s got incredible range for any position, not just a linebacker. And since the Gators are quite thin at the LB position, there really isn’t a clear frontrunner for that middle linebacker spot yet. Unless Anzalone is both healthy and dominant throughout spring practice, Reese might have the most clear path to a starting job in a freshman class that’s filled with them.
Projected starters: WSLB: Jarrad Davis, MLB: Alex Anzalone (pending his health) SSLB: Matt Rolin. Please, guys. Please stay healthy. These three make up a solid linebacker unit, but beyond them, things get murky. There’s talent behind them, of course, because this is Florida, so there always is. But I’d be nervous about throwing mostly untested guys into the fire right away, particularly if there’s more than one position that calls for it.
Summary: It’s simple. If Florida stays healthy, they’ll have a linebacker unit that ranges from above average to great in 2016. If not, they’ll have a linebacker unit that ranges from above average to great in 2017. Which is not this year. And for our purposes here- the 2016 season- that does no good. The learning experiences the young guys may get helps in the long run, but the price of those lessons could be disastrous in the short run. So I’ll repeat myself again: please, guys. Stay healthy.