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April 20, 2014

Spring Recap: The Linebackers

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SPRING BALL: O&B Debut: Breakdown II | O&B Debut: Breakdown I | Take 5 | Spring Practice Central

With spring camp over, Inside the Gators is taking an all-encompassing look at the Gators after 15 practices by breaking down each position. Today, we take an in-depth look at the defensive line.

Throughout the week, ITG has recapped Florida's spring camp by looking at how each position performed in 15 practices. Today, we inspect the linebackers.

OVERVIEW: Watching Florida's linebackers go through spring was akin to watching a hockey team pull off a shorthanded goal. The Gators were limited in the pieces they had, but those pieces took successful steps in shoring up the centerpiece of the defense. Four healthy linebackers succeeded in their own ways.

Looking for a leader? Michael Taylor is about as straight-forward and vocal of a teammate as you'll find. A redshirt senior, Taylor spoke during the spring about a team that lacked the right kind of leadership in 2013. Players spoke about actions they could never live up to. Taylor plans to change that in leading by example. He did just that, working selflessly with reserves on a young defense to assure everything ran smoothly.

Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis formed an unlikely duo. Both will tell you they're nothing alike off the field but share an on-field bond based off their 2014 aspirations. Morrison is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2013. Davis wants to prove he can be a regular contributor and impact player for reasons other than injured starters.

Those three have clearly become the lead characters in Florida's linebacker theatre, but plenty of other players will help make up the position in 2014. Daniel McMillian came along nicely during spring while various other pieces missed camp with injuries. If development goes well, this could go from being a weakness for the Gators in 2013 to a bright spot come fall.

THE STANDOUT: This is a close race between the three aforementioned leaders at the position. Each had big-time moments and helped carry a limited position group through spring. Davis continues to look like the best combination of pure talent and hard-earned knowledge of the defense. The sophomore's play has once again garnered notice throughout the locker room as teammates praise his play. His success with the first-team allowed coaches to tinker with Taylor as a mentor to less-experienced players.

THE SURPRISE: McMillian was one of the most talented players in the country coming out of First Coast High last year. That talent didn't go away. McMillian didn't see time on defense as a freshman because he couldn't grasp the playbook or concepts D.J. Durkin was trying to get across. That changed this spring thanks to large amounts of extra work in the film room and studying his assignments. McMillian no longer had to be walked through schemes this spring and the result was the ability to finally play without thinking and let his talent show.

DISAPPOINTING: Outside of a couple missed plays in the Orange & Blue Debut, there wasn't much to not like about the linebackers this spring. The biggest disappointment is that we were not able to see what this group looks like in full and that brings some questions - especially considering the outside linebacker spot. There was not a chance to see once highly touted recruits like Matt Rolin and Alex Anzalone. Numbers inside were mostly status quo, but the full defense was not entirely in play at linebacker.

STRONGSIDE LINEBACKER
Matt Rolin

INC

In the limited time he has been able to work, Rolin has been used as an outside linebacker who can factor heavily into pass rush. An ACL tear in August (his second) kept him out all of spring.

Jeremi Powell

INC

A torn ACL during the fall sidetracked a season in which Powell had become a reliable special teams option. How much of an asset the undersized third-year player can be at linebacker remains to be seen.

MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Antonio Morrison

B+

Will Muschamp and Durkin both point to wild inconsistencies a season ago. Morrison often ignored assignments and tried too hard to make plays that weren't there. This spring, Morrison looked more like the player he was when he emerged as a freshman.

Michael Taylor

B+

No one grasps Muschamp's ideal defense better than Taylor and rightfully so. That's what happens when you're in your fifth year in a program and fourth year in a system. Taylor was a valuable tool for every young player this spring.
Alex Anzalone

INC

He saw the field briefly as a freshman and has essentially been complimented by coaches for his work ethic and intelligence since he arrived. A shoulder injury kept him out all of spring
WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER
Jarrad Davis

A

Expect Florida's starting inside linebackers to essentially be a rotational trio that includes the sophomore in his biggest role yet. Davis is a hard-hitter who can see plays coming as they develop. He's on a short list of young Gators with unlimited futures.
Daniel McMillian

B

Understanding of the playbook was the only thing holding McMillian back. That issue appeared to be gone in practice. If it remains a non-issue in game action, the Gators will have an insanely talented quartet of inside linebackers with Anzalone as an additional wild card.


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