With the start of spring practice inching closer — March 9 — we’ll take a look at the state of each position. We focus on the linebackers today, and shift to a different position each day leading up to the start of spring practice.
Guys to watch
Alex Anzalone, 6-3, 244, Sr.
Jarrad Davis, 6-2, 230, Sr.
Rayshad Jackson, 6-0, 221, R-Fr.
Daniel McMillian, 6-1, 219, Sr.
David Reese, 6-0, 240, Fr.
Matt Rolin, 6-3, 216, R-Jr.
Isaac Brinson, 6-0, 198, R-Fr.
Cristian Garcia, 6-1, 221, R-Jr.
Jahim Lawrence, 5-11,
R.J. Raymond, 6-2, 236, R-So.
Darius Singletary, 6-1, 197, R-Fr.
Steven Stipe, 5-11, 216, R-Jr.
Will Thomas, 5-9, 222, Fr.
What to watch for
Keep an eye on the health of Alex Anzalone. The Gators need Anzalone to return to 100 percent after missing the final 12 games of the 2015 season with a shoulder injury. Florida is relying on Anzalone to start alongside Jarrad Davis at a thin position group. Even if Anzalone can find a way to stay on the field, the Gators will need fourth-year players Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin to step up and turn into reliable options. But the health of Anzalone and Davis is critical with a pretty steep drop off in talent after the duo.
Before Anzalone suffered a shoulder injury in the second game of the season, he impressed. The four-star high school recruit totaled five tackles in the season opener and showed standout athleticism from sideline to sideline. While Anzalone missed most of this past season, Davis enjoyed a breakout year. Davis was lifted into a more prominent role after Anzalone went out, finishing the 2015 season with 98 tackles and 11 tackles for loss. If Davis can build on that, he’ll be one of the top linebackers in the country this season.
While Florida’s depth at this position is underwhelming, the Gators’ 2016 recruiting class features three linebackers — three-star inside linebacker David Reese, four-star outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon and three-star outside linebacker Vosean Joseph. Reese is the only one who is already enrolled and set to participate in spring practice. The Gators might need at least one of the three incoming freshmen to help solidify the position in 2016.
A shoulder injury held Alex Anzalone back last season after drawing rave reviews from teammates and coaches during spring practice and fall camp. Antonio Morrison even called Anzalone “the quarterback of the defense” during fall camp. If Anzalone can stay healthy this season, he will have the chance to finally live up to that compliment.
With not many proven linebackers behind Anzalone and Davis, who will step up to provide some depth at the position? Will McMillian and Rolin become reliable players or will the Gators have to rely on the freshmen to play right away?
“(Jonathan) Vilma. Large build, same body frame. He’s a little bit taller than Vilma, but same mind set, smart. Very aggressive. Very powerful when he hits. Very powerful young man. He’s very smart. Challenging. Vilma was a guy who likes to challenge and that’s the same with Jarrad. He’s a challenging guy and he thinks that he can beat anybody at anything at any time, which is good. You need that as a linebacker.” — Gators linebackers coach Randy Shannon on who Jarrad Davis reminds him of on the football field
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