Gators fill position of need
Published: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 4:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 4:09 p.m.
Taking an offensive skill player and transforming him into an outside linebacker is not a real common move. But it's worked before. It's worked at Florida — in a huge way.
The last time the Gators switched a high-profile prospect from tight end to outside linebacker, the player went on to become a two-time All-America and perhaps the most dominant defensive force in school history.
We're talking about Wilber Marshall, who made the much-publicized move from offense to defense in the spring of 1981, his true sophomore season.
This is not to suggest Gerald Christian will follow a similar career path at Florida. But, hey, it's a start, his move from tight end to outside linebacker in his true sophomore season.
“I have no doubt he can be a great linebacker,” starting outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins said.
The Florida coaching staff was not necessarily looking for the next Marshall when they suggested Christian switch to defense a few weeks ago. They were simply looking for someone who could give them help at a huge position of need.
Christian fit the description. He's a big, strong, aggressive and athletic guy who also happened to be a very good linebacker in high school (Palm Beach Dwyer).
New UF coach Will Muschamp consulted with Dwyer coach Jack Daniels, who told him Christian had been an excellent defensive player, and shortly after, the switch was made.
“I just like playing football,” Christian said. “During winter workouts, they decided to try me at a new position. At first, I was like I didn't know why.
“They told me it's best for the team. They said they needed big bodies playing linebacker, so they wanted to try me out there. They knew I played linebacker before.”
Not to get too caught up in the comparisons to Marshall, but Christian, at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, is roughly the same size as Marshall. And like Marshall, he also was a good high school basketball player.
Although he's been at his new position for only a handful of practices, the transition seems to be encouraging so far.
“He likes the transition. I can definitely say that,” junior middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic said. “He played defense in high school, so it's not really too much of a big change for him.
“He likes to hit people. He's doing a real good job out there. Me and Jelani are both trying to help him out. The safeties, too.”
Christian actually started out the spring listed as the starter at the SAM outside linebacker position. He's on top because he had a successful offseason — and there really aren't that many outside linebackers on the roster at the moment.
“(Being No. 1 on the depth chart) doesn't really mean anything,” he said. “It could change any day.
“Honestly, I would have felt better being at the bottom and working my way to the top. I'm going to work hard anyway, regardless.”
Christian said he already feels comfortable at linebacker.
“It hasn't been difficult. I've been catching on really quickly,” he said. “I still have to brush up on some stuff to get back into it, being more physical with my hands and stuff like that.
“I still have to earn my position. It's just spring ball, nothing is set in stone. I'm going to bust my butt every day and go out there for the team.”
Christian's defensive teammates seem to like his potential at linebacker.
“He's got to learn how to switch his brain over from offense to defense, but that shouldn't take a lot of time,” Jenkins said. “It's a whole different, aggressive style. You go from running and catching to trying to kill people. It's a big difference. He's got to get used to it.”
The happiest Gator of all to see Christian make the switch is starting strong safety Matt Elam, a close friend and former Dwyer teammate.
“He was happy about that. He was real excited,” Christian said. “He said, ‘Back like high school.' Me and him in high school used to play linebacker side by side. He's happy for me to be back over there with him.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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