Position breakdown: Linebackers


Florida will depend on Antonio Morrison, right, to make plays this season.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 10:57 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth in a series breaking down the Florida football roster. Next Sunday, we'll look at the secondary.

Facts

PROBABLE DEPTH CHART

STRONGSIDE
49 - Darrin Kitchens
11 - Neiron Ball
28 - Jeremi Powell
7 - Ronald Powell

MIDDLE
3 - Antonio Morrison
34 - Alex Anzalone
51 - Michael Taylor
40 - Jarrad Davis

WEAKSIDE
51 - Michael Taylor
13 - Daniel McMillian
9 - Matt Rolin

THE UPSIDE

The Gators have a fast, athletic group of linebackers who should have an opportunity to make many plays behind what should be a strong UF defensive line. Antonio Morrison started three games as a true freshman last season and did more than just hold his own. He had some big hits (the biggest coming against FSU quarterback EJ Manuel that caused a critical fumble in the second half), made some big plays and flashed tremendous potential at middle linebacker. He's a physically mature player who seems to have a natural knack for playing his position and finding the football. At outside linebacker, senior Darrin Kitchens and junior Michael Taylor have played a lot of quality football for the Gators. Kitchens likely will open the season as the starter at strongside linebacker, while Taylor should start on the weakside.




Taylor, Kitchens and Morrison are versatile enough to play all three linebacker positions, which provides depth across the board. Neiron Ball, who made an inspiring comeback last season after undergoing brain surgery a year earlier, has made great strides in the weight room and is up to 235 pounds. Another potential huge plus at linebacker is the expected return to health of Ronald Powell, who missed the 2012 season and has undergone two ACL surgeries in the last year. Powell was scheduled to be the starter at the hybrid Buck position (combination end/linebacker) last season. With the emergence of true freshman Dante Fowler Jr. at the position, Powell could end up seeing significant playing time at outside linebacker in a move designed to get him and Fowler on the field at the same time.

THE DOWNSIDE

When the backups at two of the three positions are true freshmen, lack of proven depth is an obvious concern. And one of those freshmen, middle linebacker Alex Anzalone, is coming off shoulder surgery that sidelined him for most of the spring. He gained a grasp of the defense by going to meetings and getting into his playbook, but he has virtually zero experience actually playing at this level. With Morrison facing a possible one-game suspension as a result of his legal issue (misdemeanor battery) earlier this summer, Anzalone could be forced into the starting role at middle linebacker in the opener. The other true freshman, outside linebacker Daniel McMillian, stayed healthy through the spring and impressed the coaches with his maturity and playmaking ability, but like Anzalone, he'll have to adjust to the speed (and physicality) of the SEC on the fly this fall. Another highly rated true freshman, Matt Rolin, may be limited early in camp after undergoing ACL surgery late last fall.

YOUNG GUY TO WATCH

Daniel McMillian was so impressive in the second half of the spring that it prompted Florida coach Will Muschamp to comment that McMillian will be competing with Taylor for the starting role at weakside linebacker when camp opens in August. He has excellent size (6-foot-1, 227 pounds) and speed and showed in the spring he has a knack for being around the ball and making plays.

RANKING THE SEC LINEBACKERS

1. Alabama

2. Tennessee

3. LSU

4. Ole Miss

5. Florida

6. Mississippi State

7. Vanderbilt

8. Georgia

9. Missouri

10. Kentucky

11. Arkansas

12. South Carolina

13. Texas A&M

14. Auburn

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