Linebacking unit should have plenty of playmakers
Published: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 9:17 p.m.
This is the ninth of a 12-part series breaking down the Florida football roster, looking ahead to 2014 and projecting how the Gators might look at each position:
WHO’S GONE: Outside linebackers Darrin Kitchens and David Campbell.
WHO’S BACK: Sophomore OLB/middle linebacker Alex Anzalone, senior OLB Neiron Ball, sophomore OLB Jarrad Davis, sophomore OLB Daniel McMillian, junior MLB Antonio Morrison, sophomore OLB Jeremi Powell, senior OLB Ronald Powell and senior MLB Michael Taylor.
WHO’S NEW: Redshirt freshman OLB Matt Rolin, who is recovering from his second ACL surgery in a year.
WHAT’S NEXT: All the starters return to what should be an experienced and fairly deep group of linebackers. The key at this point is to get them all back and healthy. By the end of last season, the Gators had so many linebackers sidelined by injuries that a walk-on (Campbell) had to be called on for significant minutes in the loss to Georgia Southern. Among those hit by injuries were starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison (knee), starting outside linebacker/middle linebacker Michael Taylor (knee) and backups Jeremi Powell (knee), Daniel McMillian (thumb) and Matt Rolin (knee). One positive to come out of the injury situation is that it gave true freshman Jarrad Davis an opportunity to move into a starting role and he established himself as a potential future star with his instincts and playmaking ability. The Gators now will be looking to develop the three other highly rated linebacker prospects in the 2013 recruiting class — Anzalone, McMillian and Rolin. Anzalone saw playing time at linebacker and on special teams last season and will be looking to expand his role on defense. McMillian was somewhat of a mystery last season. After challenging for a starting role in the spring, he was limited to special teams duty last season. The coaches like his potential and think he’ll contribute more if he is healthy. Rolin, despite coming off ACL surgery the previous fall, was having a strong preseason camp in August before going down with another torn ACL. Had he not sustained the camp injury, he was expected to see playing time last season. If his knees hold up, he’s expected to be a factor in the playing rotation.
THE SKINNY: With Morrison, Ronald Powell, Ball, Taylor and Davis returning, the Gators have depth and playmaking ability at the linebacker positions. They also have some promising young players (Anzalone, McMillian and Rolin) who have a chance to emerge in 2014 and strengthen all three positions. But the Gators need to get healthy and stay healthy, because at this stage UF has no linebacker commitments for the 2014 recruiting class.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.