Position breakdown: Florida’s young linebackers revolve around veteran Reese

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Florida linebacker David Reese tackles LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. in their Oct. 6 game in The Swamp. The key for 2019 is keeping Reese on the field. [Lauren Bacho/Staff photographer]

We break down the 2019 Florida football team by position group. This week a look at the linebackers.

The upside

In a linebacker group overflowing with youth and inexperience, the Gators really need a seasoned senior leader who knows the intricacies of the defense and is open to sharing his knowledge with others. And that’s exactly what the Gators have in David Reese.

No player on the roster knows the defense — and the art of playing linebacker — better than Reese, who is by far the Gators’ most experienced linebacker and one of the most experienced players on the team.

He’s been making plays and starting games since his true freshman season in 2016. He’s started 28 games overall and has been the quarterback of the defense the past two seasons, making all the calls and getting the defensive front properly aligned.

Reese is considered one of the best run-stopping inside linebackers in the SEC, and he’s been highly productive throughout his UF career in terms of tackles. He had 102 his sophomore season despite being out the entire offseason after undergoing surgery on both wrists.

Last season, he was second on the team in tackles with 77 even after missing the first three games with an injured ankle.

He flourished in his first season in Todd Grantham’s attacking defense in 2018. He’s reached a whole other level of comfort in the scheme now that he’s been in it for more than a year, and he’s taken on the role of the leader of the linebackers — and the defense.

Reese has a young group to work with.

Of the 13 scholarship linebackers on the roster, only three have starting experience at this level — Reese, junior Jeremiah Moon and Louisville graduate transfer Jon Greenard. Moon has started nine games at outside linebacker/end, while Greenard started six games at rush end for the Cardinals.

Greenard is considered a huge addition, taking over the hybrid end/linebacker position that was manned by Jachai Polite and Cece Jefferson last season.

Just as big an addition — if not bigger — is true sophomore Amari Burney, who made the move from safety to linebacker late last season and quickly seemed to become a natural at his new position. He gives the Gators a player with linebacker size and cornerback speed. He’s considered one of the fastest players on the team — not just on the defense. He figures to start at the other inside linebacker spot next to Reese, who will continue to mentor the true sophomore, along with the other young linebackers.

Two other young players who will be counted on heavily this season are sophomores James Houston and Ventrell Miller. Neither started a game last season, but both saw significant playing time and flashed a lot of potential playmaking ability. And both are big hitters.

The downside

Youth and inexperience.

Of the 13 scholarship linebackers on the roster, five are true freshmen (Mohamoud Diabate, Jesiah Pierre, Tyron Hopper, Khris Bogle and Lloyd Summerall III) and one is a redshirt freshman (Andrew Chatfield).

All six of those players are highly rated prospects who seem capable of working their way into the playing rotation, but none have played yet, other than Chatfield, who saw limited action in two games last season before redshirting.

Diabate and Pierre have a headstart on the other true freshmen after going through the spring as early enrollees.

Another impressive young prospect who was being counted on to see significant playing time is no longer in the mix. Redshirt freshman David Reese sustained a ruptured Achilles tendon during summer workouts and is out for the season.

Overall, this is a young and inexperienced linebacker group that will be asked to grow up in a hurry.

Young guy to watch

In this instance, we’re going to make this young guys to watch because true freshmen Mohamoud Diabate and Jesiah Pierre both flashed speed and playmaking ability as early enrollees in the spring.

Diabate is a quick, rangy athlete who showed he can bring some pressure off the edge from the outside linebacker/end spot.

Pierre displayed good instincts and big-time hitting ability with his overall performance in the spring.

Having gone through the spring and learned the defense, Diabate and Pierre will have a comfort level the other true freshmen will still be searching for in preseason camp. It gives them an edge in the quest to get on the field early this season.

Don’t be surprised if …

Jonathan Greenard puts up Jachai Polite-like numbers at the hybrid end/outside linebacker spot.

At Louisville in 2017, he led the Cardinals in tackles for losses with 15.5, including seven sacks. Heading into last season, he was considered Louisville’s best defensive player, but then missed the year with an injured wrist.

He showed up in Gainesville in January hungry to play, something that was obvious in the spring. He played with the kind of relentless effort coach Dan Mullen is always talking about and provided a strong and steady pass rush.

With senior Jabari Zuniga rushing off the edge from the defensive end spot, Greenard will have an opportunity to make plays in one-on-one situations against bigger and slower offensive tackles.

Quotable

“We brought Jonathan (Greenard) in to be an edge rusher for us. Mohamoud is a guy we signed to be an outside linebacker. Moon is a guy that played last year for us. You’ve got Bogle coming in, too. So, we’re always going to find ways to manufacture pass rush. That position over the last eight years in the league has averaged 10-and-a-half sacks. So, I’m not concerned about that. We’ll find a way to get after it.” — defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on the hybrid outside linebacker/end position

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. For a look at the previous breakdowns (offensive backfield, secondary and receivers) click to Gatorsports.com.

Probable depth chart

DE/OLB

58 – Jon Greenard

7 – Jeremiah Moon

45 – Mohamoud Diabate

97 – Khris Bogle

99 – Lloyd Summerall III

LB

33 – David Reese

51 – Ventrell Miller

34 – Lacedrick Brunson

LB

30 – Amari Burney OR

41 – James Houston

90 – Andrew Chatfield

32 – Jesiah Pierre

28 – Tyron Hopper

7 COMMENTS

  1. These young men will wreak havoc to opposing offenses. I just hope they are quick enough to recognize when they are being suckered in for a screen pass or shuttle pass. They need to mix it up. Keep up the improvements men. GO GATORS!!!

  2. So very glad to see some depth at LB – were have been thin there for a few years. I have a strong feeling that this LB group will have a great year – need to put pressure on UM’s offense from the get go. Don’t let UM run on our D. Pressure the QB – get some sacks, run stops for loss or zero yards and be an overall pain the ass for Miami – GO GATORS!!!

  3. The Grantham defense emphasizes attacking the QB with corner blitzes, LB blitzes and, on occasion, a 6-man rush. It works well when u have good man-cover CBs and safeties. The FS needs to react quickly if the QB looks for the TE. Last season Chauncey Gardner-Johnson did that extremely well. With Wilson back as a DB starter, it will be interesting to see how this very young D plays the Canes. I honestly know nothing about the Cane offense since they did not have one last year. I do know their QB is a transfer from Ohio St., and was not the starter there.