Gators regaining depth, talent at linebacker

Florida linebacker Vosean Joseph (11) reaches out to intercept a tipped pass during a practice earlier this month at the Sanders Practice Fields on the UF campus. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]


One of the biggest concerns heading into the spring apparently has already been alleviated only six practices in.

Depth at linebacker.

The Florida Gators now seem to have it. At least that’s linebackers coach Christian Robinson’s take on it, and he should know.

When asked what the strength of the linebacker group is, he didn’t hesitate.

“It’s depth,” he said after Monday’s practice. “We’ve got a lot of guys. … I’ve never had this big of a group in anywhere I’ve dealt with. I have three racks of guys that can actually play right now and you know we’ve got some other guys coming in this summer.

“We’re going to have depth and be able to play a lot of guys. In order to play in the national championship you’ve got to be able to make it there and you can’t get worn down late in the season.”

Florida’s linebackers did wear down during that long and disappointing 4-7 season last fall.

At linebacker, the Gators had David Reese, Vosean Joseph, Kylan Johnson, Jeremiah Moon and former walk-on Cristian Garcia.

And that’s about it.

That adds up to only four scholarship linebackers and one former walk-on.

There’s a whole different look at linebacker this spring. The Gators are deep.

Here’s how they got there:

  • The emergence of junior Rashad Jackson, who was mainly a special teams player the past two seasons. He’s shown this spring he’s ready to contribute on defense. He ran with the No. 1 defense some during Saturday’s open practice.

“Rayshad has done a great job,” Robinson said. “He’s been doing everything I ask him to do. What I like about him is he’s coachable. I’m looking for guys that are coachable and do what you tell them to do even when it’s tough.”

  • The return of freshmen linebackers James Houston V and Ventrell Miller, two of the players who were suspended last season for credit card fraud.

Both have been making big plays — and big hits — this spring.

“We need those young guys to come in the game because last year I want to say we didn’t really have a lot of depth,” Joseph said. “With them coming back, there’s a lot of depth on the linebacker group. They’re back, they’re fresh, so we’re going to use them a lot.

“Ventrell and James, them boys are very physical. They’re big linebackers. They’re going to come down and do whatever they need to be told to do and they’re going to do it.”

Both said sitting out last season was difficult and now they’re motivated by this second chance.

“It was tough, but I’m ready to start a new opportunity,” Houston said. “I’m ready to get back into the groove of things.”

Said Miller: “I just thank God for just giving me the opportunity to be back and the talent just to be back. I’m back in the groove. I’m ready to play football.”

  • The healthy return of freshmen linebacker Nick Smith, who sat out last season after injuring his knee during summer workouts. Like Miller and Houston, Smith has shown an ability to run and strike.
  • The versatility of true freshman Amari Burney. He began the spring workouts at safety, but because of his size and athletic ability, he’s also been getting some reps at linebacker, where he could see playing time in the fall.

“He’s done a great job and he’s continued to grow and like any player he’s got to continue to study,” Robinson said. “I love what he’s been doing.”

  • The hybrids — Cece Jefferson and Jachai Polite. The starting ends last season, the two have basically assumed the role of outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme. As they’ve shown in the past, both are playmakers.

“They can rush the passer,” Robinson said. “Any time you’ve got guys that can get off the edge with some juice and make tackles, it makes jobs easier for the inside guys because those lanes open up where they can go make plays. You’ve got two good ones right there.

“These guys are going to be playmakers on our defense.”


What had been a question mark heading into the spring now appears to be a team strength.

The Gators now have 12 scholarship linebackers competing for playing time. Now, it’s a matter of coaching them all up and determining a playing rotation, something UF lacked last season.

“What we’re instilling here in this program is relentless effort,” Robinson said. “Everything is relentless effort. Every position’s got to learn how to strain, run to the football.

“Guys that can go the longest are going to win on defense, so we’re trying to get them to learn that every day.”

It helps having depth.



  1. This was an unexpected relief to read! LB is critical, the heart of the D and we’ve all of a sudden got bodies at the position. I know we haven’t played a down yet but it looks like this program has already made a U-turn from the hopeless coaching direction of the former staff.

    • Tim…all of our defensive units the last 8 years have practiced against very poor UF offensives in practice, but still maintained a top 10 national defense in most years except for this past season…so your weak offense doesn’t resonate…UF defense will be OK…the defensive scheme wasn’t that good last year. I do believe they have more talent this year than last year…LB’s were a problem last year absolutely no depth… I also, believe the offense will be much better this year.

      • Our top-rated defenses got blown out in earlier seasons, too — 31-13 and 27-2 ring a bell?

        I know it’s painful to come to terms with this, but as a fan base we truly need to come down from our high horse and get real. We’re simply not a top program anymore.

        • Tim…Last year was also the promotion of Randy Shannon to DC ater Geoff Collins moved on to Temple. He was stuck in the 90s and thought he has Russell Maryland and Vince Woolfork in the middle. His philosophy was not attacking and was more reactionary. We did not dictate anything on that side of the ball and as a result suffered. Before that, defense was out only asset. Mac suffered because now both sides of the ball were average to below average….

          That said..I agree….we are what our record says we are, but the fanbase needs to temper that reality with expectations.

        • I beg to differ, Tim. The University of Florida Gators are a top program. One of the elite in fact. We are simply a top program that has had a rough few years. Losing for a few years does not change the fact that we are a top university in a desirable location with a great history. We are such a top program that it us almost more difficult for us to continue this poor play than to become a championship team again. Even the slightest sign that we are back and recruits will be flooding campus. When USC had some down years after pete carroll, they were still a top program and still get top talent. You are confusing us with lesser programs that need to win, see UCF, in order to get the attention of future recruits. We are the University of Florida. That is all that needs to be said, my friend.

          • Willgator. Sad to report that we’ve been third in the state behind FSU and Miami for most of modern history (at least since 1976). Solid losing records to both in that time (even with SOS), look it up. The Tebow years were the exception, but that coincided with historical low points for both FSU and Miami. I live in the northeast and can tell you both of those programs are more reputable and feared than us. We’re perceived as a good, solid program on the national level, just not sure I would call us elite.

          • GatorG,
            Like always, of course you are correct. I respect your opinion more than anyone on this site, but we will have plenty of time for harsh reality come september. At least allow me to kid myself for a couple months before i have to endure another brutal season of gator football. Dont bring your “facts” and “truth” into my fantasy.

  2. Tim. Mullen’s offense and play calling is not “weak.” McElwain’s offense and Nussmeier’s play calling was. “Weak” is not having playmakers like Jefferson, Cleveland, Grimes, Toney, Hammond, Swain, Massey, Lewis, Gamble, Stephens, Scarlett, Perine, Pierce, Lemons, and Clement out there making plays and being used correctly now (Cleveland is injured right now). And that does not include Davis at RB (injured) and Copeland at WR (arrives in June). But the OL and the QB play has to get better. It seems like Franks and Trask have come a long way. The major concern is the play and development of the offensive line, which could be considered “weak” at this point. But Havesty is a lot better OL coach that Davis or Summers, and I expect the OL unit will look a whole lot different by the time next season begins with him coaching them up.

    • Right on Tampa, OL is the key. It won’t take much to improve on last year’s, but the way things are looking it’s going to take a quantum leap there to get to the next level. I agree with your assessment though…..the right guy is in charge to make that happen.

    • Good breakdown, Tampa. Just a little concerned we’re all getting too overzealous with the team given the not so impressive roster. Also, Mullen is a known commodity in the SEC so it’s not like he’ll surprise anyone with his coaching and play calling. I guess I just won’t believe it ‘till I see it.

    • Good breakdown, Tampa. Just a little concerned we’re all getting too overzealous with the team given the not so impressive roster. Also, Mullen is a known commodity in the SEC so it’s not like he’ll surprise anyone with his coaching and play calling. I guess I just won’t believe it ‘till I see it.

    • You do remember that Gator fans at one point wanted both Mullen and Hevesy fires when they were here before. Winning 7 or 8 games a year at Miss st does not translate to championships at Florida. We settled for an average coach when the ones we wanted turned us down.

      • LT. I do not recall anyone wanting Mullen fired when he was the OC at Florida. I do remember plenty of people wanting Adazzio fired when he was the OC and replaced Mullen. People get them confused. But I do remember people not being happy with Mullen when they lost to Ole Miss in that famous game when Tebow made his speech after the game. But Florida regularly scored over 40 points a game during Mullen’s last year as OC. And his game plan for Ohio State in the NC game that year was brilliant and completely destroyed a very good OSU defense in that game. And I certainly do not recall people wanting Havesty fired. He had the best OL in the SEC when he was here and recruited the Pouncey twins and several other OL that went on to become stars and starters in the NFL. He did similar at MSU.

      • LT…while I agree with the “show me” stance of your posts and also know that this has been said before…when you add the occasional 9 and 10 win seasons in at Mississippi State, where only Jackie Sherrill had modest success a (10 win season and a 9 win season)…you have to say it’s a little disingenuous to call that an average coaching performance. There is a pecking order in the SEC and historically Mississippi State is going to be near the bottom along with the Vandys and Kentuckys of the world. There are only so many Ws out there with Bama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, and now A & M to deal with every year. They have to get the leftovers and essentially battle with the mid majors and go the JUCO route to compete.

        Part 2 is the reality and current state of our program is that we have been mediocre for a decade…so the “settling” as you put it (Frost going to his alma mater isn’t hard to fathom)…who better at this juncture could we have gotten? I am talking reality, not innuendo from fans who routinely call for Kerwin Bell, or SOS again. Second is we have had a coaching carousel, and facilities that have fallen behind the Bamas and Clemsons of the world. Considering the reality of where we are and what transpired…Mullen was a solid hire.

      • 100% not true. First, DM was more than a 7-8 win coach at a school that could never put together 2 back to back, 8 win seasons in it’s history until he got there. Second, the only other coach we came close to having an offer for was Kelly. Which looking at it now, we got the better candidate anyway.

        DM’s QBs and OL have looked better than any of ours since he left and with less talent. Come to think of it, the last time we had an offense that was worth a damn – he was the guy running it. Not sure why you’re so he’ll bent on torpedoing this staff but they have absolutely done everything right since landing on campus and deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    • Spot on Tampa. The Achilles heel has been the o-line since Meyers left. No o-line, no offense. That simple. Mullens did damn good with the talent that a second rate SEC team gets. The talent is at Florida to do great things. Mullens will harvest it. He recruited some great steals and athletes on the offensive side. THE O-LINE HAS BEEN THEW PROBLEM! That’s what I will be watching for… The Big Uglies dominating the trenches! The Gators CAN win 10 this year if…

  3. The truth is probably in the middle somewhere…. there is still fragility until it is demonstrated that we are not fragile any more…since the position coach is new and just about all of the players are essentially new or new to the position or both.
    I do like the optionality thinking by the coaches both on offense and defense…that will help the odds on our favor after years of looking a little one dimensional imo.

    • If you read the article, you will see the man said depth is the strength of the linebacking group, not the linebacking group is the strength of the team.

      Many of you dudes have a chronic case of what my Old Man (may he RIP) called “optic rectitis, or sh*tty outlook,” in layman’s terms. McYellow Teeth is GONE. Can we just leave the useless m— in the proverbial rearview mirror and instead concentrate on the promise of Mullen and his staff?

      It’s much more fun.

  4. It’s spring football. Everyone including me, has great expectations every year. Will we still love the Gators in September? As Mveal2006 posted, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Everybody at every position looks good in the spring.

  5. Another amateurish rainbows and unicorns piece. I’ve got news for you. If Rayshad Jackson is actually running with the first team defense, we suck at linebacker. Tell us another fairytale, Robby. Every year it’s the same bull crap. We are super awesome until we play someone other than ourselves in practice.

    • LT. Jackson actually played well last year when some of the starting LBs went down. And I saw him recently at the open practice and he was running and hitting hard in practice. He looked different than I have ever witnessed. He was obviously bigger, faster, and stronger. And he looked a lot more confident on the field as well. He could turn out to be a diamond in the rough, just like his coach when he was at Georgia. But I doubt he will be starting in the fall. But he might, and he may turn out to be a very good player. We will see. But inside linebacker, other than Reese, is wide open right now. The outside LBs are solid.

    • JEEBUS, Mike Winter / Black Juju / Mike Jones / The Tebow Curse. Get a grip and get back to the real reason you locked yourself in your Mom’s basement. We all know it’s not to post on sports comment boards.

  6. Ok. I don’t know about short term memory but it seems as though all the blame is directed at the 0-Line and QB. Yes, both were poor but, I believe that the new coaching staff has now been able to view a lot of tape and see what was going on. 1st. O-line was being manhandled because of no strength and conditioning. 2nd. Receivers were not running the routes, they would give up half way thru the routes causing some serious problems with check downs…cause? strength and conditioning. I watched first hand several receivers start the route and then just turn and stand there without trying to get open. I would get so pissed off knowing Franks is getting ready to just throw to try and make something happen. Receiver play was very poor! 3rd. Soft injuries with players saying basically, I am hurt so I have nothing to do with the outcome of the game. I called it several times last year as “giving up” and I do not see this coaching staff allowing that thought so for me, I am seeing a 180 degree turn around just on that. Now, can Coach turn the current players that he did not recruit into wanting to be nasty, hungry, and winners? That will be up to the players. But, I do believe that you can take on the personality of your coach. WINNER!

  7. It’s the same B.S., and some of you are still falling for it, hook, line, and sinker. Now there’s some of you claiming that the offensive line is going to be better because of better coaching…isn’t this the EXACT same thing said last year when Brad Davis became the new offensive line coach? As for Mullen, bah, blah, blah, isn’t this the EXACT same thing said when McElwain came in and replaced Muschamp?
    As for this “depth” at linebacker, it really doesn’t matter if they are all mediocre. There’s not one guy that is an all-conference player. In fact, as an opposing SEC coach said last year about UF’s LB’s, none of them worry you in the slightest. There is no Jarrad Davis, or anyone close. Reese is a below average LB, and he is the best of the bunch. Jefferson and Polite are NOT LB’s, even if you’re silly enough to listen to the coaches say they are.
    As for the LB coach saying what he’s saying, what else do you expect? He’s not going to say that, for example, Joseph sucks, which is a fact if you saw him play last year. The coaches and players are just going to tell you what you want to hear. as long as there’s suckers ready to believe their babble, which, from many of these posts, they’ll continue to dish out the manure. Just like the President, who is a congenital liar, they will NEVER tewll you the truth. Let me know when one of them says he watched Franks tape and how bad he sucks. No. all we’ll hear is how “talented” Franks is…blah, blah blah. You know Franks sucks. I know Franks sucks. But this is the time of year when reality takes a vacation and folks suspend their senses and start believing this B.S.
    Think about it, if UF was as “loaded” at RB, WR, OL, TE, as was said before last season, how did UF go 4-7? Don’t hand me the excuse about Scarlett and Callaway. UF sucked on offense when they were on the field, so why did it matter when they weren’t?
    For all of you worshiping Mullen, why not look at the game two seasons ago when he lost to South Alabama at home. Maybe you might get some perspective, instead of thinking he’s THE answer before he’s coached a single game at UF. The peanut gallery was saying the same things when McElwain was hired.

  8. The Tebow Curse- You’re a misinformed liberal idiot to bring up the President in a UF football discussion. Please take freaking politics to the proper forum. Sounds like you need a time-out and safe space to air your negativity.

    • The President is a moron, and anyone who doesn’t realize that is as smart as him. It’s right to bring him up when there is a subject that borders on the absurd, such as the B.S. that’s floated out by the coaches this time of year. It’s the same tripe said last year, and Trump IS a congenital liar unless you believe Herr Goebbels on Fox News.;

        • Nicely crafted, daz…….as always. One comment though, the guy isn’t a liberal. A true American Liberal I can disagree c, but still respect. Haven’t met one in years, mind you, but there are still some out there I hope. I think the correct term is “progressive”, “marxist”, “socialist”, or even “communist”.
          IN A MOMENT, MORE SPORTS…………..

        • daz. The problem is not just with liberals. The problem is extremist on both the right and the left. And both are equally bad for this great country. And Trump is an obvious pathological liar and clearly a sexual pervert. But most in Washington are one or the other, or both. Or morally corrupt in some other way. So he just fits in the Washington picture right now. Trump is just more public about his lack of morality. And if you are an extremist or lean strongly to the right, he can do nothing wrong. Same with someone who supports Bernie or Hillary on the far left. It is sad that ignorance caused by a closed mind does not hurt and hurt badly. Now, back to Gators football.

          • Tampa…. this is my take 100%. Extremists on BOTH sides are what is ruining the country. Trump is all of those things you mention. Sadly… so was/is Hillary. Middle or Commonsense America has no representation. Politics and Social junk has divided us and has us on the verge of ruin. And now…..back to Gator Football.

        • And Daz. The Nole troll supports both Trump and Hillary or Obama on here. He posts such things on both sides of the fence to get a rise our of people. It is what he lives for. It is what gives him hope for another day in his sad life.

          • Hey Rog…..good to see you posting, man. Thought you had dropped out of the net, I just got back on after 6 weeks in recovery.

          • Hey Gator-6…… I hope the recovery was successful….and nothing too serious 🙂 Good to have you back too!!!!

  9. Several years ago we Humphries in the offensive line and a couple of others (maybe Garcia). That line was criticized as being the reason or one reason for the poor offense. Then Humphries and I believe two others made NFL rosters. Obviously it wasn’t a talent problem. I want to believe the same is true with the current OL. Ivey is an NFL lineman and I believe the talent is there to be a good if not great offensive line. Hopefully the new coaches can make this happen. Some of this is talent, some coaching the players up, and some is scheme. We’ll see in the fall.

    • Howard. Great offensive lines communicate well with one another. And communication can make up for a lack of 4 or 5 star OL talent. The issue with the Florida OL last year and for years under Summers and Davis has been a lack of communication because they do not recognize pre-snap formations and do not communicate well to pick up blitzes when they come. And they have been slow to react to defenses that show one thing and do another. Ivey, as a five star recruit, often seems confused as a play develops and is slow to react to blitzes. He and Heggie did not communicate well with each other last year. And much of the communication starts with the center position, pre-snap. But the OL has to be intelligent and coached up well enough to quickly recognize the changes in a defense once the ball has been snapped. That is something the Florida OL has not done well in years under both Summers and Davis. Hopefully, Havesty will be better able to coach up the OL in the film room and on the field and the OL will start to perform as a solid unit with great communication and effort. If they do, this team will be very solid and the QB play will instantly improve. If not, the challenge will be difficult even with all the playmakers on the roster at other positions.

  10. The articles is pointing out something that is factually true: we have depth at the linebacker position. That’s not a debatable opinion. It’s just a fact. As for the o-line, the solution for them lies in the weight room as much as the practice field. If they buy into the program, they will get physically and mentally tougher, and therefore better.

    Captain Yellowteeth thought he could praise them into greatness, but all he did was set them up to look like fools. The new coaches have a different philosophy– that work is the answer, and it is the answer. I feel confident these olinemen will play up to their potential this year, and they will earn the praise through their actions and not just because some goony loser thinks they are “fun guys to be around.”

    These coaches demand relentless effort, and that’s why they get it. The difference in demeanor between this staff and the band of grotesque whining babies we had as coaches last year couldn’t be more glaring.

    • Well stated, Richard. There are so many differences between regimes that it’s hard to imagine that the Gators won’t be a better team next year. And the next, and the next……until we return to elite status.

  11. The number one problem with the football program the last 10 years was King Jeremy Foley !! He ruined the program with horrible hires and criminal contracts with million dollar buy out clauses so next year gator fans will pay 3 different head coaches ( shark boy Myschump and Mullins ) millions each .Why is Foley still making 500,000 after he ruined gator football and let facilities drop to the bottom of the sec? Shameful

  12. My position on 2018 Gator Football is this… I just want to see improvement. I want to see true player development. I want to see better coaching. I want to see more exciting and interesting play. If that leads to a 10+ win season then great. If it leads to 7-6… well, I can accept that.

    I realize the talent pool has not kept up with Clemson/Bama/UGA/OSU. And yes the facilities are not top of the industry. So there is some ground to make up before we can reasonably expect to be consistent top ten. But….based on what we know and what we’ve seen, it is reasonable to believe that Dan Mullen and his staff are a considerable upgrade over what we’ve had the past 9 years. That may turn out to not be true. But at this point in time, it is a reasonable expectation.

    It’s okay if we’re not at Bama’s level. They’ve got a coach and administration that has built a great program and it didn’t happen overnight but they’ve earned their success. In 2008 we had a great program that was starting to get us to the next level consistently….but it fell apart. So Gator Football is starting over. At this point…. I just want to see improvement. I feel confident that we’ll see that. We’ll know in 6 months 🙂

    • Well, if that doesn’t sum it all up, I don’t know what would. Nice to see that you haven’t lost your touch!

      I think 8-4 + a decent bowl win will be the right sign. Not that anybody will pay any attention—we’ve been gone a long time–but it will be at their own peril if they don’t. If I’m wrong, then I’ll be a suck egg mule!