This is the fourth in a weekly series previewing the 2018 Florida football team.
A preview of the Florida linebacker unit entering head coach Dan Mullen’s first season:
This has gone from one of the least experienced groups on the team to one of the most experienced over the past two years.
David Reese, Vosean Joseph and Kylan Johnson, who were thrown into the fire as true freshmen (Reese and Joseph) and redshirt freshman (Johnson) early in the 2016 season, are now seasoned veterans who have proven they can play at a high level in the SEC.
Reese has established himself as one of the elite run-stopping linebackers in the league. Despite having surgery on both wrists in the offseason a year ago, he returned for the start of last season and led the Gators in tackles (102) and tackles for loss (10). He is only the third UF linebacker since 2007 to top the century mark for stops in a season.
Joseph started all 11 games last season at outside linebacker and recorded 55 tackles, four tackles for loss, one interception, one pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.
Injuries limited Johnson to playing in six games last season, but he’s good to go now.
The Reese-Joseph-Johnson trifecta is a good starting point for this group. But what potentially puts it over the top is the addition of the fourth linebacker spot in the 3-4 defense.
It’s a hybrid position (combination of end and outside linebacker), and end CeCe Jefferson appears an ideal fit for it. He’ll have a chance to end his career by making all kinds plays in his senior season.
The hybrid position also seems like an ideal one for junior Jachai Polite’s skill set. Polite also will see time, and possibly start, at the traditional defensive end spot.
Jeremiah Moon is another proven player who will be battling for playing time at rush end/outside linebacker and outside linebacker. He’ll push for the starting role at outside linebacker.
The Gators have depth, but most of it is unproven.
Junior Rayshad Jackson has been mainly a special teams player.
The rest of the depth will come from true and redshirt freshmen who have yet to play a down at this level — Lacedrick Brunson, David Reese, Nick Smith, James Houston IV, Ventrell Miller, Umstead Sanders and Andrew Chatfield.
Young guy to watch
David Reese. Not the David Reese who is a junior and has been a starter the past two seasons. We’re talking about the true freshman David Reese who enrolled this summer and has made a great first impression on the coaches and his teammates with his relentless effort in the weight room and in conditioning drills. Clearly, he’s physically ready to play, and he provides instant depth on both the inside and outside. He’s big enough to play inside and fast enough and athletic enough to play on the edge and drop into coverage.
Don’t be surprised if …
Rayshad Jackson emerges as a real baller in his junior season. Sometimes, players just need a fresh start, and that’s what the new coaching staff has given Jackson, who has seen most of his previous playing time on special teams. He’s been on those special teams because of his ability to run and hit. This spring, getting tons of reps, many with the No. 1 defense, he showed he also has the instincts to go along with his speed and athletic ability. Look out for this guy.
“We’ve got the talent, we’ve got the experience. We’ve got guys that have been there before. We’re definitely motivated as a unit. Our linebacker unit is definitely ready to go. Vosean Joseph has been doing great, and Rayshad Jackson, Kylan Johnson. Ventrell Miller has been coming along great. David Reese, we’re happy to add him. That (linebacker) room is ready to go.” — junior inside linebacker David Reese
Probable depth chart
Ranking the SEC linebackers