Jim McElwain was hired because the Florida Gators offense was broken beyond repair, and the former staff didn’t have an answer (more like they never had an answer) as to how to build an offense, let alone fix the mess that they had created.
For all their faults on the offensive side of the ball, the former staff left a treasure trove of talent for McElwain and Geoff Collins on defense. All-American Vernon Hargreaves leads the bunch but the Gators have obvious talent and depth across the board on defense.
Except at linebacker.
With returning leader Antonio Morrison likely to be sidelined for a while following his knee injury during the Birmingham Bowl Florida will be without their leader in the middle of the field for McElwain’s first spring camp.
Joining Morrison on the injury list is Jarrad Davis. Davis tore his meniscus against South Carolina — an injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season — and Matt Rolin has yet to play a down of football at Florida after tearing his ACL during his senior season of high school and then again as a freshman two years ago.
Florida has just six scholarship linebackers on the roster. Davis and Rolin should be able to participate this spring but how much they will be able to do remains to be seen.
That’s why this spring is the time for Alex Anzalone to step up and grab opportunity by the horns.
The talented linebacker from Pennsylvania dealt with injuries all throughout his freshman season but still saw action in 10 games.
“It was tough,” Anzalone said during media day before last season. “You just have to think about it in ways, you can control the controllables. You just have to do what you can to get on the field and really just be positive.”
As a sophomore, Anzalone played in every single game for Florida as a reserve linebacker and starter on special teams. He finished the season with 14 tackles and one for loss. Florida played a lot of nickel defense last season, utilizing just two linebackers on the field a lot of times. That didn’t leave a lot of snaps for Anzalone as Morrison, Davis and Mike Taylor split the snaps. However, with a new coaching staff, a clean slate and opportunity in the form of increased playing time with several players on the mend, the time is now for Anzalone as he enters his junior season.