GatorCountry.com continues its series previewing the players who will make up the 2012 Florida football team this season.
Each day, we’ll count off another Gators scholarship player until the season officially begins Sept. 1 against Bowling Green in The Swamp.
Today, we take a look at sophomore linebacker Michael Taylor:
The Gators beat LSU, Miami, Stanford, Tennessee and Virginia Tech for Taylor’s signature in the Class of 2010. Florida actually convinced Taylor to switch his verbal commitment to Tennessee in the final month before signing day.
People initially figured Taylor’s switch of commitment had everything to do with Lane Kiffin leaving UT for Southern California. However, he later refuted that claim and said he had made a silent pledge to the Gators a week before Kiffin bolted. Florida had just hired D.J. Durkin as its linebackers coach, and Durkin had built a strong relationship with Taylor when he was an assistant at Stanford.
A national recruiting network pegged Taylor as the No. 3 outside linebacker in the country while other recruiting sites had him rated a three- and four-star prospect out of Atlanta Westlake High School.
Taylor was named the Team Blur Most Valuable Player in the 2010 Under Armour All-American Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. He also won the obstacle course competition, known as the Burger King Skills Challenge, during the week of practices before the game in Orlando.
While Taylor only was credited with three tackles in the game, all three were big hits including one for a two-yard loss on his long-time friend and future teammate Mack Brown.
Taylor, one of nine Gators’ linebackers on scholarship, grabbed headlines when he said SEC defenses wiill “be screwed” when facing new UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s offense. The comment came after the Gators Orange & Blue Debut spring scrimmage on April 7. He said all of the pre-snap motion and shifts were “like a Jedi-mind trick” for defenders trying to figure out which direction the ball was going.
Taylor then drew a few negative headlines in late April when he tweeted “F***in Asians” with a link to a picture of a bag of rice. A few national bloggers ran screenshots of what they described as a “racist” tweet.
After a lot of back-and-forth with other people on Twitter, Taylor finally put this tweet out: “Who ever misinterpreted my tweet with the bag of rice for a racist comment I’m sorry it was not anything against Asians thank you” from his @theMiketaylor51 account.
On the field, Taylor delivers even bigger hits. He has the explosion needed for a linebacker to have success in the Southeastern Conference. He arrives at the ball “mad” as evident by his perfect execution on a fumble-causing tackle against Florida State. Just to note, the play resulted in Florida’s only points of the game and prevented UF from being shutout for the first time since 1988.
At 6-foot, 220-pounds, he’s undersized for an SEC linebacker. However, he makes up for it with his tenacity and is one of those blue-collar-type players UF coach Will Muschamp talks about. He has the quickness to cover the field from sideline-to-sideline. He reportedly runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and that speed helps Taylor be equally effective defending against the run or pass.
What to Expect
This fall, Taylor hopes to make headlines for his play on the field and he has locked up the No. 2 spot at middle linebacker behind Jonathon Bostic. He also can fill in at weakside linebacker behind starter Jelani Jenkins, although the emergence of signee Antonio Morrison may mean less reps for Taylor as a reserve at that spot.
After redshirting as a freshman, Taylor saw action in 12 of 13 games with one start as a redshirt freshman a year ago. He earned the team’s “Ball Hawk Award” after his 30-yard interception return against Kentucky. Taylor finished the season with 36 tackles, including a career-high seven stops against LSU and Vanderbilt.
We expect Taylor to play a similar role in 2012 as he did in 2011. We also see Taylor’s tackle production climbing a bit as he gains more comfort in the second year of Florida’s 4-3 defense.