The Florida Gators are blessed having as good a pair of linebackers as anyone in the SEC and maybe the nation. However, beyond that there are names and question marks; potential and possibilities but no proven performers. One of the jobs facing this coaching staff over the next few weeks is to determine who is ready to help and how much they can be counted on.
Right now Brian Crum is the third starter and four scholarship players and a walk on are being looked at to provide that depth. Redshirt freshman Ryan Stamper is the backup middle linebacker who is trying to prove he’s ready for action. Stamper was not likely to become a Gator until the hiring of Urban Meyer led to Florida showing interest in the Jacksonville First Coast prospect. Five years ago he was a kid on the First Coach team looking up to veterans Ken Tookes and Reggie Lewis. Now he’s reunited with those guys and many others, trying to make the Gators a champion again.
I spoke with Stamper recently about his chances of earning meaningful playing time with the Gator defense this fall.
LV: Ryan, after the first few days of practice, how do you feel it’s going?
RS: It’s going good. I feel a little bit better than I did last year. Last year I was pretty much lost, but now I got the plays. As a freshman I really did know, but now I feel a lot more comfortable. I know I gotta play this year so I’m trying to step it up.
LV: There’s so much talk about the Gators’ lack of depth at linebacker. Does that put pressure on you to be ready to step in and play whenever you might be called upon?
RS: Yeah, I feel a lot of pressure this year. We have two or three of the best linebackers in the SEC. If anyone was to go down the coaches would count on me, D-Rob (Darryon Robinson), Spikes (Brandon), Doe (Dustin) and Demps (Jon). We gotta step it up and be ready so there’s a lot of pressure on all of us.
LV: What did you do to get yourself ready to do that?
RS: I gave it everything I had in conditioning and working out in the weight room. I was really trying to get stronger, because that was my weakness. I got a little stronger this year since the spring. That was my big thing, strength.
LV: Who is harder to please during practice, Coach Strong or Siler?
RS: (laughing) I’d have to say Brandon. Coach Strong, I mean he’s hard to please, but they’re both about even. Brandon is a great leader and he’s like a coach, too.
LV: With AJ Jones switching over to safety does that just reinforce the need of you guys at linebacker have to get the job done behind Brandon and Earl (Everett)?
RS: Yeah. I just realized the other day in the meeting I looked around and said, “Where’s A.J.?” But he was a little underweight and that’s why they moved him but I think he’ll fit in well at safety. The rest of us just got to do the job.
LV: What do you have to do in order to be ready when called upon opening day?
RS: I just gotta get mentally ready and physically primed. If I can keep my focus and keep working hard, I’ll be ready.
Ryan Stamper and Jon Demps have an experience advantage over Dustin Doe and Brandon Spikes when it comes to earning playing time at linebacker this fall. I would have added Brian Crum to the list of guys who have to step up and show they can produce rather than listing him with Everett and Siler as great linebackers; but there’s nothing wrong with Stamper respecting the senior. Still, Florida would like to have five solid guys at linebacker by the first snap of 2006. At this moment, they are still three short.