Jenkins’ return key for Gators

When he was in the ninth grade, Florida linebacker Jon Bostic, who was then a cornerback, was forced to play with a cast on his hand.

It has become a customary tactic for football players, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, through the years. Put a cast on a broken hand or finger, wrap it up and go from there.

If Jelani Jenkins is to play this weekend against LSU — he is still questionable — he will also likely have to attempt to play with a cast.

After breaking his thumb early in Florida’s 20-17 win against Texas A&M on Sept. 8, Jenkins underwent surgery to insert a stabilizing pin in the thumb.

In his absence, the Gators have filled his position mainly with Mike Taylor and freshman Antonio Morrison. Each has played well.

Morrison is tied with Sharrif Floyd for fifth on the team in tackles with 16. Taylor has 14 tackles, a sack and an interception.

Their talent and production has helped offset the loss of Jenkins. A season ago, the defense was short on players who could be asked to take on an increased role and produce as Taylor and Morrison have.

Still, the return of Jenkins would be a boost for a defense that will have its hands full Saturday.

For as well as Morrison and Taylor have played, Jenkins, a junior, offers experience and a set of intangibles that are difficult for even his most talented teammates to replace.

Gators coach Will Muschamp noted Jenkins’ experience, playmaking ability and maturity as three important things he brings to the defense. In particular, his ability to read and correctly diagnose what an offense is trying to do helps out his teammates and coaching staff.

“LSU, in most situations offensively, is going to give you some things they haven’t shown before,” Muschamp said. “Him being able to adjust some things out you haven’t prepared for (is important), because you can’t prepare for everything.”

Additionally, Muschamp noted Jenkins’ calming influence. In a nationally televised game between two top-10 teams, there are sure to be some jitters. Jenkins has been there and fought through it, something the coaching staff expects him to help his younger teammates do Saturday.

Bostic, who offered little on the difficulties he had when playing with a cast in high school, was outspoken when asked about the value Jenkins’ return would bring to the defense.

As the defensive anchor, Bostic has the task of ensuring the unit is collectively ready before each play. Jenkins normally helps that process. In his absence, Bostic has had to perform most of those duties alone.

“In the past couple weeks, I’ve been making sure the linebackers have been on their things,” Bostic said. “With him coming back, we can kind of split the defense up. I’m going with the defensive line; he’s going with the secondary, making sure everybody’s on the same page.”

When playing in stadiums with the type of crowd noise expected, communication is even more important. Bostic said most people don’t realize how difficult a job it is for one person to primarily handle the total unit’s communication.

For as important as Jenkins is in blitzing, tackling and covering, he is equally important in making sure the rest of the defensive players know their assignments.

Without a question, his return would make Bostic and the rest of the defense’s job much easier.