Florida’s biggest problem the last two years has been lack of on-field leadership.
Senior linebacker Jon Bostic has been considered one of the team’s leaders for the past two years. He runs the middle of the defense, he makes a lot of the calls and he’s a cool, collected player all his teammates seem to respect.
But none of that has really helped him emerge as “the guy” the last two seasons.
That’s changing this spring, but it isn’t because Bostic is being louder, demanding respect from his teammates or holding them accountable.
Instead, he’s just playing better. And the defense seems to be following suit.
“With Bostic, it has really been more of the physical element of the game. I think the guy has always been pretty mentally quick,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “Some of the [improvement] that I saw from him was more of a physical thing on the field.”
It’s been a while since Florida has had a hard-hitting, ferocious linebacker in the heart of the defense.
Bostic was expected to step right into the giant shoes left empty by Brandon Spikes – and Brandon Siler before him – but it hasn’t quite materialized in his three years at Florida.
With only one year left, the clock is ticking on the once promising prospect. He has put up big numbers in his Florida career, racking up 169 tackles.
But big numbers do not equal big plays.
“We are really counting on these linebackers to make some plays,” Quinn said, noting the emphasis placed on getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers this spring. “That kind of production, I think, is what we’re talking about.”
For Quinn, those type of plays come from sticking your head in there and burying the guy with the ball. They come from exploding through a block and going above and beyond your assignment.
Bostic has been solid, but Quinn is no longer looking for solid. He’s looking for exceptional.
Taking things to the next level as a hitter is one of the ways Bostic can do that, he said.
“I think that’s the part of the game that he had to improve the most,” he said. “When he took that from the meeting room to on the grass this spring, I was really encouraged by that. I’m anxious to see him take the next step as a player.”
Though he hasn’t gotten noticeably bigger, Bostic said his work in the weight room this offseason has paid off. He feels stronger, and that’s a good sign for the Gators.
Will Muschamp was pretty critical of his linebackers in Saturday’s scrimmage, so there’s still some learning going on. Learning how to play with the added strength will be key.
Bostic credits new strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman with the strength gains he’s made so far. He only tried Olympic lifts briefly in high school before giving up on them.
Now he can’t get enough of them.
“I like it. I feel like it’s getting a lot of us stronger,” he said. “I really feel like it’s helping us. We translate pretty much everything to the field already.”
The measurables are there. At 6 foot 1, 243 pounds, Bostic has always had the size to be the next great one in the middle for the Gators.
For whatever reason, he’s a step away from becoming the elite player Florida’s defense needs. Heading into the second year in Muschamp’s defense, there’s still some learning going on.
There’s just a lot less of it now.
“It’s a lot more reacting. I was a little slow when we first came out, because our offense is doing a lot of shifting, a lot of adjusting,” Bostic said. “They’re going fast. They’re not going to let you get set. Really the defense, we had to make an adjustment the first couple days.”
Bostic’s got a fresh new look this season. He’s sporting the No. 1 jersey. Though he says there was no motive behind the switch, there’s a history of great players wearing the No. 1 jersey.
There’s a little added pressure with all eyes on the senior leader. The Gators want to turn a Top 10 defense into a feared, respected unit.
That can only happen if the man in the middle holds up his end of the bargain. Quinn’s going to do everything he can to make it easy for him.
Even if that means getting a little more aggressive with the play-calling.
“Some of it might be the call,” he said. “Can I give them some more aggressive calls to get them going and get them running making plays?”
Fans can only watch and hope that the light has indeed come on.
If it has, the future is blindingly bright for this Florida defense.