By Nick de la Torre
In the seventh edition of our spring position battles preview we look at linebacker. It has been a long time since the Florida Gators went into a season where they didn’t know who would be playing Mike linebacker. Brandon Siler manned the middle for the 2006-07 National Championship squad, Brandon Spikes came after him and Jon Bostic took the reigns next.
Middle linebacker is not the only hole that Florida must fill next season. The early departure of Jelani Jenkins leaves the Gators without their best cover-linebacker. Florida brought in a talented group of players in this past recruiting class and many of them will be asked to step in right away.
Michael Taylor, R-Jr.
Taylor is a big, physical middle linebacker and the only true inside linebacker on the roster. He excels as a run blocker but needs to improve in pass protection.
Taylor played in every game last season, compiling 32 tackles, 1 interception, 1.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
Antonio Morrison, So.
A member of the 2012 recruiting class, Morrison enrolled early and won over the coaching staff with his physical style of play. Morrison is a sound tackler and provided the Gators with one of their biggest hits of the year on Florida State’s E.J. Manuel.
Morrison filled in at Will linebacker last season when Jenkins went down with an injury. He was a more than adequate replacement compiling 33 tackles, including one for a loss.
Morrison is a candidate at both the Will and Mike positions. If he stays outside, expect Morrison to win the starting job on the weakside. The coaching staff could choose to try Morrison inside given that he is a little better in coverage than Taylor. Morrison would need to add some additional size to his 6’1” 218 lb. frame if he is going to make the move inside, but he has the frame to support additional size.
Jeremi Powell, R-Fr.
Powell took a redshirt last season but impressed the coaches during practice, even earning scout team honors five times.
The coaching staff is really excited about what Powell can do on the field. He’s a long, rangy player who is a natural pass rusher. Powell also played running back and wide receiver in high school and has good hands. His speed and hands should help him in coverage.
If Powell can have a good spring he could wind up at Will, which would allow Morrison to move over to Mike.
Daniel McMillian, Fr
McMillian is a prospect that sort of flew under the radar this past recruiting cycle. He committed early and never backed off his commitment.
McMillian is another Muschamp guy. Big, fast, physical and a sound tackler, McMillian fits the mold of what Muschamp is looking for on defense.
Reviewing his tape from his junior and senior seasons, McMillian made great strides from one season to the next in coverage. He was much better covering slot receivers, tight ends and running backs as a senior. He is another player who could develop into an inside linebacker.
Alex Anzalone, Fr.
Alex Anzalone’s commitment was far more exciting than McMillian. Anzalone committed to Ohio State, de-committed and pledged to Notre Dame. Anzalone was set to enroll early in South Bend before having a change of heart at the last moment. Anzalone ended up spurning Notre Dame and enrolling early at Florida citing his level of comfort with the coaches, players and school.
Anzalone was a two-way player in high school but will play linebacker at Florida. He is athletic enough to play on the outside but big enough to eventually make the move inside.
Even though he’s only a freshman, it will be hard to keep Anzalone off the field.
Matt Rolin, Fr.
Rolin is going to miss spring practice as he rehabs following an ACL surgery. While he cannot participate in practice, Rolin is still getting a head start on the rest of the recruiting class by getting acclimated to college life and getting into the playbook. Depending on his health and his ability to get back in shape after the surgery, he could make an impact in the fall.
While Morrison struggled at times in coverage, he is a much better cover linebacker than Taylor. If Morrison can put on some weight he seems to be the clear favorite to take over for Bostic. That leaves a hole at Will linebacker. Jeremi Powell, Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian will all contend for playing time at the position and it should be one of the more competitive position battles this spring.