While Florida sports an abundance of depth at the defensive line and defensive back positions, the linebacker spot has fallen on hard times numbers-wise.
With Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins having played their final games as Gators last season, the already thin position became even thinner during the offseason.
Although a lack of experienced bodies may pose a problem for the Florida coaching staff, a group of players happy to see potential open spots are Florida’s incoming freshmen.
The Gators signed four linebackers to February’s recruiting class, three of which — Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin — who signed inside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, as they had already enrolled at UF in January.
Rolin sustained an ACL injury during his senior season at Briar Woods High School in Virginia, keeping him out of his first spring practice as a Gator. Soon after the practice sessions commenced, Anzalone joined his classmate on the sideline after a shoulder injury forced him to get surgery.
With his two fellow freshmen relegated as spectators, McMillian has essentially stood alone this spring as a newcomer at linebacker. During Florida’s two open practice sessions in March, McMillian was visibly lost during drills, prompting several talks from the Florida coaching staff.
A talented four-star recruit out of nearby Jacksonville, McMillian bucked the usual FSU trend of First Coast High School products, opting for an early commitment to Florida in February of 2012. Once on campus, the Army All-American was a player expected to see the field early and often for the Gators, making his less-than-stellar practice performance that much more disappointing to fans.
Apparently however, it hasn’t taken the freshman long to get adjusted to his new surroundings, as McMillian received an abundance of praise from his teammates and coaches on Tuesday.
“McMillian has been really good,” sophomore lineman Dante Fowler Jr. said. “He loves to tackle people, I’ll tell you that. He loves to tackle people, shoot gaps, he can cover really well.
“He’s just one of those linebackers that’s just meant to play linebacker. He’s really good.”
At 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds, McMillian possesses speed and athleticism not easily spotted on Florida’s linebacker depth chart. While he may have gotten off to a slow start during spring, Will Muschamp couldn’t say enough positive things about his progression thus far.
“Daniel’s doing well, “ Muschamp said on Tuesday. “I always look at it from the standpoint of you continue to throw it on the wall and see what sticks … my experience with young players, is some quicker than others, all of a sudden the light goes off and they think ‘oh I get this, I understand what you’re talking about now.’”
Muschamp said the linebacker position is one the Gators need to continue growing depth at. Despite having a change in format to the Orange and Blue Debut this weekend due to injuries, McMillian will certainly be provided with an opportunity to show off his talent to curious fans tracking his progress.
“Athletically, he is the right guy to be coaching,” Muschamp said. “He’s got instincts, he’s got toughness. In football, again, go back to what I was asked earlier, very important to him.”
With talented freshmen such as McMillian, the question often revolves around work ethic rather than ability. According to Muschamp, neither of those facets appears to be in question — something that bodes well for the Gators this season and beyond.
“[McMillian] was up here on Sunday after the third practice, the first day in pads, for two hours watching film by himself,” Muschamp said. “The thing’s important to him. And some young players have a hard time with that, because they’ve always been better and they didn’t have to put in the extra time.”
“Daniel, he’s working — he’s the absolute right guy to be coaching.”