2010: Lorenzo Edwards – SR, Brandon Hicks – SR, A.J. Jones – RSR, Jon Bostic – SO, Dee Finley – SO, Scott Peek – RSO, Gideon Ajagbe – FR, Neiron Ball – FR, Jelani Jenkins – RFR, Darrin Kitchens – FR, Ronald Powell – FR, Michael Taylor – FR
Preseason Rating: A
Postseason Rating: C
It would take a lot to convince me to give the Florida linebackers anything less than an A before the start of the 2010 season. Actually, no; you couldn’t convince me they didn’t deserve an A. I would stand my ground on that one. Brandon Hicks had been solid all-around for quite some time and was poised to take a leadership role. A.J. Jones had made some big plays over his career and was something of an under-the-radar type. Jon Bostic seemed to have the potential to be Johnny Rutledge, Andra Davis, Channing Crowder, Brandon Siler, and Brandon Spikes all rolled into one. We were about to see all-world Jelani Jenkins join their ranks. And add the possibility of the nation’s top recruit in Ronald Powell alternating between defensive end and linebacker and you had possibly the best unit on the team. Then something strange happened.
The linebackers disappeared.
I’ve been very careful to not place complete blame on the Gators’ invisible linebackers on anyone in particular, and for good reason. I really don’t know what happened. Some have said individuals like Bostic and Jenkins haven’t lived up to the hype. Some even remarked that Powell had an underwhelming freshman season. I’d argue with you on that for one huge reason: coaching.
Sure, each and every one of the players named above could have performed better. There’s no denying that. However, I have to look at the other piece of the puzzle and that piece is coaching. What was drawn up for these guys? Bostic wasn’t missing tackles on every other play; he was lined up ineffectively. Linebackers were sent on blitzes when the offensive formation or down and yardage to go didn’t warrant it. Although overall play could have been better, coaching contributed greatly to holding the unit back. Many times, they were removed from the play before the play even began.
Due to all of this, the unit gets a C and some are probably even asking “why that high?” I can’t give them a D for the sole reason that they did what they were told to do. They didn’t perform great and there were no All-Americans among them, but had they even lined up in a basic 4-3 zone or man formation for every single snap of the 2010 season, they would have performed better. Instead they were moved around the field while the defensive coaches tried to find an identity for their unit. The coaches get the D in this respect. The unit overall? C.
Jon Bostic – JR, Lerentee McCray – RJR, Scott Peek – RJR, Neiron Ball – SO, Dee Finley – RSO, Jelani Jenkins – RSO, Darrin Kitchens – SO, Ronald Powell – SO, Gideon Ajagbe – RFR, Graham Stewart – FR, Michael Taylor – RFR
Preseason Rating: A
It’s another A and for almost all the reasons it was an A before 2010. Bostic, Jenkins, and Powell have as much raw talent as any linebacking corps in the SEC. Add to them some players growing in the position and you have a unit that could be dangerously good. And yes, I include Powell here and even Lerentee McCray. Powell is playing the buck position and is mostly mentioned with the defensive ends, but if we understand the expectations of the position, he’ll be an LB from time to time. During recent practices, McCray has been moved from DE to LB and even been mentioned as a starter at times. He belongs here as well.
This unit has the potential to be the backbone of the defense as well as the captain of that ship. It needs to be again. Bostic has to take control as the main man in the middle. He needs to command the respect on and off the field that the former great Florida MLBs did. Jenkins needs to be the all-conference performer we all know he can be. And Powell – wherever he may be on the field – needs to enter beast mode and remain in it for 12 or 13 or 14 games.
The rest of the unit is solid in terms of potential, but lacking in terms of experience. None have significant playing time, but any could be asked to jump into an expanded role in 2011. If one of the starters goes down for any significant amount of time, that’s exactly what will happen. This unit, as much as any on the team, needs some blowout time early in the first few games so the backups can get in and get their feet wet. That’s almost a necessity with the linebackers.
One player I haven’t mentioned yet is Gerald Christian and for good reason. I have no idea where he will or won’t see the field. He’s a tight end. He’s a linebacker. He’s a tight end. He’s a linebacker. He’s a tight end. I know this happens with players from time to time because of talent at multiple positions or an injury forcing a move, but I hate it when it does. We may see Christian at LB at some point in 2011, but for now he’s a TE. I think.