Florida Gators Linebackers – 2010 vs. 2011

One Eyed Willy and I continue to run through the positions, comparing this year’s roster to that of 2010. To read past installments, click each position: quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line.

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.

Breaking Down the Florida Gators’ 2010 Recruiting Class – Part 1

Now that we know who has signed with Florida, we can start to analyze them with a fine-toothed comb throughout the spring and summer and project what they will do once they suit up for the Gators.  In four neat parts, I’ll give my early thoughts about each of the signees and how they may contribute in 2010.
Gideon Ajagbe
LB – 6’2″, 197 lbs. – Coconut Grove, FL – Ransom Everglades
Ajagbe is fairly small for a linebacker in terms of bulk, but so was a former Gator by the name of Earl Everett when he came to Gainesville.  His athletic ability is what drew Florida to him.  The coaching staff wants him to get up in the 230-pound range and hopes he won’t lose any speed in doing so.  Expect Ajagbe to redshirt while he gets accustomed to Florida’s conditioning regimen.
Neiron Ball
DE – 6’4″, 210 lbs. – Jackson, GA – Jackson
Ball is in much of the same boat as Ajagbe in that his speed and overall ability led the Gators to him, but he will need to put on some weight to play his position at the next level.  Due to Ball’s acceleration, he can end up being a pass-rush specialist for the Gators, but may also do well as a blitzing outside linebacker.  He’s another good candidate to redshirt although being enrolled early may have helped him get an edge.
Mack Brown
RB – 5’11”, 185 lbs. – Lithonia, GA – Martin Luther King
Brown was one of the one’s Florida fans were most worried about when Signing Day came around.  Many weren’t sure if he’d actually end up a Gator.  In the end, he was true to what he had been saying throughout most of his recruitment and signed with Florida.  Brown could be considered a speed back, but he seems to love contact as well.  With some added bulk, Brown could do some damage between the tackles.  Looking at the depth chart at running back, you would think he’s in line for a redshirt, but Brown may be too talented to keep off the field in 2010.
Trey Burton
QB – 6’2″, 203 lbs. – Venice, FL – Venice
Burton may win the award for best recruiter of the class.  The minute he pledged to attend Florida, he became one of the most vocal members of the 2010 recruiting class.  Burton is a dual-threat quarterback who will fit in well to an offense which allows the QB to run a good amount of the time.  With Jordan Reed moving to tight end (whether it’s just part time or not), expect Burton to be right in the mix to back up starting quarterback John Brantley.
Gerald Christian
TE – 6’3″, 220 lbs. – West Palm Beach, FL – Dwyer
Ladies and gentlemen, the Florida Gators’ 2010 starting tight end.  Okay that’s probably a little premature to declare, but don’t be surprised.  Tight end is the thinnest position on the team right now and there’s no reason to think Christian won’t be given a chance to claim the top spot.  He enrolled early, has good speed for someone his size, and comes in as one of the nation’s best high school tight ends.  Expect Christian to see the field a lot during the upcoming season.
Robert Clark
ATH – 5’9″, 170 lbs. – West Palm Beach, FL – Dwyer
Clark could be in line to be the next Brandon James.  He can play on either side of the ball – although we heard a lot about cornerback toward the end of the recruiting cycle – but Clark’s strongest point is in the return game.  After seeing the impact James had on the Florida program over his four years as a Gator, prospects may no longer shy away from being recruited as returners first.  Clark could realistically be the fastest member of the 2010 class.  If he is as dynamic in the return game as expected, he should see the field immediately.
Adrian Coxson
WR – 6’2″, 194 lbs. – Baltimore, MD – City College High
Coxson was one of the last recruits to join the class, but his commitment wasn’t much of a surprise.  Some see him as a throw-in at the end of the cycle, but that’s not the case at all.  He’s a very talented receiver with the size to make an immediately impact.  With the entire receiving corps getting an overhaul in 2010, the freshmen will be given an opportunity to fight for playing time.  However, Coxson is one of four true receivers in the class (not to mention some athletes who could become full-time receivers) so he may be in line for a redshirt.  Fall practice will determine which ones play immediately and which ones we’ll have to wait until 2011 to see.
Come back tomorrow for the next part.

Keep ‘Em Coming; Gideon Ajagbe Commits to Florida

Ransom (Coconut Grove, FL) linebacker Gideon Ajagbe has joined the party. On Tuesday, the 6’2”, 200 lb. speed backer committed to Florida. Ajagbe – who also rushed for over 1,300 yards as a junior – picked the Gators over Ohio State, UNC, USC, and Wake Forest. He has mentioned the chance to play for his dream school was just too good to pass up. Early indications point to Ajagbe remaining at linebacker in college, but putting on some necessary bulk.