Florida had one of the best defenses in the SEC, and therefore one of the best in the entire nation last season. However, a number of key defenders are taking their talents to the NFL and leaving the Gators with holes to fill when spring practice gets underway Mar. 13.
The biggest departures are Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam, but the unit that is hurt the most is at linebacker where big-time performers, Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic were valuable and underrated members of the Gators a year ago.
One future star for Florida is Antonio Morrison, who saw extensive action at outside linebacker as a true freshman. If he bulks up from his 218-pound playing weight last year to 230-pounds, he could slide over to the middle and be a potential Butkus award winner and high draft pick with his immense potential.
If he slides over to the middle linebacker position, then that opens up the possibility for another highly-regarded recruit, Alex Anzalone or Daniel McMillan, who have enrolled early and will partake in spring practice. The youth that the Gators have in this unit may experience some growing pains as they develop and mature, but when they do, that unit may be among the best in the nation.
Aiding their development are upper-classmen Michael Taylor, who can serve as a reserve to Morrison in the middle, while Neiron Ball should be given every opportunity to nail down the starting spot at the strongside linebacker. He will provide invaluable leadership this spring and summer for the impressionable youngsters.
The Gators defense may take a tiny step back from last year, but the future of this defense at linebacker is as impressive as any other team in the conference, and should be the backbone in the years to come.