Written by Chris Canada, Gatorsfirst.com Co-Founder
The long and dull offseason is finally coming to a close. Anticipation has never been higher in Gainesville, as last year's BCS champions are looking to do what no team in the BCS era has been able to accomplish: win a second consecutive championship.
With all of the players from last year's team coming back to defend their title, introductions are probably not needed. However, the Gatorsfirst.com team will give you the positional breakdowns you deserve to be fully ready for the 2009 season.
We now cover the linebacking corps, which like the rest of the defense, returns every starter and backup from last year’s national championship team. This is the best set of linebackers I’ve seen at the University of Florida.
They are the No. 1 squad in the nation, and second isn’t even close. They bring back multiple future NFL stars and have the most depth in the country. They’re experienced and hungry to win another title...
The captain of the defense Brandon Spikes (Sr., No.51, LB, 6'3'', 258lbs) is the heart and soul of this defense, replacing Tony Joiner before him. He’s every bit Tim Tebow on defense, as he commands respect and expects greatness on the field.
I’ve had my radar on him since his freshman season, when he played in eight games, including the national championship game. He made some bone-crushing tackles, and I knew we’d have another great Brandon at middle linebacker after Siler left (this happened shortly thereafter).
Last year, he didn’t put up the gaudy tackle stats from the year before (93 vs 131). But he did have an excellent season with eight tackles for loss, two sacks, and four interceptions resulting in two touchdowns.
Spikes turned down a sure 1st round NFL draft selection to come back to Florida. Now both James and I have said that if a player has a shot at guaranteed money in the pros, go a take it; ask Brett Nelson. However, we will gladly take him back, as we took back the famed “oh-fours.”
Spikes is a special linebacker that has the natural ability to sniff out offensive plays and make an immediate impact. He’s similar to Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, as he seems to make all the big plays, and he’s a vocal leader. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he has in store for this upcoming year!
This linebacking group isn’t just made up of one guy. There are two other starters that make this unit special. A.J. Jones (RJr., No.16, LB, 6'1'', 226lbs) will be starting at strongside linebacker. Last season he had 35 tackles, and a fumble recovery. He’s extremely quick, and will be primarily be used as a pass rusher.
On the weakside, Ryan Stamper (RSr., No.41, LB, 6'2'', 235lbs) took over last season and ended up starting 11 games. He recorded 45 tackles and one sack. He controls the middle when Spikes is out of the game, and you rarely see him miss a tackle.
Stamper better watch his back, because Dustin Doe (Sr., No.32, LB, 6'0'', 231lbs) has been shining during spring practices. He’ll see plenty of action, as he used to be the starter before Stamper took over. He had 30 tackles and one interception last year.
It’s quite possible that the next great Brandon may be Brandon Hicks (Jr., No.40, LB, 6'2'', 221lbs). Hicks started six games last season recording 34 tackles and two sacks. He’ll be in the main rotation, backing up both the strong and weak sides. He’s coming back from shoulder surgery, so we’ll have to watch his progress.
The last man of the main rotation is Lorenzo Edwards (Jr., No.26, LB, 6'1'', 236lbs). He came to Gainesville as a safety prospect, but was converted to linebacker.
Using those skills, he is very good against the pass and has been known to lay a few people out from time to time. He recorded 27 tackle last season, and will be the main reserve for A.J. Jones.
With three seniors in the main rotation, and two possible early departures (Jones & Hicks), the young guys better get some work in to hone their skills and be ready for the 2010 season. Luckily, the Gators don’t lack talent in the wings.
This offseason produced two big-time recruits in Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins. Bostic is expected to compete for the middle linebacker role in the future, while Jenkins was the highest rated outside linebacking prospect. Jelani means “Mighty” in Swahili, and the Gators hope he’s very mighty for years to come.
Alongside the newest guys, sophomore Lerentee McCray is coming back after a solid freshman season where he played in eight games. Redshirt freshman Brendon Beal is coming back from a torn ACL last spring and looks to get his college career started.
Former walk-ons Chris Pintado, Scott Peek, and Michael Ross don’t expect to see much, if any, playing time.
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