GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Gators will field a young linebacker corps in the 2017 season.
However, the group doesn’t lack experience.
After a broken left arm ended Alex Anzalone’s season in 2016 and a sprained left ankle limited Jarrad Davis late in the year, the Gators relied on three freshmen to man the middle of the defense. Now, Florida will rely on underclassmen to carry the load from the beginning in 2017.
Here’s a closer look at the linebackers.
Reese led active returning players with 49 tackles. He played in 12 games as a true freshman, starting four late in the year at middle linebacker with Davis out. In those four games, Reese logged 34 tackles and earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording a career-high 12 tackles against LSU. Reese sat out the spring while tending to a wrist injury, but is slotted as the Gators’ starting middle linebacker heading into fall camp.
Johnson played safety in high school but was converted to linebacker during his first year on campus due to a lack of depth at the position. After a redshirt season, Johnson played in 13 games (six starts) in 2016, recording 39 tackles (5 for loss) and a sack. At 6-foot-1 and 231 pounds, Johnson has the size to play linebacker but also has the skillset and versatility to drop back and help with pass coverage. Johnson will likely open the season at one of the starting outside linebacker spots.
Joseph only recorded 13 tackles (1 for loss) as a freshman and spent most of the season on special teams. The main takeaway from his first year: Joseph has no problem annihilating an opposing running back or quarterback. Look no further than that Danny Etling tackle against LSU. Joseph earned his first career start during the Outback Bowl against Iowa and finished the game with 6 tackles. He also excelled during the spring. He is a frontrunner for a starting job heading into fall camp.
Garcia walked on to the team in 2015 and had a chance to make an impact in 2016 after the injuries to Anzalone and Davis. Garcia played in all 13 games last season and finished with 7 tackles. He earned his first start during the Outback Bowl, recording a career-high 5 tackles in the win. Garcia will likely be a reserve linebacker again during his redshirt senior season, but he has the experience and veteran presence to make an impact.
Moon sat out the 2016 season with a medical redshirt after suffering a thumb injury early in the season. Like Johnson, Moon’s biggest strength is his versatility. At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, Moon has the size and strength to be a hard-hitting outside linebacker. His ability to drop back in pass protection will allow him to line up against tight ends. Moon will likely be a backup to start the season but should be active in the rotation.
The Gators signed four true freshman linebackers in the Class of 2017.
- Ventrell Miller, a 3-star prospect and the No. 36-ranked outside linebacker in the class.
- James Houston, a 3-star prospect and the No. 43-ranked outside linebacker in the class.
- Nick Smith, a 3-star prospect and the No. 78-ranked outside linebacker in the class.
- Lacedrick Brunson, a 2-star prospect and the No. 156-ranked outside linebacker in the class.
Houston was an early enrollee but sat out team drills during the spring while recovering from a high school ACL injury. Smith suffered a knee injury ahead of fall camp and his status heading into the season is unknown.
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