GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Despite losing its leading tackler from the past two years, Florida’s linebacker position hasn’t missed a beat in 2016.
With the return of Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone fully recovered from last year’s season-ending shoulder injury, a linebacking duo is once again leading the Gators on defense.
“They’re playing very well,” Florida linebackers coach Randy Shannon said. “Both of them really intertwine with each other. J.D. sets the front, but also Alex echoes the front for him. Both of them really know what each other is doing.
“And we always tell both of those guys, if you can really click with each other all the time, great things will happen.”
The 1-2 punch of Anzalone and Davis has accounted for 72 tackles and 4.5 sacks this season.
“It’s awesome,” Davis said of playing with Anzalone. “I feel like everything that we do week in and week out is a competition. We may not say we’re competing, but I feel like if he does something I have to come back. And then if I do something I feel like he says he has to come back.
“Once we both get on the same page — and we’re very close, we’re very close — once we both we get on the same page I feel like we can be a very scary duo.”
Anzalone has filled the void of departing linebacker Antonio Morrison, who led the Gators in tackles in 2015 (103) and 2014 (101). Morrison also finished second on the team as a sophomore with 56 tackles.
But Anzalone has stepped up in his absence, registering more tackles through five games (32) than in his previous 24 games over a three-year span (22). His 2.5 sacks rank third in the SEC among linebackers.
“I think I’ve been playing pretty well,” Anzalone said. “I don’t really like to comment on my play. I guess I just let it speak for itself. You can watch the film.”
Davis has improved his game as a senior, specifically as a tackler. Shannon said Davis missed a lot of tackles in 2015, but his offseason work in that area has yielded results.
The first-team All SEC preseason selection has the eighth-most tackles (40) among linebackers in the league and is on pace for a 100-tackle season after recording 98 last year.
“He’s at a high level right now. Really, really at a high level,” Shannon said of Davis. “Does a great job of communicating, getting guys lined up. He’s really, really feeling it.”
Shannon said the combination of Anzalone and Davis reminds him of the Miami trio of Jesse Armstead, Michael Barrow and Darrin Smith. Shannon has not only been pleased with the play of Anzalone and Davis, but the way they are bringing along the freshmen linebackers.
“You love to see them flying around and how they handle things,” Shannon said. “Those guys have done a tremendous job on and off the field helping the young guys that have to really pick things up. But they’re having fun and they’ve been doing a great job this season.”