Injuries are tough to deal with in the present, but they can help shape the future. Florida coach Jim McElwain hopes that is the case with his linebacking corps.
The Gators lost two standouts during last season when Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone were injured. Davis, a first-round pick by Detroit last month, missed four games. Anzalone, picked by New Orleans in the third round, missed the final five games.
As a result, David Reese, Kylan Johnson and Vosean Joseph saw bigger roles than anticipated. Each performed well and now give UF a feeling that its linebacker rebuild will be a smooth one. Johnson is the oldest of the three and he’s entering his redshirt sophomore campaign; the other two played as true freshmen last season.
“We lost some talented guys, but really we lost them in the middle of the year anyway,” McElwain said on the SEC coaches’ teleconference Monday. “We got to find out what David and Vosean could do, and obviously Kylan played a ton for us. We’re still very young, and yet some of these guys got thrown into the fire. That’s a good thing.”
Reese (6 feet 0, 244 pounds) finished fifth on the team in tackles with 49 as a true freshman. Making more plays behind the line will be a point of emphasis as he develops this fall. Reese, who missed all of spring practice with a wrist injury, only made two stops behind the line last season.
Johnson (6-1, 231) started the final five games (six overall) and was credited with 39 tackles. He made five tackles for a loss, with a sack and a fumble recovery.
Joseph (6-1, 226) proved to be a big hitter, despite his low tackle total of 13. He only made one start, getting the nod in the Outback Bowl victory over Iowa. Joseph was credited with six tackles (one for a loss) with a pass breakup in the win. He also recovered a fumble as a true freshman. In addition, he had one of the biggest hits of the season for the Gators: He leveled LSU quarterback Danny Etling at UF’s 1, which helped force a field-goal attempt that was botched in the Gators’ win.
The trio appear to have the talent to replace Davis, Anzalone and Daniel McMillian. But the leadership lost will be hard to replicate.
McElwain isn’t counting on that from such a young group of starters. He believes safeties Marcell Harris and Nick Washington, both seniors, will take over that role.
“That (Davis and Anzalone) was a strength of our leadership piece,” McElwain said. “That’s definitely shifted to the safeties. I’m excited about that shift.”
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