In Cardinal Dominance’s final look into the positional breakdowns, I will be covering the Gator linebackers. Florida uses different sets utilizing 4-3 defenses along with 3-4 defenses, most of the time electing to go with four linebackers and three down linemen. The linebackers play very aggressive against the run but can drop into pass defense and cover receivers. They have also shown the ability to blitz efficiently and get hurries and sacks on opposing quarterbacks. Teddy Bridgewater had better be aware of the backers or he could end up being gator bait several times throughout the night.
The starters listed for the Sugar Bowl by the USA Today are Outside Linebackers, Lerentee McCray (6-foot-3, 249 lb. R-Sr.) and Jelani Jenkins (6-foot-0, 237 lb. R-Jr.) teamed up with Inside Linebackers, Darrin Kitchens (6-foot-1, 229 lb. Jr.) and last season’s team leader in tackles, Jonathan Bostic (6-foot-1, 246 lb. Sr.). The Florida defense came into this season with nine returning starters on defense including Bostic and Jenkins and has plenty of experience backing up the starters. The Gator defense is young and in the linebackers alone, there are seven sophomores and freshmen combined.
(Jonathan Bostic is the leader of the LBer's and has some big guns!)
The young but experienced linebackers are coached by DJ Durkin who is in his third season at UF. Durkin is also the Special Teams Coordinator and although young, 34 years old, he has a lot of experience with some elite players and some nice accomplishments. From 2007-2009 Durkin coached the Defensive Ends and Special Teams at Stanford. In 2005 and 2006 he coached at Bowling Green starting with the defensive ends then moving to the linebackers. Prior to coming back to Bowling Green Durkin was a defensive graduate assistant at Notre Dame in 2003-2004. Durkin started his coaching career at Bowling Green in 2001-2002 as a defensive graduate assistant.
DURKIN'S COACHING ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
Season Stat Leaders / With Career Stat Included
Tackles – Jonathan Bostic (62) / 231
Tackles For Loss – Jonathan Bostic (6.5) / 19
Sacks – Jonathan Bostic (3) / 7.5
Interceptions – Jonathan Bostic (2) / 5
Passes Broken Up – Jonathan Bostic (2) / 7
As you can easily see above, Bostic is a force and the heart and soul of the linebackers however he’s not the only guy to be concerned about.
True freshman, Antonio Morrison (6-foot-1, 218 lb.) has had a great season and is becoming very good. The former four star recruit from Bolingbrook, Illinois (the same hometown as former Cardinal Brock Bolen) has played in every game and collected 31 tackles, (24 unassisted) 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack and a forced fumble. Morrison was the No. 5 recruit in Illinois and the No. 10 inside linebacker nationally by Rivals.com and ranked the top linebacker prospect in the Midwest by Tom Lemming. He was the No. 204 player overall in the nation by Rivals.com.
Morrison was also named a high school All-American by USA Today (2nd Team LB), ESPN (3rd Team LB) and Sports Illustrated (Honorable Mention LB). His senior year, he led Bolingbrook to a 13-1 record and IHSA Class 8A State Championship, the school’s first-ever state title but he had to miss the title game due to injury…Bolingbrook finished No. 36 in the nation in the final POWERADE FAB 50 rankings…He finished with 101 tackles, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and an interception as a junior at Bolingbrook…Selected to the 2011 Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl…Chose Florida over Alabama, Tennessee, Arizona and Purdue among others.
Jenkins, McCray and Kitchens have added 29, 23 and 14 tackles respectively. Jenkins and McCray have been able to make some plays behind the line of scrimmage too with 5 and 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks each. Both also have 1 interception and McCray has shown his versatility with 1 forced fumble and fumble recovery on the year. Jenkins is second on the team in career tackles with 182 including 16.5 tackles for loss. McCray has 63 career tackles including 11.5 behind the line of scrimmage (3.5 sacks) and a bone jarring 3 forced fumbles.
While the linebackers have not put up the numbers that the secondary has defensively, they are still very good and pose a formidable opponent for the Louisville running game and when they bring the blitz, the offensive line and backs will need to put good blocks on them as they all have the ability to make game changing hits. Florida ranks #6 in the FBS in rushing defense thanks in large part to the linebackers that know how to play their position very well. With Senorise Perry still out with his ACL injury, Jeremy Wright and Corvin Lamb will be looked upon to try and provide a spark running the ball and keep the Gator defense from getting in blitzing situations. Good luck Cards!