With the 2019 season now in the rear-view mirror, it's time to start dissecting the Florida Gators' roster as the team begins to prepare for the 2020 season.
Here at GatorMaven, we'll be evaluating each position on Florida's roster based on its 2019 performance, what the Gators have done in recruiting at the position so far, and what the early expectations are for each unit. Those expectations can change as the offseason goes on, but this is where the roster currently stands.
After previously taking you through the offensive side of the ball, as well as the entire defensive line, it's time to move to linebackers.
What Florida returns at linebacker
James Houston IV: As starting middle linebacker David Reese's backup all season, Houston got plenty of time this year, playing in every game other than Kentucky. It is his second year of playing meaningful snaps as he played all 13 games in 2018 as well.
As the backup MLB this year, he recorded 3.5 sacks. He also had 38 tackles and forced a fumble against Auburn. Like the starter Reese, Houston's struggles come in the pass game. He is an excellent tackler and at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, he fills running lanes nicely.
However, his lack of lateral quickness is a concern against pass-heavy teams. Especially teams that throw to the tight end.
Ventrell Miller: Miller was the starter next to Reese and was very serviceable. He had up and down performances, however. He would tend to have excellent games where he was seemingly involved on every play and then disappear for a few weeks.
In the first four weeks of the season, he went from six tackles against Miami, to just two against UT Martin. Then, he had seven against Kentucky only to have just one against Tennessee.
2020 will need to be a more consistent year overall for Miller, but he is certainly capable of being an anchor on this defense. His 55 tackles and three sacks are nothing to be ignored.
Like Houston, his struggle is in the pass game. He is slightly more agile than Houston, but still no match for athletic tight ends in a pass-heavy offense.
Amari Burney: Burney missed games on and off all season due to injury. However, when he was in, he was always a nice addition to this defense. In a linebacker room full of run defenders and nobody else to defend the pass well, he was the lone guy with the speed and quickness to defend teams through the air.
Last offseason, the sophomore's unique skill set and size raised a question for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. To train him to be a safety? Or linebacker?
At the time, the safety room did not feel as shallow as it actually ended up being. Also, it was well-known that UF's linebacker room needed pass defenders. Then-Missouri quarterback Drew Lock came to Gainesville in 2018 and absolutely torched the middle of the field.
Games like that inspired Florida to make him a linebacker. He will need to provide more of what he offered this year, with 37 tackles and an interception, just on a more consistent basis.
Mohamoud Diabate: He plays BUCK, he plays STAR, and he plays linebacker - Mohamoud Diabate is a chess-piece for Florida's defense who should see the field far more often in 2020 after a four-sack freshman year.
Diabate can rotate at outside linebacker for Florida as a box defender to defend the run and blitz gaps along Florida's pass rush. His versatility makes him unique and a key component of the future of Florida's defense.
Tyron Hopper: Hopper, like Burney, played a good amount of safety in high school before transitioning to linebacker as a senior. He's lightning-quick, and carries a vast amount of coverage experience that could make him a valuable member of Florida's pass defense at weak-side linebacker.
David Reese: Yes, there is another David Reese on the roster besides the one leaving. And yes, he also plays linebacker. He was a 4-star recruit in the 2017 class and the 20th-ranked OLB in the country. He only appeared in two games his freshman season against Charleston Southern and Idaho.
Before 2019 even started, he suffered a torn ACL that kept him out of the entire season. However, with hopefully a healthy 2020, he can provide more depth in LB's that can defend the pass. His lighter frame at 6-foot, 220 pounds makes him a similar build to Burney. Reese, like Diabate, can also play BUCK.
What Florida loses at linebacker
David Reese II: Coming to Florida all the way from Farmington, Michigan, in 2016, senior middle linebacker David Reese II has been a staple at UF in multiple reasons. He has been a locker room leader, a defensive quarterback and the team-leader in tackles with 88.
Reese's lack of lateral quickness and pass defense was far made up for in sure tackling and running the defense masterfully. It is often said that you don't know how good you have something until it's gone, and Florida fans understood that against Kentucky in 2018.
The usually-reliable Reese missed that game, and the Gators let a 31-year win streak against the Wildcats snap. The defense in that game was constantly not lined up correctly and constantly caught out of position from defensive line to the secondary.
When Reese returned, the defense was completely different that year. And this year, as he played in every game, he proved once again the type of rock he was for this team.
What Florida gains at linebacker
Derek Wingo: Outside linebacker Derek Wingo from St. Thomas Aquinas is a 5-star on Rivals and a 4-star on 247Sports. Rivals has him as the third-ranked OLB in the country and 247 has him as the seventh.
He is one of the prized gems of this 2020 Florida recruiting class. Wingo is a rare recruit that could be ready to play week one this coming season. As stated about Houston and Miller struggling to defend the pass, Wingo can provide that immediately. His freakish athleticism will be a huge boost to this LB room.
Brenton Cox: The 6-foot-4, 247 pound beast that is Brenton Cox should be another huge boost for UF to this LB room. In 2018, he was Georgia's highest-rated recruit. After one season in the red and black, he elected to transfer to Florida and could not get the immediate eligibility waiver to play in 2019.
However, he will be good to go in 2020 and like Wingo, is a special athlete that will make all kinds of plays. Cox also profiles at BUCK and strong-side defensive end - yet another chess piece for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
This room is losing a ton of experience in 2020, even if it's just in one guy. Reese's impact and everything that he went through with and for the program cannot be diminished. That will absolutely be missed next season.
However, with the additions of Cox and Wingo and continued growth from Diabate, and with perhaps a healthier season from Burney, this room will be more talented than a season ago, and by a sizable margin. While the LB corps was reliable last season for the most part, there weren't difference-makers like Wingo, Diabate, and Cox can become.