"[Ty'Ron] Hopper is really like that. You can quote me on that.”
Alright, Mohamoud Diabate, we will.
Diabate, the Florida Gators rising junior starting weakside linebacker, made it known that he is an avid fan of Hopper, his fellow Gators linebacker, earlier this fall. He's the latest Gator to rave about the rising redshirt sophomore this year, following the lead of position coach Christian Robinson, starting middle linebacker Ventrell Miller, and edge rusher Andrew Chatfield earlier this spring.
Hopper enrolled at Florida in 2019 as one of the more intriguing linebackers in his recruiting class, having transitioned to the position after primarily playing safety and cornerback at Roswell (Ga.) High School.
Although he would need to learn the role and add weight, his coverage skills were enticing for the second level of Florida's defense as the unit had and continues to struggle against the pass. As such, Hopper saw limited opportunities over his first two years at UF, but compiled 15 tackles, half a sack, three quarterback pressures and 1.5 tackles for loss in five appearances defensively.
Now standing at 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, Hopper owns the frame to take the field more often, which is something that excites Diabate.
“That’s my brother, it’s [number] 11 [and number] 28," Diabate spoke enthusiastically about Hopper. "Knowing Hopper, he’s ready, he’s matured, he has the physical tools and the mental tools. So now it’s about coming through camp every day and getting better to really show the world what he’s about."
The question is, how large will Hopper's role be in year three?
As stated previously, Hopper didn't see much playing time this past season, even though the linebacker unit could have used his talent more often. Hopper took the field for 75 snaps defensively, seeing double-digit snaps against Missouri, Arkansas, and in the Cotton Bowl versus Oklahoma.
Florida is tasked with replacing 230 snaps vacated by now-Jackson State linebacker James Houston IV, though, which provides Hopper with a major opportunity to contribute.
With speed, and now size, to his advantage, Hopper could be an ideal defender in man coverage against tight ends and bigger wide receivers on passing downs as he eases into his role. This could lead to packages with Hopper and Diabate on the field at the same time, giving the Gators plenty of speed at the second level.
Hopper has also flashed as a pass rusher to this point in his career and could be utilized as a blitzing linebacker as well, something that Houston did well within his role. Diabate is the main figure as an off-ball pass rusher provided his 5.5 sacks and 34 quarterback pressures over the past two years, but Hopper can man the role when Diabate moves to BUCK edge rusher or needs a breather.
Where Hopper will be tested, though, is against the run. Filling gaps from the linebacker position is far more complicated than playing downhill from the safety spot, which will require sharp mental recognition from Hopper on early downs. He has the speed and explosion within his game to close on ball carriers and record tackles for loss, but physical talent is only half the battle against the run, and maybe less than that.
Miller and Diabate are penciled in as Florida's starters at inside linebacker entering the 2021 season, and rightfully so. That being said, Hopper is entering a pivotal year in his Florida tenure and there are snaps for the taking within UF's linebacker corps.
Hopper's teammates and coaches are expecting a big season from the third-year defender, and should he meet those expectations, Florida's defense should benefit greatly.
As Diabate said about Hopper: "It’s that time."
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