Hidden Gems: LB Ty'Ron Hopper Could Be Key to Defense Moving Forward
For the Gators, competition breeds excellence, at least that's what head coach Dan Mullen has preached ever since he stepped foot back in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
While the bread and butter under Mullen will almost assuredly be in the form of offensive production moving forward, the defense has been molded in the form of a potential powerhouse in its own right.
One of the position groups which entered the offseason with a major question mark has been the team's linebacker position.
During his pre-spring press conference, Mullen hinted at a variety of directions the team could go as far as shoring up the position group as a whole without of David Reese II.
"I mean, you’ve got Ventrell [Miller], you’ve got James Houston, which are there. Mohamoud Diabate has played both positions," said Mullen. "It will be interesting with the backers to see ... Lacedrick Brunson had a great year last year, really took some steps forward. For me to really see how those guys take on."
With the constant shuffling of the linebacker position, it begs the question who would step up in place of Miller, last year's starting Money (weak side) linebacker.
One player of note who could be in line to receive significant playing time is rising redshirt freshman Ty'ron Hopper. Hopper, 6-foot-2, 215 pounds played sparingly as a freshman last season. After recording two tackles and a half tackle for loss, Hopper was redshirted. Now, heading into 2020, he could give the Gators another versatile weapon along the the defense.
Hopper was brought in as a four-star recruit in 2019 out of Rosewell (Ga.), playing a variety of positions in high school, he brings the sort of versatility defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is looking for - not unlike rising junior Amari Burney, who also looks to work at a variety of positions, along with Money, next season.
Last season, Miller, Houston, and Brunson each allowed at least 75% of passes thrown their way to be completed, according to Pro Football Focus. With Hopper, the team will get a player who is fast enough to keep up in coverage, and allows the team to get more creative in coverage as a result.
A long athlete, Hopper also offers the potential to play snaps at Star (nickel), although Burney may have the advantage in that area, potentially splitting reps with returning senior star defensive back rising redshirt junior Marco Wilson.
"We’ve had guys play and not be the guy in there [at linebacker]," Mullen said. "We are going to try and see, and Todd wants to have guys play both positions and to see who can play, who can swing it, who can play both sides or who is more comfortable at one or the other.”
If the Gators are going to run with a player who offers flexibility, Hopper could be a hidden gem within the group. While he is inexperienced, Hopper has a knack for finding the ball, and the ball carrier. In high school, Hopper finished his senior season with 74 total tackles (7.8 per game), five interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
With the physicality the Gators' linebackers all bring to the table, the team is slated to have a very physical battle at the position this season.