Projecting the Gators 2020 Spring Linebacker Depth Chart

Brandon Carroll

After wrapping up the Florida Gators’ defensive line in Monday and Tuesday’s 2020 spring depth chart projections, today we’ll be looking at the second half of the front seven with the linebacker position.

Similar to the rest of the defensive unit so far, Florida lost a big piece of their linebacker unit this offseason in middle linebacker David Reese II.

As their leading tackler and locker room leader, Reese leaves a void on and off the field for the Gators to plug this upcoming season. With no early enrollees to compete in the spring at the position, the linebackers who have already experienced time on campus go into spring looking to gain the upper hand.

Given a mix of veteran players who saw action last season and unproven pieces looking to make names for themselves, the Gators will emphasize the progression of this position heavily.

With depth seeming to be an issue going into the spring, how big of a factor will that play going into 2020? Let’s take a closer look at how the Gators linebacker unit shakes out, heading into the spring camp.

Middle Linebacker

1. James Houston IV

Seeing meaningful time last season behind Reese at MIKE., James Houston was able to gain valuable experience for a Gators linebacker room that is desperately in need of it in 2020.

After not seeing the field in 2017, Houston got his opportunity in 2018 where he was able to appear in all 13 games and played a crucial role on special teams.

Last season, Houston played as a reserve middle linebacker and tallied 38 total tackles along with three and a half sacks to solidify his spot coming into this spring. In doing so, Houston was able to make a name for himself and has been given the opportunity to enter the spring as a starter.

Heading into his junior year and standing at 6-1, 233 lbs., Houston is very similar to Reese in his build. Despite being a bit lighter, Houston still has the downhill ability to crash the line of scrimmage and fill run gaps that made Reese so successful during his time at Florida.

If Houston can continue in his progression this offseason, he could see himself playing big minutes for the Gators in 2020. The middle linebacker position is Houston’s spot to lose.

2. Lacedrick Brunson

As a part of the 2017 recruiting class, Lacedrick Brunson was a two-star prospect that seemed to be a long shot at receiving playing time in the orange and blue.

However, after a stellar performance in last year’s spring training, Brunson was gifted with the opportunity to see the field in his sophomore season.

Playing on occasion in 2019, Brunson was able to put together a solid season for a player that had little to no expectations to perform at a high level. Recording ten tackles and a sack on the year, he has some steam going into 2020.

While it is likely he once again takes in the role of reserve backer in this springs depth chart, Brunson will once again look to use this time to benefit himself come to the real action in the fall.

3. Jesiah Pierre

After appearing in only two games, Jesiah Pierre was redshirted in his freshman season to allow him more time to develop into a collegiate player.

In 2020, it is very likely he does the same. Despite the lack of depth the Gators have at the linebacker position, it is unlikely Florida chooses to go with the most inexperienced of them all to play valuable minutes as a team looking to compete for a championship in year three of Dan Mullen’s regime.

As a result, Pierre is likely to have to wait another year before he sees his time to shine in Gainesville.

MONEY Linebacker

1. Ventrell Miller

After seeing a plethora of minutes last season, Ventrell Miller returns to his starting MONEY position as the most experienced linebacker entering his junior year.

Having a breakout performance in the opening game of the season against Miami in 2019, Miller showed a sideline-sideline range and created flexibility with personnel the Gators were able to play with. He carried that built momentum throughout the rest of the season and took over as the starter in the remaining games.

In his sophomore campaign, Miller was the Gators’ second-leading tackler with 55 total. Adding three sacks and two defended passes in the process. Miller was an unexpected but consistent piece in the Gators route to securing a top ten defense last season.

Going into this year, Miller is in a prime position to add yet another solid season to his resumé in 2020.

2. Amari Burney

After somewhat of a disappointing season for Amari Burney, he finds himself at number two on the depth chart for MONEY linebacker.

Dealing with injuries for the majority of 2019, Burney was restricted from showing his full potential on the field. However, 2020 should be much different.

Possibly the most athletic player on the entire Gators roster, Burney brings so much to the table. Initially being recruited as a safety, Burney made the successful transition from safety to linebacker last offseason to maximize his skill set.

Likely to once again be utilized at STAR—the Gators nickel corner—as well as his MONEY position, Burney presents a rare talent that requires the need for him to be on the field at all times no matter where he lines up.

In the limited time, he has seen the field, Burney has been nothing short of spectacular. Boasting a unique skillset, Burney boosts the linebacker unit in coverage as well as aids them with his speed to cover a wide range of the field in a short amount of time.

Appearing in only eight out of 13 games this season, Burney was able to tally 37 total tackles along with a fumble recovery and interception, both coming in the same game against Tennessee.

In his return to the field full time in 2020, Burney looks to stay healthy to ensure he has a significant impact on this year’s team.

3. Tyron Hopper

Finally, coming in at 6-2, 215 lb., Tyron Hopper is very similar to Burney in his skillset. A stellar athlete that has history playing as a defensive back, Hopper presents a lean frame for a linebacker, but accompanies it with elite speed.

As a former four-star prospect that chose Florida over Alabama and South Carolina in the 2019 recruiting class, Hopper redshirted in his first season with the Gators, only seeing action in two games all season.

Being the type of linebacker that adds a dimension to the unit with his ability to drop back in coverage, he could find himself seeing time this season.

However, with his smaller frame and lack of power to stuff holes in the running game, Hopper will look build his body in the offseason as he enters his second season as a Gator.

Final Thoughts

The 2020 season will be largely impacted by how new players can perform when they step on the field this season.

In the linebacker room, that may be sooner than later.

With a lack of depth and unproven talent, the Gators sought out and were able to secure talented St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Derek Wingo. When he arrives on campus in the fall, it is likely he will have something to say about the way this depth chart shapes up.

For now, the team looks to strengthen an area that could cause trouble if not improved during the valuable practice time that is the spring.

Comments (3)
bdishlaw
bdishlaw

Can you explain what Money linebacker and Star position are for those of us casual readers who do not know the Gator's position nicknames?

2 Replies

Zach Goodall
Zach Goodall

Editor

Of course!

MONEY LB is the team's weak-side linebacker, and STAR is the nickel cornerback. The Gators don't use a strong-side linebacker in their defensive scheme, so the STAR acts in its place as a more nimble coverage defender than the typical linebacker, but is responsible for setting the edge against the run.

bdishlaw
bdishlaw

Thanks


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