Linebacker Eriq Gilyard has a Great Opportunity to Lead the UCF Defense

There are many unknowns with the 2021 UCF Football program, but the linebacker position provides an experienced leader that will be asked to make his presence felt mentally and physically.
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New coaching staff and new schemes means that the current UCF linebackers will need to impress this fall, and that includes the incumbents. If any group of people on planet earth want to see it for themselves over the concept of what’s written on paper, i.e. a player’s prior year’s statistics, it’s a college football coach coming into a new job.

The new UCF Linebacker Coach would also be the new Defensive Coordinator. Travis Williams earned his first opportunity to be a Defensive Coordinator after coming over from Auburn where he was the Linebackers Coach (2016-2020). He inherits a group of linebackers that can run, and he also inherits a group that can be multiple in terms of which scheme(s) each player could excel with this fall and beyond.

To make all of the linebackers come together, there needs to be a leader and a player that’s capable of leading the team in tackles. One of the two most likely candidates to accept and define that role comes by way of Jacksonville, Fla. and now is home in Orlando with the Knights.

Eriq Gilyard

Vitals: 5’11”, 230-pounds

Class: Senior

2020 Statistics: 59 tackles (33 solo), one sack, 8 ½ tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, and one interception.

2021’s Leader on Defense: Gilyard will likely play middle linebacker and be the Knights backbone of the defense. With that distinction, he will need to know all the calls, audibles, and how to help his defensive teammates adjust before and during the play based on the opposing offense’s shifts and alignments overall. In short, Gilyard will need to be capable of instructing his teammates and leading them with his mind as much if not more than hammering running backs during a fourth down and one play.

It’s a lot on one player’s plate, but that’s what’s needed from a middle linebacker in today’s college football. Offenses play aggressively not only with play calls, but unique formations and/or players lining up in positions they never have before and a linebacker needing to instantly know where to line his teammates up in an effort to thwart that new situation. It’s a challenge to say the least. As an inside linebacker, Gilyard also leads by example.

Playmaker: for any linebacker to steal the football out of the hands of the opposing quarterback, it’s a special moment. That type of play Gilyard already proved he can make, and it came against Temple last season. Gilyard literally took the football away from quarterback Re-al Mitchell instead of sacking him and driving him to the ground. Heady play, indeed. In fact, that’s the definition of football instincts. From an every-down perspective, Gilyard also thrives in another way.

This young man cherishes contact. He plays fast, hits hard, stays low, and drives through the opponent before taking him to the ground. Watching Gilyard execute a textbook tackle is something most UCF fans are accustomed to seeing, and the rising senior can be one of the best in-the-box run defenders in the country. How he adapts to Coach Williams’ new scheme will dictate much of how well Gilyard plays against the run this fall, and if he distinguishes himself as a run stopper, that will open up opportunities for other linebackers and defensive linemen to make plays of their own.

Expectations: Statistics and big plays aside, the goal for Gilyard stems from being a leader first and foremost. The mental responsibilities of a middle linebacker in today’s college football world are vast. There will be many extra film sessions for Gilyard if he’s to truly master the new defense and be ready for the varying offensive schemes he will lead the Knights against each game this fall. Those same obstacles often cost UCF last season, and that cannot happen again.

In 2020, too many big plays transpired against the UCF defense because of a lack of communication and/or lack of understanding of what each UCF defender should be accomplishing during any one given play. Yes, it was a complex scheme, but with Coach Williams at the helm those days are long gone. Now Gilyard and the Knights will be able to attack more because this defensive scheme will be more about utilizing speed and athleticism as opposed to complex X’s and O’s. Gilyard will be the leader of that effort, and he should be a strong contender for an All-American Athletic Conference First Team Linebacker selection.

You will find me on Twitter @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation

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