Our next installment of the 2019 preview series takes a look at the Gators’ linebackers. Despite losing the team’s top tackler in Vosean Joseph, Florida returns the unquestioned leader of the defense, David Reese.
After missing the first three games of the 2018 season, an absence that may have altered the outcome of the Kentucky game, Reese returned with a vengeance and became the second leading tackler on the team. Reese’s presence on the field is a solidifying force for Todd Grantham’s defense, and that presence was known immediately upon his return in 2018. Don’t believe me? Just ask the city of Knoxville.
In his first game of the 2018 season, Reese led the Gators in tackles with eleven, and was a disruptive force on a very long night on Rocky Top. He did the same thing in Florida’s upset win over, then fifth ranked, LSU. Reese is a very important cog in the Gators’ success. He shows up in the biggest moments and he provides leadership to the group.
So, who will replace Vosean Joseph? Sophomore Amari Burney filled that role throughout spring camp and did so with good consistency. While he never really showed that big play ability that we got from Joseph, he did maintain his gaps and assignments at a greater level than Joseph ever did.
Based on what I have seen of Burney, I believe that he is a good replacement, and that he will develop that sense of when to go after the big play. He won’t be as prone to big mistakes as Joseph often was, because of his more disciplined playing style.
Ventrell Miller and James Houston each received significant live reps last season and performed quite well in their youth. The two sophomores will provide experienced depth in relief of Reese and Burney.
Houston is a big hitter, along the same lines as Vosean Joseph, and recorded twenty-eight tackles and a pair of forced fumbles during his freshman campaign. He seemed to really grasp the defense and what was being asked of him as the season progressed and is now poised for a breakout year.
Miller is a big athletic body with the ability to play well in coverage. He has the speed and agility to close the gaps, allowing himself to make the big plays as they come. His most notable highlight from last season came against Idaho when he returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown.
Additionally, the Gators have further depth in the form of freshmen, Lacedrick Brunson, Jesiah Pierre, and Tyron Hopper. Brunson and Pierre each got their feet wet during spring camp, while Hopper will get his first action this fall.
Overall, the Gators linebacking corps is at least as good as last year’s and perhaps a little bit better. The future is bright in Gainesville.