Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Gator Breakdown: Antonio Morrison
By Michael DiRocco
During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1Quinton Dunbar we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.
After a strong season as a true freshman, Antonio Morrison moves to inside linebacker in 2013.
Expectations for 2013: Morrison has the task of replacing Jon Bostic at middle linebacker. All indications are that the transition will be smooth. Though Morrison doesn’t have typical middle linebacker size (he’s 6-foot-1, 229 pounds) he makes up for it in ferocity. The kid simply loves to hit. While that was what initially impressed the coaching staff last year, Morrison’s football IQ was the reason he got on the field so much. He quickly picked up the defense and has had no trouble moving from outside linebacker to the middle. Bostic was faster and more athletic than people gave him credit for, and Morrison probably edges him out slightly in those categories. He just lacks experience.
Best-case scenario for 2013: If the Gators get good play out of the defensive line to keep the linebackers free, Morrison should have little trouble racking up close to 100 tackles. If there was an area in which Bostic and Jelani Jenkins needed to improve, it was in making big plays. Morrison can help there. He made one of the biggest plays of the 2012 season when he forced Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel to fumble early in the fourth quarter of a game the Gators came from behind to win. You’d expect more big plays with regular playing time.
Worst-cast scenario for 2013: Morrison, who had 34 tackles and a sack in 2012, could struggle to handle the continued pounding that a middle linebacker takes in the SEC. But even so, he’s still the Gators’ best option in the middle. Redshirt junior Michael Taylor is solid against the run but has trouble in coverage. Senior Darrin Kitchens worked in the middle some during spring practice, but he would be an emergency fill-in.
Future impact: The Gators are expecting Morrison to flourish in his new role, especially when it comes to making game-changing plays. The 2013 season will be a learning experience for Morrison, with the 2014 season really pegged as a breakout year. UF has had a continued run of very good middle linebackers, and Morrison appears poised to become the next one.