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Gators Linebackers: The Core of the Defense

Gators Linebackers

One of the positional strengths of this subpar defense was the Gators linebackers. Prior to some injuries suffered, this position group was having a solid 2023 season. Now having the chance to get back to full health, this group should help lead the defense. Last season, the Gators’ defense as a whole struggled with tackling and physicality. Time and time again, the Gators couldn’t bring players down or were simply getting out hustled. Despite the loss of veteran Mannie Nunnery to the transfer portal, this group is riddled with potential. With the perfect mix of veterans and rising stars, the rotation will be quite deep. Adding in a heralded transfer from South Carolina, the future is bright for this group. If the Gators wish to have a successful defense, the linebacker room will have to lead the way physically.

Returning Production

Looking like a future star before his injury, Shemar James was having quite the season. With 55 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, James was leading the entire defense. He started the first eight games before being injured, and the effect on the defense was evident. With a unit struggling to get off the field, James did everything he could. Starting four games as a freshman back in 2022, he comes into this season with loads of experience. Even being named as a Freshman All-SEC pick, he has been quietly producing the past few seasons. Now ready to step up, and finally healthy, James should be in store for a big season. Dislocating his kneecap against Georgia, James is not quite back to full health. Allowing himself to grow as a leader, he will be quite a well-rounded player when he returns.

Now a senior, linebacker Derek Wingo has a chance to finally break through. Heralded for his leadership and off-the-field personality, he is viewed highly by the fans and his teammates. Receiving playing time in all 12 games last season, Wingo recorded 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. A true veteran leader, he recently went on the Paul Finebaum show to discuss this upcoming season. Going into his final season in Gainesville, this season is make or break for Wingo. Appearing as if he’s finally put the pieces together, he will be one of the most important players on this defense. Noting that the culture is shifting, during his interview, he detailed that this Gators team is more focused than ever. If the Gators linebackers want to have a successful season, they must have the breakthrough season that fans are expecting.

Heralded Transfer

Coming to Gainesville via South Carolina, Grayson “Pup” Howard could be looking at a starting job from day one. Transferring after only one season with the Gamecocks, Howard has plenty of eligibility remaining. In his lone season in Columbia, he accounted for 19 tackles and a forced fumble. Appearing in 11 games, he now has a taste of the physicality of the SEC and should be set to go in the fall. Performing quite well in the Orange and Blue game, Howard has begun to separate himself. Expected by many to be the most productive transfer, he showed off plenty of his attributes during the Spring. New to the system, he still comes with experience and can be looked upon as a leader. Listed at 6-4 and 235 pounds, he will be playing middle linebacker. With Scooby Williams transferring, Howard should step right in and take over.

Originally choosing the Gamecocks over the Gators, Florida was heavily involved in his initial recruitment. Upon deciding to enter the portal, most college football fans knew where his destination would be. No starting spots are guaranteed, however, Howard most certainly played himself into one. With the leader of the Gators linebackers still sidelined due to injury (Shemar James), Howard showed off his abilities. Expected to slot in next to James, this could be quite the tandem. With plenty of depth behind them, the excitement surrounding the Gators’ linebackers is beginning to brew. Owning one of the hardest schedules in the nation, this defense must step up their game from previous seasons. With the addition of Howard and two more top 100 defensive transfers, the viewpoint on this defense is shifting. If Howard plays up to expectations, he could be one of the premier linebackers in the conference.

Highly Rated Freshman

One of the biggest wins for Billy Napier on the recruiting trail centered around the commitment of linebacker Myles Graham. Rated as a 4-star by, he remained steadfast in his commitment. Graham went as far as transferring high schools, going from Woodward Academy in Georgia to F.W. Buchholz, located in Gainesville. Committing all the way back in 2022, he was never swayed by the other schools or the defensive struggles. He and the rest of the 2024 class were bought in, wanting to build a legacy in the Swamp. Graham finished up his senior season with 59 tackles and six tackles for loss. A chance to eventually be a difference-maker on this team, and fans should be excited about his potential. Perhaps not starting from day one, he will no doubt have a role on this team whether it be on special teams or at linebacker.


Gators Linebackers
Photo courtesy: Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun


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