GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is obviously not happy losing weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins for what could be up to a month because of a fractured thumb.
But he’s eager to see what the Gators will be able to get from freshman Antonio Morrison.
Quinn and UF coach Will Muschamp have been raving about the 6-foot-1, 218-pound freshman since he arrived on campus in January. They have been impressed with his football knowledge and particularly how physical Morrison plays despite being built more like a wide receiver than a linebacker.
"I think it’s a big opportunity for Bo (Morrison)," Quinn said Wednesday. "When he came in early as an early enrollee, he really had a maturity level that was (better than) the normal college freshman. He asked really good questions. He was really on it in terms of the details of playing linebacker."
Morrison -- who was unable to comment because freshmen are prohibited from speaking to the media -- has made nine tackles in two games. He got significant playing time against Texas A&M after Jenkins went down early in the first quarter with his injury. He and sophomore Michael Taylor have been alternating reps with the first team during practice this week, but it’s likely that Morrison will start alongside middle linebacker Jon Bostic.
Even if he doesn’t start against Tennessee on Saturday, Morrison will play a lot. And he’ll do some damage, linebacker Lerentee McCray said, because Morrison is one of the team’s biggest hitter despite his size.
"When I first saw him, he reminded me of myself because he was kind of small but he would stick his face in there," McCray said. "He was a tough guy. He kind of surprised me when I saw him because he’s only like 210 and he’ll come down and hit anybody."
McCray and Quinn each said they loved Morrison’s competitiveness. It’s the reason the Chicago prep star is at Florida instead of playing in the Big Ten.
"He really wanted to play in the SEC," Quinn said. "This guy’s a real competitor saying, ‘OK, I’m from Illinois, I want to go to the SEC, I’m going early, I’m going to Florida,’ and he really came in with this competitive linebacker mindset that you love. That’s one of the things I respect most about him.
"It was not that, ‘I just want to fit in early.’ It was, ‘I want to come in and I want to play and I want to show that I belong.’ He’s certainly done that."