Bostic leading Gators defense into spring

Jon Bostic has made the short walk from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium over to Florida’s practice fields hundreds of times. But, as the rising senior linebacker takes his final spring hikes back and forth, he can’t help but feel as if those first steps out there happened yesterday.

The old man on Florida’s defense isn’t looking to get nostalgic, but, as he enters his fourth season in Gainesville, he admits that his Gators career has flown by.

He went from immediately moving from safety to linebacker his first spring to becoming one of the captains and leaders of Florida’s defense. From wide-eyed to highly regarded, Bostic will enter the 2012 season as one of the SEC’s top middle linebackers.

But he wouldn’t be where he is without help from one of the best to line up for Florida.

From the beginning, Bostic’s first defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong, made sure Bostic clung to former star Brandon Spikes. Bostic was to be a sponge when around him.

One of the toughest activities with Spikes was watching film because of how meticulous he was.

“If there’s one thing about him, he sits in the film room and, when I say he finds the little things, he finds the little things,” Bostic said about Spikes’ scrupulous film time.

Spikes was hard on Bostic at times when it came to dissecting film or just learning how to be the defense’s quarterback, but it was something Bostic needed. The thing Spikes wanted to get across to his understudy was that he had to be the leader in his actions and his words, meaning laziness wasn’t an option. Spikes didn’t want his position to take a dip after he left.

So, for three years, Bostic has tried to emulate Spikes while trying to come into his own. He has gone through three defensive coordinators, taking little things from each to enhance his game. He has learned to gain weight the right way, and he enters his final spring wanting to get Florida’s defense back to its ferocious ways.

Bostic knows he can’t play every position at once, so he has taken it upon himself to monitor everyone. Bostic has grown from a shy, 225-pound hybrid player three years ago to a 245-pound outspoken superior. He is reaching out to younger players, getting onto older players and communicating his ideas more to coaches.

Florida returns 10 of 11 starters from the nation’s eighth-ranked defense, but, Bostic said, if Florida’s defense wants to progress in 2012, depth has to be stronger. Immediate help arrived in the form of three early enrollees -- juco defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and freshmen Antonio Morrison (linebacker) and Willie Bailey (defensive back) -- but Bostic said those who sat last year have to be more prepared this time.

“We’re going to need all the depth we can get this year,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t have as much depth at any position like we would have liked it.”

That led to a lot of bending in Florida’s defense and even some breaking against tougher running teams such as Alabama and LSU. If the Gators want to dig themselves out of their two-year rut, Bostic said, the defense has to continue to improve. The lack of discipline from a year ago has to be changed. Consistency has to take hold. No longer can players get away with deciding when they’ll go full speed, Bostic said; it has to be every day.

Bostic started to see an attitude change almost immediately after Florida’s bowl win over Ohio State, as the seven-win season didn’t sit well with players. In postseason drills, Bostic saw more fire and desire from players. The competition was intense as players looked to separate themselves before spring started.

A couple of days into spring practice, and Bostic said he still sees that tenacity from youngsters and vets.

“They figure it’s either now or never, and that’s a good thing,” Bostic said.

“It’s creating competition all over the place and making everybody better.”

It’s not just the defense that has impressed Bostic. The offense, which yet again is searching for its identity, has made strides. With help from a defense that refuses to let it get very comfortable, the offense has generated more confidence.

But it won’t be an overnight transformation, Bostic said. There has been a gradual push in the right direction, but there’s plenty of work to be done.

He knows the perception of Florida football isn’t exactly flattering right now, but, if everyone comes together this time, Bostic expects the Gators to turn a head or two this fall.

“We’ve had a lot of things happen, but the talent is still there,” he said. “The talent hasn’t gone anywhere.”