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April 7, 2010

Jenkins displaying his versatility

If there's any one word to describe the playing style of Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins, it's fluid.

The same word also describes the Gators' linebacker battle this spring.

After Monday's practice, Jenkins talked about the position battle and the competition to win a starting spot at linebacker.

"We're all just playing to get a linebacker spot," he said. "We've all just rotated. We're all playing different positions. I think (the coaches) are trying to put the three best linebackers on the field, however that plays out."

Jenkins began the spring at outside linebacker, but moved inside to middle linebacker after the first few practices.

With three linebackers - Jon Bostic, Brendan Beal and Lorenzo Edwards - already competing for the middle linebacker spot, Jenkins' move to the middle came as a bit of a surprise.

However, Jenkins said that the differences between the middle and weak-side linebacker spots are minimal. That has made it easier for him to go back and forth between the two.

"I've played Will sometimes, I've played Mike sometimes," he said. "Really, they're pretty much the same thing."

At the moment, he and Bostic seem to be duking it out for the starting role at middle linebacker, with Beal and Edwards trailing them a bit.

While Bostic is a bigger, more physical linebacker, Jenkins seems to have an edge in speed and quickness.

One thing that Jenkins said he admires about Bostic is his grasp of the fundamentals. That's something he and the rest of the linebacker corps have tried to improve on, learning from Bostic.

"Bostic's a great player," he said. "He has great fundamentals. We look at him on film and learn from him. Me and him are friends off the field and have a good connection, so it's really fun."

Jenkins has come a long way physically since his freshman season and looks the part of a dominant linebacker. He entered spring practice at 6-foot, 220-pounds.

"All season I've just tried to get better, get bigger, get faster," he said. "I can definitely get better in my fundamentals still. I think I need to learn how to play the linebacker position a little better."

When asked which position he prefers to play, Jenkins said it didn't really matter to him - as long as he is on the field.

Replacing a talented group of linebackers will be no easy task. Seniors Brandon Spikes and Ryan Stamper helped form one of the best linebacker corps in the country last year.

While the new group doesn't have a guy as big as Spikes or as experienced as Stamper, Jenkins said it hopes to make up for that with improved speed.

Interestingly enough, he pointed to true freshman Neiron Ball as the fastest linebacker.

"We're all fast, athletic linebackers," he said. "I think that's going to help us out some. We have athleticism and we hit."

Now, Jenkins and the linebackers are looking to end the spring on a high note and find some additional motivation to keep competing into the summer and fall.

"With the guys that we have leaving, it was time for a lot of us to step up," he said. "We've had such great linebackers before. We're trying to make sure there's no falloff. That's what is motivating me, to keep pushing and pushing."


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