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July 9, 2012

Breakout Candidates: #5 Antonio Morrison

Over the month of July, InsidetheGators.com will count down the top five breakout candidates for 2012. In order to qualify, the player had to start six or fewer games in his Gators career.

No. 5 Antonio Morrison (6-1, 216) Bolingbrook, Ill.
Position: Linebacker

Class this fall: Freshman

2011 Stats: None (High School)

High School Accolades: Rivals.com rated Morrison the No. 5 prospect in Illinois and the No. 10 inside linebacker in the nation. He was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and a member of the Rivals250. Morrison senior season was shortened when he suffered a broken foot, but Bolingbrook still went on to win a state championship. He surged onto the recruiting scene as a junior when he recorded 101 tackles, nine of them coming for a loss, along with seven sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. Was selected to the 2011 Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl but was not able to participate because of his injury. Morrison was named a second-team high school All-American by the USA Today.

Notable: Morrison's high school coach, John Ivlow briefly played for the San Francisco 49ers. A practice squad running back, he regularly went up against Florida defensive line coach Bryant Young during his time with the team. Anthony Morrison, Antonio's brother, was an all-state linebacker in high school and went on to play for Eastern Illinois. He is now an assistant coach at Bolingbrook.
2011 Review: Morrison made a unique decision for an Illinois prospect when he decided to commit to Florida on Aug. 3, 2011. Current Gators like Jelani Jenkins have stressed to him the lack of depth Florida had in 2011 and how big of a help he could have been. Meanwhile, Morrison was racking up big numbers on a weekly basis for Bolingbrook before breaking his foot during the postseason and missing the state championship game.

Spring Review: Both Morrison and his father said repeatedly that he would be ready to go when spring practice rolled around. That proved to be the case, as Morrison showed up in shape and was consistently talked about by UF coaches throughout the spring. With aforementioned depth concerns in place, Morrison got plenty of reps with the defense during spring and that carried over to the Orange and Blue Debut. He had nine tackles (one for loss) in Florida's spring game and forced his name even further into the minds of the Gators' defensive coaches.

2012 Depth Chart Outlook: Barring injury, Morrison will not be a starter in 2012. This is expected to be a big year for upperclassmen like Jenkins and Jon Bostic, both players who have taken over as defensive leaders and cemented starting jobs at linebacker. After coming along nicely as a redshirt freshman, Michael Taylor will likely lock down the third linebacker job with the fourth going to whoever is playing Buck in 3-4 schemes. But Morrison gives the Gators a chance to have something they did not have in 2011 - a legitimate rotation. He worked inside and outside during spring and will be able to relieve any of the three when need be. The better he does in those spots, the more he will play. Judging from the spring game, he has a real opportunity to make an impact.
2012 Breakout Season: UF head coach Will Muschamp will warn you to be cautious when tossing hype on freshmen. However, he is most cautious when hype is given to freshmen who are not early enrollees.

Morrison has a semester of football under his belt at Florida and has taken full advantage of it. He is stepping into a situation where he can prosper while also gradually shifting into the fast-paced world of Southeastern Conference football. I expect Morrison to see the field regularly as a special teams contributor but that will hardly be the bulk of his duties.

Jenkins and Bostic often appeared worn down at the end of games last season because the team couldn't afford to pull them off the field. If Morrison can continue the current run he is on, Florida fans will not see too much of a drop-off when it's time to rotate linebackers, and Morrison will have a prime opportunity to make a name for himself.

(Deal ends July 20, 2012)

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