GAINESVILLE | Linebacker Michael Taylor has a challenge for anyone who’s up for it. The senior wants to have a match race with anyone who challenges his speed.
He says he’s always been fast, but lately has been able to show it more. He’s effective going sideline to sideline to chase offensive players down. Taylor may appear to have a more svelte figure but in fact, he’s added over 15 pounds since the 2013 season.
While Taylor gained, the man he lines up next to on UF’s second level has dropped nearly 20 pounds. Junior Antonio Morrison is returning from a tumultuous 2013 slimmed down to 220-225 pounds in his words. He was initially asked to gain weight by the coaching staff, but felt uncomfortable playing at 240 pounds.
For Morrison, last season included a suspension and apology for an offseason incident in which he barked at a police dog, leading to his arrest. He says he’s put it behind him and doesn’t even like to think about what happened in 2013. Morrison and Taylor have a unique bond as they look to lead Florida’s linebacking corps in 2014.
“Ever since I got here we’ve been real close,” Morrison said. “It’s just been the same. We just always laugh and are joking around. We see things the same way on the field, so it’s just good to be out on the field with someone like that.”
Morrison, from all accounts has stepped up as a vocal leader of the defense, patterning his game and his leadership style off San Francisco 49ers linebacker Navorro Bowman. In Morrison’s eyes the two have similar styles, both are physical, downhill types of players and Morrison says Bowman is the real reason why the 49ers have their defensive success — not Patrick Willis, who grabs more headlines.
“[Morrison] is a leader, he’s always vocal,” Taylor said. “Whether he feels he’s right or wrong, he’s going to voice his opinion. And I agree with that because he gets it out on the table.”
The two were roommates when Morrison first arrived at UF. Then there was a gap between the older linebackers and the younger ones. Morrison says now they’re a tighter group, adding “we’re all like one.”
Morrison and Taylor can be as fast as they want to be, but in the end, they depend on the symbiotic relationship between the defensive line and linebackers.
If those in front of them aren’t taking on blocks for them, the linebackers will fail. Morrison has taken to watching tape with defensive tackle Darious Cummings, who plays directly in front of him, and Taylor has high hopes for Dante Fowler, Jr. who he sees as having the ability to draw double teams much like Dominique Easley used to do.
“If you’ve got guys up front getting double teams, that leaves us free,” Taylor said.