Throughout his almost-25 years of coaching experience, Randy Shannon has worked with more than his share of talented linebackers.
During his two stints at the University of Miami, including his four years as the team’s head coach from 2007-10, Shannon saw players such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Vilma and Jon Beason come through his program and then succeed in the NFL.
He’s had 16 linebackers taken in the NFL Draft, including seven in the first three rounds.
And this year, his second as the Gators’ linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator, Shannon has another linebacker duo with top-end talent in senior Jarrad Davis and redshirt junior Alex Anzalone.
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The two have become a formidable one-two punch for a Florida defense thin with experience and depth at linebacker. That’s made Shannon’s job a little bit easier.
“We always tell both of them guys, if you can really click with each other all the time, great things will happen,” Shannon said. “Those guys have done a tremendous job.”
They lead the defense together. Every play, the two linebackers ensure the rest of the defense is in position to make a play, calling out audibles whenever they see the slightest shift in the offense.
“They know where they’re supposed to be,” defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr. said. “They know where the ball’s at before it’s there. They just run.”
They also feed off each other.
Every game, every practice, every rep, the two push each other to improve. If Davis bullrushes through the line to tackle a running back — or Anzalone slams the quarterback to the ground — the other strives to outperform him on the next down.
“I feel like everything that we do week-in and week-out is a competition,” said Davis, who has a team-high 40 tackles, including a career-high 15 against Vanderbilt on Oct. 1. “We may not say we’re competing, but I feel like if he does something I have to come back. And then if I do something I feel like he says he has to come back.”
Five games into the season, Davis is tied for seventh in the Southeastern Conference with an average of eight tackles per game. Anzalone is tied for 19th, averaging 6.4 tackles. They have also combined for 4.5 sacks, six pass breakups and six quarterback hurries.
“I wouldn’t want to see ‘em in the hole,” UF cornerback Jalen Tabor said.
And with Missouri coming to town Saturday, the Gators’ defense will need to be on top of its game.
The Tigers, fresh off a bye week after being dismantled 42-7 by LSU the week before, are tied for second in the SEC this season with eight pass plays of at least 40 yards. Florida’s defense has allowed four plays of that distance, two of which came in its second-half collapse against Tennessee three weeks ago.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock leads the SEC and is ninth in the country in average passing yards (335 per game).
“You can't just give [Missouri] a look that they know they can just go get,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “Try to put a little bit of indecision into Lock's hands as far as exactly what he's getting. … For us, it's going to be that discipline piece and making sure you never lose your eyes.”
Davis and Anzalone plan to have their presence known on Saturday.
Whether it’s making the tackles, playing back in coverage, or opening up gaps for the defensive line, the two don’t plan to go away quietly.
“Once we both we get on the same page,” Davis said, “I feel like we can be a very scary duo.”