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August 11, 2005If anyone is qualified to talk about the pantheon of linebackers at the University of Florida, it's Scot Brantley.
Brantley twice was an honorable mention All-American at the position for the Gators in the late 1970s, ushering in an era between 1980 and today that has seen UF produce seven first-team All-America linebackers and six other 'backers who achieved at least an honorable mention postseason honor.
So what does Brantley have to say about super sophomore Brandon Siler? Only this: By the time he's finished at Florida, Siler definitely will have a place among the great linebackers to suit up in the Swamp.
"There's something special about him," said Brantley, who played eight seasons at linebacker for the Tampa Bay Bucs and has been the game analyst for the Gator Radio Network for the past three years. "It didn't take long to see that."
Siler figured to bide his time behind an experienced linebacking corps until injuries forced him into the lineup.
"I tried to keep a cool head," Siler said of starting midway through his first season in Gainesville. "I knew I had to do the same things I'd been doing when they put me in, just a little better."
He did fine. Siler was the first freshman to lead the Gators in tackles since Brantley did it in 1976. Of course, Brantley had 145 tackles to Siler's 77, but Brantley also played nearly every down available on defense.
"They have too many situational defenses now," Brantley said. "You've got a defense for first-and-10, second-and-short, second-and-mid. You've got your nickel package, dime. I think coaches overcoach.
"I think you let players play. And (Siler) can play every down."
Brantley said he has seen a transformation in Siler from last year to this one. Siler, a Florida high school product like Brantley, is being more vocal, stepping to the fore on a defense that surrendered 30 or more points four times last season.
"He was really meek and quiet last year, a lot of 'Yes, sir; no, sir,' " Brantley said. "But in the spring he came out of his shell."
Siler said the more vocal model is the real thing.
"As a freshman, you have to be quiet and observe," Siler said. "You listen and learn. Channing (Crowder) and Earl (Everett, fellow linebackers) sat me down and helped me understand things.
"Now, I know. I played. I know what to do. And it's up to me to help the younger guys."
Siler said the transition from Ron Zook and his staff to new coach Urban Meyer and new co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has gone well.
"You would think it would be a big adjustment, but their defenses are similar," Siler said. "We've tweaked a couple of things, added a couple of blitzes and a couple of coverages. And they're being patient, making sure we understand. But they kept a lot of stuff and a lot of the same terminology."
Now it's up to Siler to come to terms with being a marked man. He'll be a priority when Mark Richt, Phillip Fulmer and Steve Spurrier are trying to figure out how to score points against the Gators.
But Siler doesn't sound worried. Just as he moved smoothly from high school to college football and just as he has helped ease in the Meyer Era, so is he ready for the next step.
"My first priority this year is trying to lead, make sure we're all running to the ball," Siler said. "As long as the team is doing well I'm doing well."
First-team All-America linebackers at Florida since 1980:
David Little, 1980
Wilber Marshall, 1982-83
Alonzo Johnson, 1984-85
Clifford Charlton, 1987
Huey Richardson, 1990
Mike Peterson, 1998
Jevon Kearse, 1998
Bob McClellan can be reached via email at email@example.com.