During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.
No. 49 Darrin Kitchens
Expectations for 2013: The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Kitchens is locked in a battle with redshirt junior Michael Taylor for the starting spot at weakside linebacker. But he’s versatile enough to move around and help out elsewhere. He also could play middle linebacker if needed because of an injury or possible suspension for Antonio Morrison (offseason arrest). The linebackers are in transition and the middle is the only spot that is settled. The Gators need playmakers to replace Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins.
Best-case scenario in 2013: Kitchens is more athletic and faster than Taylor, who struggles in pass coverage, so it would be better for the defense if Kitchens beat him out to be the starter at weakside linebacker. He also has to make much more of an impact than he has so far in his career. He has 37 tackles (3.5 for loss) and one forced fumble in 35 games. Maybe he will be able to do so with regular playing time.
Worst-case scenario in 2013: The coaching staff didn't plan to have to rely on Kitchens, as they thought Jenkins was going to stick around for his senior year. His early departure means Kitchens has been thrust into a more important role. He has never had more than 21 tackles in a season, and most of that came on special teams. If he and Taylor are unable to get the job done, don’t be surprised to see freshman Daniel McMillian in the starting lineup.
Future impact: Kitchens is in his final season in Gainesville, but he can be a help in the future by mentoring McMillian. The early enrollee appears to be a star in the making.