AUBURN, AL - OCTOBER 15: Onterio McCalebb #23 of the Auburn Tigers is tackled by Lerentee McCray #34 of the Florida Gators at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Auburn, Alabama. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scouting Report is a series that will run on Friday through the rest of the Florida football season, spotlighting players who could have major impacts on the Gators' games.
Florida's 2011 season has been more about blue collars than blue chips. While touted recruits have struggled to make an impact, especially on defense, players like Lerentee McCray (Jr. LB) have picked up lunch pails and made things happen without much fanfare.
Can McCray key the Gators' defense in a win over Georgia? Let's break him down.
McCray lacks prototypical size and speed at the linebacker position, but he's not far off, measuring 6'2" and 252 pounds and running the 40 in about 4.5 seconds.
Maybe the most important thing about McCray, physically, is how he uses his quickness to play well in pursuit. That he hasn't lost that while adding about 50 pounds over his four years in Gainesville (he's a redshirt junior) speaks to his natural athleticism.
McCray is only now breaking into Florida's starting lineup. He played sparingly in 2008, received a medical redshirt in 2009, and played in 10 games in 2010, returning a blocked punt for a touchdown against Penn State in the 2011 Outback Bowl, but never recorded more than six tackles in a season in his first three years. For perspective, McCray had seven tackles against LSU, and has 22 on the season.
It's likely that McCray only started for Florida against Auburn, when he had four tackles, because of Ronald Powell's injury, and it's likely that Powell will return to his Buck position against Florida. But McCray had four tackles against Auburn, and was generally one of the Gators' better players on the night, and he's certainly earned a chance to be part of a rotation at outside linebacker in Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn's 3-4 defense.
McCray, like Mike Gillislee before him, evinces the benefits of hard work in Florida's program. He's been behind Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, Powell, and others throughout his Florida career, but hasn't made even a peep of displeasure public.
Furthermore, McCray impressed over the summer, when he spoke out about Muschamp treating the Gators like adults.
In Florida's Defense
I'd love to see some sort of split of duties for McCray and Powell on Saturday. If Powell looks as sapped and ineffective as he has been, McCray deserves some chances to rush the passer; even if Powell is 100 percent, McCray would be a good choice at an outside linebacker position, especially if pursuit of Isaiah Crowell at the second level becomes important to Florida's success. (And let's not kid ourselves: Pursuit of Isaiah Crowell at the second level will be important to Florida's success.)
Projection Vs. Georgia
If McCray is making more than seven or eight tackles against Georgia, Florida's got issues that likely go well beyond his play and will probably lose. With that sunny caveat in mind, let's project five or six tackles from McCray, and the happy ending of a Florida victory.
For more, discuss McCray and the Gators in the FightinGators.com forums.