Florida middle linebacker Antonio Morrison will play against New Mexico State in the Gators' 2015 season opener against New Mexico State on Saturday, just over eight months after sustaining a knee injury against East Carolina in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl that left him screaming in pain.
Asked directly about the readiness Morrison, listed as Florida's starter at middle linebacker on a just-released depth chart on Monday, Florida coach Jim McElwain was about as blunt as he could be: "Yes, he is."
"Morrison's listed first on the depth chart. Is he gonna play? Is he ready to play?" McElwain: "Yes, he is. Unbelievable what he's done."— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) August 31, 2015
Antonio Morrison listed first on the depth chart. Mac confirms he's ready to play. Won't be playing 80-90 plays but he's ready.— Kassidy Hill (@KassidyGHill) August 31, 2015
Morrison's injury was never publicly disclosed, with his family preferring to keep the details private. Speculation, fueled by the clearly significant pain Morrison showed on that day, was that he suffered a torn ACL or MCL; SEC Network analyst Booger McFarland, who spent time with Morrison while working on reports on his recovery this offseason, said at SEC Media Days that Morrison was "coming off the ACL" this season.
If Morrison is healthy enough after that injury to play even a bare majority of the snaps for the Gators' defense, it's a major boost for the unit co-managed by Geoff Collins and Randy Shannon: Morrison, who was named to the All-SEC second team in 2014, is the lone returning senior in Florida's young and inexperienced linebacking corps (redshirt senior Anthony Harrell is a graduate transfer from Georgia Tech).
Morrison also started more games as a freshman in 2012 (four) than the rest of Florida's returning linebackers have in their combined careers (two). The only other Florida linebacker to have recorded a start on defense is Jarrad Davis, who had one start each in both 2013 and 2014.