GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's linebackers were a bit of a question mark heading into the year. Fourth-year players Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins had been good, but not nearly as great as many expected when they first inked with the Gators years ago.
Linebacker Jelani Jenkins drags down Missouri quarterback James Franklin in a 14-7 win last weekend.
They couldn't fight through blocks consistently or make plays in the backfield, keeping the Florida defense from reaching that truly elite level.
Bostic has made the jump to that next level, emerging as Florida's top lineback in 2012. Jenkins, who has arguably more raw athletic ability than Bostic, has been slowed by injuries -- first a broken right thumb against Texas A&M and then a hamstring injury against LSU.
"It's been tough, but I trust the athletic training staff," he said. "They got me back on the field as quickly as possible. They've done a great job at it. Just doing the best I can. I'm happy the way the season is going."
Jenkins still isn't quite at 100 percent due to his injuries. The NFL talk around the junior has quieted a bit, since he doesn't have prototypical linebacker size at 6 foot, 237 pounds.
Throw in the injuries, and what Jenkins has been able to do so far this year anyway is actually pretty impressive.
"I'm still handling a few nagging injuries, but everything is getting back to normal slowly but surely," he said.
The redshirt junior has 16 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks and a quarterback hurry in six games played, though two of those were hardly full games because he was injured early on in both the Texas A&M and LSU games.
Still, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been thrilled with what he has gotten out of Jenkins.
"The one thing that jumps out first to me is his play speed," Quinn said. "He can really get from Point A to Point B fast. You know, coverage-wise, you feel OK with good tight ends and running backs and you can have that matchup sometimes when we play some man."
Jenkins really flashed his leadership while he was on the sidelines, though. As he sat out games against Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, he didn't seclude himself on the sidelines.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
"The nice thing about Jelani is that he has very good football smarts and wanted to be in and help the other players that stepped up when he went down," Quinn said. "It wasn't like he removed himself or wasn't involved, so I thought that was a real tribute as a team guy and a leader saying, 'I'm out, and I can't play, but I'm certainly going to be here and help the guys that are playing.' That says a lot about him and the character and what he's about."
With three regular-season games left and Florida in the hunt for a BCS Bowl, Jenkins is healthy and ready to help the Gators get there.
Though questions about a potential NFL future loom on the horizon, he's focused solely on winning the next game: Louisiana. Everything else will fall into place from there.
“I mean, that’s always my dream to go to the next level, but I’m just trying to win Saturday, trying to win these next three games," Jenkins said. "I’ve been focused on this season more than anything. That’s obviously a dream of mine, but that’s something that I can deal with when I have more time toward the end of the season.”
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