Florida’s front seven on defense has impressed over the first four weeks of the season, and perhaps the most exciting pieces of the group are the two inside linebackers — Shemar James and Scooby Williams.
Williams, a redshirt sophomore who played off the edge in high school, saw action in just eight games last year as he continued to learn the position. James, a sophomore, played regularly as a true freshman, and the two are developing into one of the SEC’s best linebacker duos.
When asked about the tandem of him and Williams leading the second level of Florida’s defense, James couldn’t contain a big smile from taking over his face.
“It’s going amazing,” James said. “We’re always on the same page. It’s like he always knows what I’m doing, and I always know what he’s doing. That allows us to play fast.”
According to Pro Football Focus, James is the sixth-highest-rated linebacker in the SEC with a 75.4 defensive rating, and Williams is No. 19 on the list with a 66.6 rating.
Six other SEC programs have a duo inside the top 20, but the biggest upside of Florida’s linebacker corps is its youth. Williams could leave for the draft this year, in theory, but he’s also the perfect candidate to wait another year. James couldn’t declare even if he wanted to, so there’s a high possibility that this duo returns in 2024.
It’s scary to think that Williams is just settling into his new role, and James is only 19 years old. The two are only going to get more familiar as time goes on, and James is a natural leader.
“I would say him (Williams) just being comfortable in the defense,” James said about the defense clicking. “When you know it, you play faster. Just him not second-guessing himself, sort of like what he did last year.”
Williams forced a fumble early on Saturday night, and James said that he felt like he helped set the tone for the defense. The Gators held the 49ers to just 88 total yards in the second half, limiting a run-first offense led by quarterback Jalon Jones.
Defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong tells his players that it is a privilege to play on third downs. James takes that to heart, and he can’t help but chuckle when asked to compare the team’s third-down efficiency in 2023 to last year.
Charlotte converted just three of 12 third-down attempts on the night.
James admitted that the team was a bit sloppy in the victory, but it’s hard to point any fingers at him or Williams. The future of Florida’s defense finally looks bright with these two in the middle.