GAINESVILLE, Florida — Linebacker Antonio Morrison was mostly a spectator at Florida's first preseason practice Thursday.
It's a role he might have to get used to this fall.
Morrison, a 6-foot-1 senior from Bellwood, Illinois, is recovering from a left knee injury that required two operations. He has no idea when he'll be ready to play, and the Gators aren't sure it will be this season.
"There is no timeframe," said Morrison, who led Florida with 101 tackles last season. "Whenever I'm ready, I'm ready to go."
Morrison was fairly optimistic, especially for someone seven months removed from a significant setback. But coach Jim McElwain sounded less hopeful that Morrison would return anytime soon.
"Let's not downplay what this injury was, OK?" McElwain said. "He's had two surgeries on the same knee off the same injury, right? ... I will never put a player out there. Life's way too short. I'll never put a player out there unless they're able to truly defend themselves and to be productive. So when that time comes, our doctors will get it cleared and we'll go from there. But I'm not putting a time limit on it."
McElwain provided the most information the Gators have revealed about Morrison's injury since he left the Birmingham Bowl on a cart in January. Torn ligaments? Damaged meniscus? Dislocated knee cap? The details haven't been released.
"My parents don't want that information disclosed," Morrison said. "I feel like y'all don't need to know that. It's not helping me in any way. My parents felt that way and they don't want to release any of that information. We kept it in. We got the training staff with the guys on our team. That's how it was."
McElwain had sidestepped questions about Morrison's injury and recovery since taking the job in December. He did some of that again at media day Wednesday, but did praise Morrison for how he's attacked his rehab.
"I can't tell you what a great job he's done, put himself in position to have an opportunity to play this season," McElwain said. "He's well ahead of where we anticipated. He will be out of any contact drills, but he will be able to do some non-contact stuff moving forward. And he has had a huge impact as guys have seen how hard he has worked, what he has invested and what he was willing to do to define who he is and what he's all about. I just can't say enough good things about that."
But McElwain stopped short of saying whether Morrison will be able to play this season.
"Too early to say if he'll play," McElwain said. "Just know this: the fact he'll be out there is short of a miracle based on that knee. A credit to how hard he has worked to be part of this family, and I just can't tell you how good that makes us all feel."
Morrison has been an integral part of Florida's defense for the last three years. He has 191 tackles, including nine for a loss, and two sacks, two forced fumbles, a pass breakup and an interception. Even as a freshman, he was one of the staples of former coach Will Muschamp's always-stout defense. Now, though, it's unclear whether the Gators and new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will be able to count on Morrison.
Without him, junior Alex Anzalone has been getting repetitions at middle linebacker alongside Jarrad Davis. But neither of them has Morrison's experience or expertise.
"Antonio's recovering fast. He's doing great. He's walking around. He's back to his old self," defensive back Marcus Maye said. "It's just a matter of time before you'll see him back to being Antonio Morrison."