Senior Bowl Football

South squad inside linebacker Alex Anzalone of Florida (34) runs during the first half of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

The linebacker position has changed.

Speed has replaced brawn, and coverage ability has replaced a need for the kind of big, bruising physique that can take on offensive linemen in the hole.

Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone believes he brings a little of both. Anzalone, a tall, rangy player at 6-foot-3, has the frame to carry the position's traditional 240 pounds without compromising his speed. 

"I have a bigger frame compared to some inside linebackers, and it's something that helps me play the run. But I can keep on the weight and move well," Anzalone said.

The importance of the passing game has changed the job description for NFL linebackers. A productive 2016 draft class was dominated by rookies like LSU's Deion Jones, who makes up for a lack of traditional size with a running back's speed and a willingness to hit.

Jones wasn't the only run-first rookie who made an early impact. San Diego's Jatavis Brown, New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee, New England's Elandon Roberts and Atlanta's De'Vondre Campbell also fit the mold, among others.

The reason is simple: An NFL linebacker has to be able to run with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. 

"You see the tight ends that play in the NFL — they're big and athletic," Anzalone said. "The game's evolving, and it's really evolving around that position. That's opened the passing game a lot, and it makes teams respect the run and the pass at the same time. If you've got guys that can cover the tight end, then you'll be alright."

Anzalone has the range and the speed to play any of the three positions: the middle, the weak side or on the strong side in a 4-3 defense. 

In a league dominated by nickel defenses, middle and weakside have become the primary linebacker positions in most defenses. 

"I'm a big linebacker who can be physical, but also can cover well, cover tight ends and play well in space," Anzalone said.

Proving he can play in space isn't the biggest obstacle Anzalone faces. 

Anzalone met with teams at the Senior Bowl and turned in a solid week, but the most important part of his draft cycle will likely be the day before he takes the field in Indianapolis for the physical tests at the NFL scouting combine.

That's when doctors from all 32 teams will poke and prod the right shoulder that kept him from realizing his full potential at Florida.

Anzalone spent most of his freshman season dealing with a torn labrum, then has to redshirt after just two games as a junior because of complications from the same injury. 

Given a chance to start in 2016, Anzalone made 53 tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss in eight games before breaking his arm. NFL teams want to be sure his injuries don't linger into his professional career. 

"It wasn't a really big deal for me," Anzalone said. "It was just something I had to shake off and get back on the field."

Because once he's on the field, he's got the skills NFL teams are looking for. 

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.