You remember the scene. Jim McElwain was whisked away from his beautiful home in Fort Collins, Colorado ready to take on the opportunity of a lifetime. Being the head coach of the University of Florida is a job that not many in the coaching profession would or could turn down.
McElwain came in knowing that the Florida Gators had struggled the past two years but, I mean, this is the University of Florida, how bad could it really be?
Six offensive linemen, that’s how bad it can be.
After assembling his staff and finishing off a recruiting class that most certainly exceeded any and all expectations given the time frame, McElwain turned his attention to the roster and realized that he barely had enough offensive linemen to field a team, let alone compete in the most competitive conference in the country.
This dream job quickly turned into the beginning of a nightmare. McElwain went to work and fixed the problem. Currently, Florida has 22 offensive linemen (walk-ons included) and are in a much better place — at least numbers wise — then when he took over.
Left Tackle: David Sharpe, Sophomore | Fredrick Johnson, Freshman
Sharpe saw action in six games as a freshman, including significant playing time in Tuscaloosa as the Gators took on the Crimson Tide. Sharpe was mainly used in jumbo packages but due to injuries saw a lot of reps at left tackle as well. He had a productive season as a freshman but his role will change completely this season. Sharpe will be asked to anchor Florida’s offensive line and protect the blindside of the Gators’ quarterback, whomever wins the job.
After Sharpe, the experience is none but Florida might have a freshman that can come in and play in a pinch. Fredrick Johnson looks the part of a college tackle already (6-6, 301 lbs). Johnson has long arms, something scouts and coaches look for in a tackle, but still has some work to do on his technique, specifically his footwork and hand placement, like most freshmen offensive linemen. However, with only two offensive tackles that have any playing experience, playing time might present itself to Johnson earlier than anticipated.
The Rest: Richerd Desir-Jones, Freshman | Mason Halter, RS Senior
Desir-Jones is a relatively unknown commodity, especially when it comes to what position he can play. At 6-4, 290, he has more of an interior offensive line body, but he is new to offense in general and can be molded as the coaching staff sees fit. Desir-Jones played defensive line in high school before switching as a senior. He’s new to the offensive side of the ball but his high school offensive coordinator raved about his work ethic and willingness to learn. Desir-Jones was an All-County wrestler in high school and knows leverages, which is immensely useful as a lineman. I think Desir-Jones may need a year to redshirt before really getting into the mix.
Mason Halter was a two-time All-American at Fordham and is the only other lineman other than Sharpe that has playing experience at tackle. He’s more of a right tackle but in the case of emergency would likely flip to left tackle if Sharpe were to go down with an injury.
Left Guard: Antonio Riles, RS Sophomore | Andrew Mike, RS Freshman
Riles made the move to offensive line and the coaching staff has loved how he has progressed with the change. Riles played offensive line in high school, so the position wasn’t completely foreign to him. Riles worked at both guard positions during the spring and could earn a starting spot in the fall.
Mike was presumed to earn a starting spot in the spring but saw Travaris Dorsey take that spot leaving Mike to work with the second team offensive line comprised of mainly walk-ons. For that reason, I’m sliding Mike over to the left side of the line and in a backup role. Body-wise, Mike has everything you’re looking for, he just needs to put it all together.
The Rest: Nick Buchanan, Freshman | Brandon Sandifer, Freshman
Both Buchanan and Sandifer could see a redshirt this season. It’s unlikely that both will play, so the two could battle it out to avoid a redshirt this year. Buchanan has great size (6-4, 290) and moves very well for a young player that is that big. He stays low off the line and was able to get to the second level with ease in high school.
Sandifer came in to school at 6-3, 357-pounds, living up to the moniker he gave himself on Twitter, “Heavy Chocolate.” Due to that size, I think Sandifer will need a year to get into the weight program and change his body. He has some weight to lose if he’s going to be able to hang with the defensive linemen in the SEC. Interior linemen in the SEC will be faster than anyone Sandifer has ever played against and he will need to dedicate himself to the weight room to get his body ready to play.
Center: Trip Thurman, RS Senior | Cam Dillard, RS Sophomore
Thurman is the most experienced lineman that Florida has. He’s dealt with lingering health issues and was held out of spring practice in order to give his ailing shoulder a full eight month off cycle. Thurman has worked all over the line during his time at Florida but with so much inexperience on the line, he will be needed to lead the unit at center. After Florida lost Jonotthan Harrison, a veteran who played three years at center, they moved Max Garcia, another veteran lineman, to center to fill the void. More so than any other line position, the center is the guy you need to count on to be the yes and ears of the entire offense pre-snap. Thurman’s experience will be vital there.
Dillard was being groomed to be the next center but his progress has come along a little slower than first expected. Dillard got most of the first team reps with Thurman out in the spring and that experience helped him. He’s building trust with the new coaching staff and could be a viable option if needed this season.
The Rest: Tyler Jordan, Freshman | T.J. McCoy, Freshman
Florida went from having just one true center (Dillard) to having three. Not bad, McElwain. Tyler Jordan was one of the strongest recruits this year in terms of helping the coaching staff recruit and build the class. He enrolled during Summer A, a few months earlier than the rest of the class, and will be the starting center in a few years time. Right now I think Jordan will redshirt unless he’s needed due to injuries.
McCoy landed at Florida due to health issues in his family. He is eligible to play this season but I think he may need a redshirt season to get acclimated to the college game.
Right Guard: Mason Halter, RS Senior | Travaris Dorsey, RS Freshman
Halter was a two-time All-American tackle at FCS Fordham but I have him sliding inside at Florida for two reasons. First, with Rod Johnson’s career being cut short due to spinal stenosis, the emphasis on getting freshman Martez Ivey ready to go has picked up several notches. Second, we saw the transition that Tyler Moore made as a Freshman All-B1G tackle to struggling at tackle in the SEC. Halter may be an All-American but this isn’t the FCS, this is the SEC and the competition level is light-years advanced. Moving inside takes some of the responsibility and pressure off of Halter and opens up a place for Ivey at right tackle.
Dorsey came on in the spring and ended up starting at right guard for the Orange and Blue Debut. However, Dorsey struggled mightily in the game and looked like a guy who needs another year to develop.
The Rest: Nick Buchanan, Freshman
We already discussed Buchanan’s strengths and weaknesses above, but his athleticism and versatility could help him get on the field early as a freshman.
Right Tackle: Martez Ivey, Freshman | Kavaris Harkless, RS Freshman
I’m in the camp that most freshmen offensive linemen aren’t ready to play at the college level right away. Sure, you can probably name a few right off the top of your head that have made the transition seamlessly, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.
Conversely, McElwain isn’t in an ideal situation and he will need to find the best five linemen that he has in order to try and keep his quarterback on his feet. That means Ivey will get the call early and if he is ready to answer the call, Florida will be much better off for it. At 6-5, 302 pounds, Ivey has done his part in putting on weight before arriving on campus. He has the prefect frame to play tackle and the Gators will need him to play like an upperclassmen this season.
Harkless needed a year to transition his body and technique and, in my opinion, he’s still a year away from being ready to make an impact.
Stay tuned as Gator Country will break down the depth chart on defense on Friday.