This time last year, Jim McElwain was raving about how improved the Florida Gators offensive line would be. It was supposed to be the strength of the team in 2017.
Instead, it turned out to be one of the biggest flops. There were signs of improvement at times, but nothing groundbreaking.
After underperforming last season and many of the seasons before that, this offensive line truly believes it can turn things around in 2018.
“We needed what happened to us last year,” said redshirt junior center T.J McCoy. “We thought it was gonna be our year last year and it wasn’t. I believe everybody on this team, especially on the offensive line, we have a bad taste in our mouth and we’re just ready to prove everybody wrong and to prove that we can be the strength of the team.”
It did not seem like the line was taking any steps towards that goal in Friday’s scrimmage, at least not in the beginning. The offensive line was being dominated, with pressure getting to the quarterback on almost every play.
That changed in the second half as the offense came to life with four touchdowns and several more explosive plays.
Energy has been an issue for Florida’s offensive line in the past, and the entire offense generally plays with whatever energy the line brings. According to senior offensive guard Tyler Jordan, the improvements in the second half came from head coach Dan Mullen lighting a fire under them at halftime.
“We started off pretty slow, everybody could see that,” Jordan said. “That was kind of our demeanor. You look at us on the sideline and we seem slow, but after halftime Coach Mullen told us that this is The Swamp and we have a certain standard we have here and we’ve gotta play hard every single play and give effort. And we picked it up in the second half and had a bunch of explosives.”
Energy is something that can’t necessarily be taught. It can be encouraged, but the line has to take it upon itself to make a change there.
Technique, however, can be taught. And it’s something that hasn’t been taught well enough at Florida in recent years.
The new coaching staff is all about attention to detail, and since offensive line coach John Hevesy took over, players have taken notice of that.
“Coach Hevesy’s really big about technique,” McCoy said. “In my opinion, he’s Coach [Nick] Savage on steroids when it comes to technique. He’s a very intense guy, and he’s really big on us doing the things right, doing everything right and just having the attitude and really being the protectors of this offense.”
Savage is another reason the Gators could expect a big change on the offensive line, and really at every position, this season.
Former defensive tackle Taven Bryan said at Florida’s Pro Day earlier in the week that the team looked like Pillsbury Doughboys last year.
The new strength and conditioning coach is whipping the team into shape, and making players realize just how much stronger they could have been before now.
“We got a lot of work in the offseason,” said senior offensive guard Fred Johnson. “That six weeks, I felt stronger than I’ve been since I’ve been here. That just goes to show what type of program this is and what type of guys Coach Mullen is bringing in to work with us.”
For players like Johnson, Jordan and Martez Ivey, there won’t be another opportunity. They came in with high expectations and have not come close to meeting them yet.
This offensive line has more than enough experience, but that experience means nothing if it isn’t put to use. The veterans are using their past failures as motivation as they prepare for their last go around.
“It’s our last chance to get it right,” Ivey said. “Last chance to do what we came here to do. We didn’t come here to go 4-7. We came here to compete for championships and win a championship. I mean, that’s my mindset, that’s their mindset, it should be everybody’s mindset around here. And I think this new coaching staff and coach Mullen, he came in and he told us, ‘Man, it’s the University of Florida.’ When he was here it was the standard. We’re getting that standard back.”