The Florida Gators offensive line has been a point of contention for their play the past four years and it was a position that Jim McElwain homed in on immediately upon taking over as head coach of the Florida Gators.
Somehow Florida resembled a team that had been devastated by NCAA sanctions with just six offensive linemen on scholarship. No, Florida didn’t have recruiting sanctions limiting their numbers on the offensive line; the pitiful total falls on the shoulders of the previous coaching staff, injuries and transfers. McElwain was dealt a raw hand, but he has pulled several cards out of his sleeve and, unbelievably, the Gators offensive line now appears to be at least full enough and competent enough to make it through the season.
As the Gators enter week three of fall camp, McElwain will begin to narrow his search for eight offensive linemen that he can count on this season. Ideally McElwain would like to have at least 10 offensive linemen — five starters and a backup at each position — but that just isn’t feasible in 2015.
Instead, McElwain has worked his best offensive linemen at multiple positions this fall. Fordham transfer Mason Halter played left tackle the past three seasons. To ease him into the offense, Halter has played a lot of left tackle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that McElwain plans to use the veteran lineman at that position. True sophomore David Sharpe has played right tackle while Halter works on the left side but, again, this is more to get players ready to potentially play multiple positions in case of injury and less a true indication of what the starting five will be.
“Well, obviously Sharpe is a guy that’s in there. He’s the one guy that kind of stands out a little bit and he’s done a really good job adapting to the right side,” McElwain said when asked about who’s standing out on the line. “We’ve been playing him both at swing and some, so I think we feel very comfortable that he’s a guy that can play right or left. And I feel real good about that.”
Halter’s versatility hasn’t been visible to the media during the open portions of practice, but McElwain has stated that the redshirt senior transfer has played every offensive line position other than center.
It’s all part of McElwain’s plan to find the best five offensive linemen to start and three more players who can be counted on in a jam, with communication, consistency and cohesiveness being three factors that must be achieved.
“Right now it’s about the communication pattern between the two sides,” McElwain said. “To see which two guys kind of work best together.”
When you look at the roster, the best five offensive linemen will likely consist of a true sophomore (Sharpe), true freshman (Martez Ivey) and either a true freshman in Tyler Jordan or a redshirt sophomore in Cam Dillard. That much youth and inexperience means it could behoove McElwain and Mike Summers to sandwich in their veterans at the guard positions. Having Trip Thurman taking reps at both guard spots along with Halter would allow Florida to play their best five and not have to worry about loading one side up with players who haven’t played a real down of college football before kickoff on September 5.
“Halter’s been kind of that … he’s our change-up guy. … I’ve been really happy with how he’s adapted to the different spots,” said McElwain. “Obviously Trip being inside both at center and at guard is something I think is really gonna help us.”
No matter how you add it up, Florida will be inexperienced along the line this season. It’s just up to McElwain to find the right eight guys who can be counted on to help turn around a stagnant offense.