His offensive line is beat up but Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio was coaching hurt Saturday on Day 7 of spring practice for the Gators.
Someone had to step forward Saturday, so Addazio, in his first spring in charge of long-time friend Urban Meyer’s spread offense, did his best to show the emotion he wanted from the healthy bodies who were protecting quarterbacks Tim Tebow and John Brantley and opening holes for running backs Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Co.
During one goal-line scrimmage play late in the practice session, Tebow connected with wide-open tight end Aaron Hernandez on a delayed pass over the middle for an apparent touchdown. Unfortunately, the play was wiped out by a holding penalty by one of the offensive linemen.
Addazio, who had knee surgery following Florida’s 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game to clean out an infection, showed no signs of the limp that is still noticeable when his blood pressure is normal. When the whistle blows to end a play, Addazio still has that great first step all coaches have when they decide to personally deliver a message to a lineman.
“You just cost us a touchdown,” Addazio screamed at the player. “Plus, they’re going to add on penalty yardage.”
You didn’t need Addazio to tell you that he was disappointed with his line play. All you needed to see with your own eyes was the after-practice running he conducted with his linemen far away from the rest of the Gators.
“Who isn’t hurt?” Addazio smiled when asked about the health of his charges. Neither of the Pounceys, right guard Mike (6-5, 320, Jr.) or center Maurkice (6-5, 318, Jr.), participated, nor did Matt Patchan (6-6, 260), Jim Barrie (6-5, 305) and James Wilson (6-5, 329, RSo.), who got hurt during the two-hour-plus practice.
Heck, even Maurice Hurt (6-2, 305, RJr.) was hurt.
Addazio is concerned but not concerned. He’s not concerned because he knows what the Pounceys can do off what they did last year in the FedEx BCS Championship. The same goes for Wilson and Carl Johnson (6-5, 342, RJr.), whose play at left guard last season when Jim Tartt was injured solidified the Gators during their 10-game winning streak run to their second national title in three years. Tartt graduated as did Florida’s left tackle Phil Trautwein and right tackle Jason Watkins, but if Addazio had to name a starting five right now it would be the Pounceys in their spots from a year ago, Wilson at left guard, Johnson at left tackle and improving Marcus Gilbert (6-5, 320, RJr.) at right tackle.
Addazio’s concern is he doesn’t see the cohesiveness and the depth he wants just yet. The injuries have played a lot into those concerns but with eight practices, including the spring-ending Orange & Blue Game on April 18, remaining, Addazio is not going to panic.
“We need to get better,” Addazio said. “Our depth is not where we want it to be. We need consistency, no mistakes. We need to find a cohesive second unit that doesn’t make mistakes.”
Saturday, the Gators’ No. 1 unit at one point had redshirt freshman Sam Robey (6-4, 291, RFr.) at center, Wilson at left guard, Gilbert at left tackle and Johnson at right tackle and true freshmen Nick Alajajian (6-4, 288, Fr.) and Jonotthan Harrison (6-3, 293, Fr.) in the mix.
“Today, we had two true freshmen in with the (No.) 1s and they were getting reps under fire,” Addazio said. “I like them both. They are doing well. Remember, we’ve got good depth on the defensive line. It’s not like they (Alajajian and Harrison) are going against nobodies.”
Addazio likes what he has seen from Gilbert—“he’s really shown improvement and is having a good spring”—and he is excited about having Johnson move from left guard to left tackle where he can use his big frame and long arms to protect the quarterbacks. Johnson, who has played pretty much everywhere on the offensive line except center, likes playing tackle.
“I love tackle,” Johnson said as he poured drinks down his throat to prevent some cramping after practice. “But it doesn’t matter what position I play as long as I can help the team. There isn’t a big difference playing guard or tackle.”
Addazio likes his offensive tackles to be athletic and his offensive guards to be maulers. Johnson is both.
“Carl has really good feet,” Addazio said. “I think he’s ready to take the next step.”
Before he got shaken up Saturday, the coach liked what he saw in Wilson. “He’s been doing a nice job up to this point,” Addazio said. “He needs to improve, but he has great skills. Is he developing? Absolutely. Does he have ability? Absolutely. What James need is he has to sustain his play through practice and the game. He needs to get in better shape.”
Another player who has jumped out this spring is Robey, whose play at center with Maurkice Pouncey absent has been good enough that the Gators won’t hesitate to use him there and pair the Pounceys at guard. “Sam has really stepped up his game,” Addazio said. “He’s showing us signs that he is ready to give up quality depth at the position.”
Because as every offensive coordinator knows, you never have enough offensive linemen.