Freshman pushes senior for PT at LT

Reading between the lines there is a battle quietly brewing at left tackle on the Florida Gators football team.

Xavier Nixon, a 6-foot-6, 314-pounder, is the senior starter.

D.J. Humphries, a 6-6, 275-pounder, is the talented true freshman.

Now, Nixon doesn’t appear — at this time — to be in danger of losing the starting job. However, he is in danger of losing snaps. He has been inconsistent at times, especially with pass protection.

Meanwhile, Humphries continues develop and improve with each play. He received the majority of the snaps in the second half of No. 11 Florida’s 38-0 win against Kentucky. He’s expected to play a significant role again in the Gators’ next game against No. 3 LSU, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

As the Florida coaching staff repeatedly has displayed, the best player will play — regardless of class.

“Really, for a young kid like that, it’s really about experience,” Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Wednesday. “You’re going to make some mistakes here and there because there’s a lot of changing parts and moving parts in front of you at that time in a game, and going against the guy you’re going to match up on.”

A perfect example of Humphries’ capabilities came on a scrambling run by quarterback Jeff Driskel, which ended up a foot shy of the goal line after an official film review.

Film review also shows Humphries taking out two defenders, including a cut block after the ball was snapped. Humphries quickly dropped low to upend the defender. It was a textbook cut block, and quicker than most.

Humphries then showed his hustle after the initial block as the play continued to unfold.

After getting back on his feet, Humphries looked for another player to block and ended up hammering the defender twice to help spring Driskel free around the left side of the line. Just to note, Humphries played every snap during the series.

Perhaps even more impressive was his block on Driskel’s one-yard sneak for the touchdown that gave Florida a 31-0 lead late in the third quarter. It was a simple blocking assignment where he needed to sustain his block for less than a second for it to be effective. Instead, Humphries kept his feet churning to push his defender several yards into the back of the end zone as the touchdown was signaled.

On every play, Humphries’ motor never stopped until the whistle blew. He never stood around to watch a play downfield, and instead constantly was scanning the field for another blue and white jersey to hit.

“He’s getting better and better and he needed that game to get some experience of real live situation, instead of just practice,” Pease said. “Knowing how the flow of the game is going to change in run and pass and whatever he has to do with his responsibility.

“He did a nice job. I thought he got a lot better.”

As far as Nixon, he has been named to the Outland Trophy preseason watch lists each of the past two seasons. Like Humphries, Nixon also was an All-American out of North Carolina, hailing from Fayetteville’s Jack Britt High School. In his four seasons with the program, Nixon hasn’t consistently lived up to those expectations although he earned five starts and was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team in 2009.

In his defense as far as this season, Muschamp said Nixon has been “banged up” with a shoulder injury.

“I think run assignments the other night were very good,” Muschamp said when asked about Nixon on Monday. “He blocked extremely well in the run game. He didn’t finish on a couple of things.

“Protection is something we need to solidify as far as his pass protections is concerned.”

Humphries was a consensus five-star prospect by recruiting services out of Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek High. listed him as the No. 2 prospect overall, regardless of position. He also earned first team All-American honors by virtually every entity that selects such teams.

Officially, he’s listed at 275 pounds, but he’s been playing much bigger. Pease was unsure if he has added much weight since the beginning of fall camp.

“I don’t think he’s much higher than that,” Pease said. “He’s been pretty consistent. I think his body has changed because of what they have done in the weight room and stuff. He’ll continue to grow. He’s just got to hit a growth spurt here sometime I’m sure.”

Regardless of his weight, Humphries appears to be hitting that growth spurt already as far as his development as a player.

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Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.