Florida offensive line coach John Hevesy quickly summed up what it’s like to have a healthy group of offensive linemen ready to face a very tough Ohio State defensive front with a grin while stating, “It’s great!”
“Seriously, it’s great to have them back and all running around and doing things,” Hevesy said. “Obviously, you take care of things, but to have them all back out there running and going — it feels better. There’s still a whole season’s worth of dings, bangs, and bruises, but we’re getting healthy and we’re playing hard and when you’re playing in a game like this those little bruises and those little nicks don’t hurt as much.”
Guards Jim Tartt, Drew Miller, Ronnie Wilson, and center Steve Rissler have battled through various injuries, but figure to be as healthy as a group as they have been all season. Tackles Phil Trautwein and Carlton Medder help round out a unit that enabled Florida to finish as the nation’s 20th best offense (398 yards per game) despite a rigorous 13-game schedule that included 10 bowl participants.
Perhaps most impressive is the fight demonstrated by this group. The Gators were never able to utilize the group who established themselves as the starters in those early August practice sessions. Wilson suffered a broken left ankle before the Southern Mississippi game. The staff moved right tackle Drew Miller back inside at right guard and gave unproven Carlton Medder an opportunity to nail down the tackle position.
As the injuries mounted around mid-season a lack of depth forced the Gators interior linemen to play through the pain. They did so. Florida finds itself in the national title game with veteran Chris Leak perched behind an unheralded offensive line. The Associated Press failed to nominate a single member of the group to the first or second All-Southeastern Conference squad.
Thankfully, the Southeastern Conference coaches saw fit to place Rissler on their first unit and Miller and Trautwein on the second team.
A post season bowl berth also affords the staff to work with the reserves in some much needed practice time.
“For the most part, it’s a normal practice,” he said. “You give the older guys a few breaks here and there, so it gives the younger guys an opportunity to get some reps. We had Jim Barrie and Corey Hobbs got some against one-on-one pass rushers and some of the others some fundamental stuff they haven’t really got through the year. That’s extra practice due to the bowl game. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. We usually get fifteen or sixteen days extra days of practice.”
Several prognosticators have stated that Ohio State will be the best defensive front the Gators have seen. While Hevesy agrees the Buckeyes are certainly impressive he believes the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference has served to prep the Gators well for the January 8th contest.
“Watching them, they play hard,” he said. “(Quinn) Pitcock plays hard. They play tough defense. They’re like our defense. They play hard. They run to the ball. They’re fundamentally sound. They’re coached well. In terms of this league yeah, it’s a lot of the same. I hate saying overall who is better. I don’t know. Individually, there are going to be battles going on in there. This conference we play in that’s part of the deal anyway. They compare right up there with LSU, Georgia, and Tennessee and all of those guys. They play fast and we have to play fast.”
“They’re a traditional defense. They play a base defense. They’re fundamentally sound and they play hard. They’re not extravagant, not some Star Wars bizarre out there. They play their field and their defenses and they have their blitzes. They have a scheme. They do things when they want to do them and they’re very sound. They’re well-coached.”