The Gators have a challenge ahead at the offensive line spot. Five linemen graduated from last year’s team including four starters. The lone starter moves from guard to center in 2006 and the rest of the line is relatively young. Offensive Line Coach John Hevesy has his hands full with some talent, but very little experience on the interior offensive line.
Hevsy has a senior starting at center, a sophomore starting at guard, and the rest are freshmen across the board. Outside of them lacking experience, he likes what he has.
“I like the outlook of the group.” Hevesy said. “I have to remember that they are young and to stay positive with them. I can’t assume they know anything. Everything has to be a blank page. I have to build them up because all of them are young except (Steve) Rissler and (Jim) Tartt has seen some action.”
He got to spend some time with most of them in the spring and he really got a feel for the group as a whole.
“I love them because they work their tails off,” he said. “They want to learn and become good football players and leaders. Now, I just have to coach them up to do it.”
It all starts this season in the middle. The guy that will be leading the charge at center is Steve Rissler (6-3, 305, Sr.). He is a true veteran who has played and started most games over the last three years. He’s a true bruiser at the center position, something that may have been lacking since Jeff Mitchell donned the Orange and Blue. Hevesy likes Rissler’s take charge attitude.
“He has come in and been a leader and taken charge of the offensive line,” Hevesy said. “Ever since January he has come in and taken the reigns of the offensive line. He still can make a few improvements with his skills and training, but it all starts with his leadership.”
Behind Rissler is Eddie Haupt (6-4, 295, Fr.). Haupt spent last football season recovering from a back injury, but practiced the spring at full speed. His injury set him back a little, but Hevesy recognizes his intelligence can make him a valuable asset on the line.
“I probably had higher expectations for him in the spring than I should have knowing he hadn’t taken any snaps in a long time before that,” Hevesy said. “He is a very intelligent kid. He just has to get those leadership skills and physically he has to become a more pissed off player and have the aggression that comes with that.”
One player that will also start out at center is Jim Barrie (6-5, 280, Fr.). The 2006 signee could get moved anywhere with his versatility, but on day one he will start inside.
“With Barrie we want a lot of hard work from him,” Hevesy said. “Where he starts is not significant right now. I am going to take every inside player when they come in here and teach them to snap. I want him to work hard, be attentive, and go after it. He has good feet and is intelligent—two things good for the center position. I don’t expect a whole lot in the beginning because of him just getting here. He is behind mentally because of that.”
The Gators are counting on Jim Tartt (6-3, 315, So.). He had a lingering shoulder injury that kept him from playing most of last year where he was penciled in as a starter. The true guard will be a welcome sight to an offense that wants its linemen to lay everyone flat on every play.
“Tartt is 80% healthy,” Hevesy said. “The first couple of days he will be in and out of some banging. He is way ahead of where he was last year, but we want to be more cautious so we don’t do something stupid with him. He is a road grader and has that physical power to him. He has great leverage and great knee bend, and power. He is working mentally on becoming a little more refined player so he can use those physical tools to a better capacity.”
In place of an injured Tartt this past spring the Gators moved Simon Codrington (6-7, 302, Fr.) from tackle to guard. The move worked and surprisingly enough—the tall and angular Codrington was a real masher inside. Hevesy liked what he saw, but points to his inexperience as something that will have to be overcome.
“Simon did some good things in the spring, but it was his first time thrown in the fire,” Hevesy said. “He stuck his nose in there with Marcus Thomas and those guys. He needs better technique and his physical presence needs to improve. I think he probably did a lot of that this summer. He is aggressive and he can bend. He can get in great football position. He just needs to get naturally, physically stronger. He weighs more than our other guards, so he has some power behind him.”
Starting at the right guard spot will be Ronnie Wilson (6-4, 309, Fr.). Wilson is big, athletic, and has a promising future ahead of him. Again, Hevesy points out the mental negatives of lack of experience as something Wilson needs to overcome.
“Ronnie has all the tools and is very gifted in a lot of things,” Hevesy said. “He is very young. Physically and athletically he is more mature, mentally he is still a freshman. He is still an 18 year old kid and has to face the burden of walking into the big stadiums and starting. He has to show some leadership at a young age, not because he is physically gifted, but because he earns it.”
Behind Wilson are two others that could also get moved around. Maurice Hurt (6-2, 302, Fr.) and Carl Johnson (6-4, 330, Fr.) have great potential somewhere on the line. Both had their first spring as Class of 2006 early enrollees just months ago. As rookies, they have more to learn than the others.
“Maurice and Carl had a great summer,” Hevesy said. “Both of them have to work on the fundamentals and the speed of the game. Maurice showed a lot of toughness in the spring. With Carl, his athletic ability is obvious. They were both very highly recruited, but never had to knock a Marcus Thomas and Joe Cohen off the ball. Now technique becomes a big thing. For Carl, the spring game was his best day and we saw him go from terrible to good in 15 days.”
REDMAN REACTION: The personnel this season lends itself to a better running offensive line than last year’s unit. I think this group could be a real terror to opposing defensive fronts before it is all over. They will practice against the best defensive line in the SEC (and have all spring), so that makes game situations maybe a little easier.
If they stumble early, my opinion is it will come from pass protection and not knowing assignments from defensive blitzes. That stuff comes from experience and with these guys it will not be indicative of a lack of physical ability.