Wave after wave of offensive linemen mauled their opponents in spring football practice a year ago, but the unit was ripped apart by injuries early in fall camp.
The offensive line, forced to shift guys around just before the season began, never developed good chemistry and struggled throughout the season despite having four veteran linemen and talented sophomore Xavier Nixon.
With so many starters gone, Florida’s coaches will scour the squad trying to find capable replacements in spring football.
Florida Gators redshirt freshman Leon Orr hopes to be one of them.
Orr, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound tank with incredible athleticism, was recruited as a defensive tackle, but spent last season recovering from a broken leg while redshirting.
After moving to the offensive line last season, Orr could flip-flop positions again. While the Gators must replace four quality offensive linemen, they’re also dangerously thin at defensive tackle.
As a defensive tackle at Gulf High School, Orr’s high school film grabbed the attention of several national powerhouses. His explosive burst off the line of scrimmage for a guy his size is breathtaking.
So the Gators and Orr must make a momentous decision.
Should he stay on the offensive line, where he can compete with Jon Halapio, James Wilson and Jonotthan Harrison for a starting spot? Or should he move back to defensive tackle, where Florida currently has only four scholarship players?
Where Orr ends up largely depends on other players.
Offensive guard James Wilson is recovering from the knee injury that kept him out of the 2010 season. If he fully recovers, he should be a starter for Florida.
Jon Halapio gained valuable experience gutting it out in the trenches last season, so he probably has an edge on Orr for the second starting guard spot.
Several other players on the offensive line seem suited to support the starters in key backup roles, so unless Orr can contribute as a starter, it makes sense for him to move back to defensive tackle.
How much of the 3-4 defense Florida plays next season could be a deciding factor. If the Gators end up playing more 4-3 than 3-4, it would be in their best interest to move Orr back to defensive tackle.
With only four scholarship tackles, Florida would be a torn tendon or serious sprain from having no backup there.
While defensive end Earl Okine has played some defensive tackle, he isn’t suited to bulldoze behemoth blockers. The 6-foot-7 end has had trouble getting leverage at the line of scrimmage at Florida.
On the other hand, Orr is a prototypical defensive tackle who would have no problem plowing through powerful guards. His burst off the line would give Florida a great pass-rushing presence to complement Jaye Howard and Sharrif Floyd.
It’s hard to understate the value of a guy with Orr’s athleticism on the defensive line.
Floyd harassed opposing quarterbacks by blowing blockers backward into them. Orr, at least before his injury, offers the same type of powerful pass rush on the interior.
Whether he can get back to his pre-injury form will be something to keep an eye on in spring football practice.
Should the Gators keep him on the offensive line, a healthy Orr could wrestle his way into the starting lineup.
If he moves back to defense, the Florida Gators football team will get its much-needed fifth body inside – and a massive, explosive pass rusher.