Sexy offensive line expected in 2013
When CBSSports.com released their All-American team a week ago, it wasn’t surprising to find three Alabama players on the first-team offense. After all, the Crimson Tide are headed to the national championship game on the heels of some clutch offensive performances this season.
But the three players for the Tide weren’t elite playmakers at skill positions.
Rather, all three of their first-team offensive selections — Center Barrett Jones, Guard Chance Warmack and Tackle D.J. Fluker — were found on the offensive line. While much can be argued about a college football season year in and year out, there is no argument that the Crimson Tide boasted the nation’s best offensive line during the 2012 season.
With the kickoff of the 2013 schedule more than eight months away, almost any prognostications for next year are entirely premature. However, with the way things have begun to take shape, the Florida Gators could be in a prime position to overtake the Tide’s paper title of “America’s best O-line” next season.
Entering 2012, depending on who you asked, the Florida offensive line was either the biggest or second biggest question mark for the Gators’ offense. The big uglies up front spent the majority of the 2011 campaign being tossed around the trenches like rag dolls against the bigger and meaner defensive fronts of Alabama, LSU and Georgia.
After another embarrassing outing against Florida State, Florida coach Will Muschamp offered up a blunt assessment of his team, labeling the Gators as a “soft” outfit. While the description wasn’t necessarily pointed at the offensive line, few positions on the Gators’ roster fitted the label more than the relatively young group of blockers.
After the conclusion of the 2011 season, two major developments occurred for the Gators’ offensive line’s return to respectability. The departures of former strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti and offensive line coach Frank Verducci gave way to the much welcomed arrivals of new S&C coordinator Jeff Dillman and new o-line coach Tim Davis.
While Marotti’s program may have been perfect under the Gators’ previous coaching regime and the spread schemes of Urban Meyer, the physical downhill-running game preferred by Muschamp would require an overhaul in terms of philosophy and development.
The Gators tossed out the low weight, high rep program of Marotti, and switched to the Olympic style lifts preferred by Dillman and conference measuring sticks Alabama and LSU. The result? Immense weight and strength gains across the board, which were evident as early as the Orange and Blue Debut — a mere four months after Dillman’s arrival.
Said veteran lineman James Wilson in October: “The numbers speak for themselves. … Just a combination of coach Dillman and coach Davis and our whole philosophy this offseason has just definitely changed — and it’s awesome.”
Heading into the season at the conclusion of fall camp, Muschamp cited the Gators’ offensive line as the most improved group on the team with center Jon Harrison, guards Jon Halapio and Wilson, and tackles Xavier Nixon and Chaz Green forming the starting unit. For fans, a bonus came in the form of knowing that once upon a time five-star Matt Patchan could be available at some point once he healed from a pectoral injury, and also that the Gators had a future star in newcomer at tackle, D.J. Humphries.
As camp gave way to the regular season, fans soon began to realize what Muschamp had been stating before, as the group appeared to be a completely transformed outfit, with their signature game coming in a 14-6 victory over LSU in which the Gators’ blockers seemingly manhandled a defensive line featuring two surefire first-round picks.
When the harsh reality of life in the SEC showed up in the form of injuries, the Gators didn’t skip a beat, inserting Humphries, Kyle Koehne, Sam Robey and Ian Silberman in games for prolonged periods at one point or another. While the offense as a whole took a midseason dip, the line lead the charge in the regular season finale against Florida State — a game in which Florida finally saw a player (running back Mike Gillislee) eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in eight years.
But as the sun begins to set on 2012, some have already began to look towards next season and all the possibilities it could bring. Florida has talent returning everywhere next year, but the offensive line may possibly turn into the team’s best group.
The Gators will lose only two starters next year with Wilson and Nixon having exhausted their eligibility. That leaves three players with at least two years starting experience in Harrison, Halapio and Green.
Silberman and Koehne will definitely push for playing time next year, but true freshman D.J. Humphries, who started three games this season in place of Nixon, already has the look of a player who could live up to his five-star billing out of high school. Humphries was successful this season despite playing at a relatively low weight of 275 pounds.
Another offseason in Dillman’s program coupled with another set of spring and fall practices to get even further acclimated with Florida’s schemes could spell out a potentially huge 2013 for the 6 foot-6 specimen. This is without mentioning the much-anticipated return of the oft-injured Patchan, who has done nothing to show that he can’t be a force in his own right in the limited time he’s been on the field. If he can stay healthy — and yes, that’s a big if — Patchan could be an All-SEC type at tackle.
While there could be notable gains and playing time pushes by little-used Trip Thurman and Tommy Jordan, perhaps the bulk of excitement for next season comes in the form of those who have yet to play a snap of SEC football.
The Gators will have three college-ready linemen eligible for play in 2013, two of which who have already made a mark in collegiate football, albeit at other programs.
Max Garcia started every game of his sophomore season at left tackle for the Maryland Terrapins in 2011. After transferring to Florida last summer, the redshirt junior-to-be made his presence felt on the Florida scout team while sitting out the season due to NCAA rules. Over the weekend, Garcia was awarded with the Most Valuable Offensive Scout Team Award. Though Garcia was a left tackle at Maryland, at 6 foot-4, the Georgia native could be a candidate for the vacated starting guard spot as well.
To be the first-ever player to start along the offensive line in a season opener at a program with as much tradition as Nebraska, a player probably needs to be pretty special. And incoming transfer and Clearwater (Fla.) native Tyler Moore may just be that. The 6 foot-6 290-pounder lined up at tackle for the Cornhuskers en route to an All-Big Ten freshmen season. The son of a former Nebraska tight end, it’s clear that Moore has the pedigree and measurables to succeed in the “line of scrimmage league” that is the SEC.
After spending the 2012 season away from the gridiron and strictly in the classroom at St. Petersburg College, Moore, who will enroll at UF in January, could be a little rusty heading into spring practice. However, if he can quickly pick up things in the weight room and on the field, like Garcia, he could push for a starting slot at guard or tackle next season.
The third seemingly college ready freshman comes in the form of Trenton Brown. The 6 foot-8 350-pound behemoth brings size not seen in The Swamp since the days of Mo Mitchell. If Brown can quickly get into shape under Dillman’s watch, he would ultimately give the Gators a problem every team would love to have — almost a dozen game-ready players for only five slots.
Brightening the Gators’ outlook is the fact that the team would still have three incoming recruits — Cameron Dillard, Octavious Jackson and Roderick Johnson — on the scout team, continuing their development.
While it’s still entirely too early to predict the fortunes of Florida’s offensive line for next season — and even more so to compare them to Alabama’s 2012 line — on paper, the Gators have the talent to forge something special in the trenches. Under Dillman’s careful watch in the weight room, and under the tutelage of Davis on the practice field, the unit made great gains in 2012.
With the huge infusion of talent in 2013, it wouldn’t at all be surprising for the big uglies up front to quite possibly become the sexiest unit on campus.
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2014 Football Commits
|Davidson (NC) Day|
|Cross City (Fla.) Dixie County|
|Jacksonville (Fla). Raines|
|Deland (Fla.) High|
|New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine|
|Miami (Fla.) Central|
|Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas|
|Northridge (Al.) Tuscaloosa|
|Immokalee (Fla.) High|
|Casper (Wy.) Natrona County|
2013 Basketball Commits
|Clermont (Fla.) Montverde Academy|
|Bonifay (Fla) Holmes County|
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