The Florida Gators staff is in the process of rebuilding the depth along their offensive line; one of the ways to accomplish this is by cross training players at multiple positions.
“We’ve moved different people to a spot…we always train these guys, we always say position flexibility brings value,” offensive line coach Darnell Stapleton said. “So if we teach you more than one thing, if something happens down the line and somebody happens to go down, it’s next man up mentality so, you can’t live by that if you don’t practice that in the spring.”
Stapleton says it takes more than just the coaches selling the players this philosophy.
“It has to be something that they believe in as well, right, the better for the unit the better for the team,” Stapleton said. “But we’ve got selfless individuals. That’s what being an offensive lineman is, so if we had to move a tackle to guard, or a guard to tackle, or center out to guard, they’re willing to do that for the betterment of the team.”
Position flexibility is going to give Florida more depth and versatility in case any injuries are to take place.
“We’re practicing in a way that our young guys are developing so just in case something does happen, which [in] football it does, you’re ready,” Stapleton said. “It’s a next-man-up mentality and you’re not standing there, holding yourself, starting to say ‘Ah, what are we gonna do now?'”
We are already seeing the benefits of position flexibility through four weeks of Florida’s spring football.
Florida’s staff is experimenting with moving Alabama transfer tackle Damieon George to guard to fulfill Micah Mazzucca’s role, who recently suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery.
“Damieon played some guard today,” Stapleton said after Saturday’s practice. “Again, we want to keep trying to find the best five that can go out there and play. I’m sure coach Sale said it, we’re looking for the best five to play and those five will play.”
Another player that has been cross trained throughout spring football is freshman Knijeah Harris.
“He can position flex, right,” Stapleton said. “He played center at IMG and did a really good job there. He moved out to guard at IMG, did really well there. Again, it’ll help him in his career to be able to do both.”
Harris has seen first team reps at left guard following Mazzucca’s injury.
The other player splitting first-team reps at left guard is redshirt freshman Christian Williams.
“He’s grown as well,” Stapleton said. “You know, Christian has bounced around from guard to center. He’s getting better day in and day out. And again, we’re relying on these guys to come in here and compete. You know, everybody’s competing for a job.”
Redshirt sophomore Austin Barber has proved his versatility throughout his young career.
“He played quite a bit at left tackle when Gouraige got hurt a little bit there. Again, position flex, you can play right, you can play left, you bring value,” Stapleton said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Austin had to play guard at some point in his career, maybe not here at University of Florida, but at some point in his career.”
Barber is expected to be the Gators’ starting left tackle in 2023, but having position flexibility could help him at the next level.
Florida has a lot to work out along the offensive line before fall camp starts in August, but spring football is the time to build depth for the upcoming season. Ultimately, the Gators’ staff is going to do what they can to get the best five players on the line to start the 2023 season.