After the performance Florida’s offensive line left on the field against Kentucky on Saturday, all five spots should have immediately been up for grabs.
That’s where the truly concerning thing comes in. They were not.
Every player who started on the offensive line last week and the week before that will start again this week, even after getting no push against Charleston Southern and letting Kentucky’s defensive line throw them around.
That is how far behind the second-team linemen are at this point.
“I’m not gonna shuffle if other guys aren’t pressing in practice,” said head coach Dan Mullen. “If I turn on that practice film, and if you’re not better than the guy that’s in there, how can I put you in the game? So, until I see somebody press where in practice, they’re deserving of more reps or deserving of sharing time or rotating guys through, then I can’t do that.”
The Gators talked about needing the twos to become interchangeable with the ones throughout fall camp, but that obviously has not happened yet.
For players to still be unable to make a push after the lack of both mental and physical toughness the Gators put on display Saturday is discouraging to say the least.
It is not only a problem for those who haven’t made the necessary jump, for the starters as well. If no one behind them is vying to steal their position, there is less of a motivation to go hard every single play.
“There’s ones, there’s twos, there’s threes,” said co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach John Hevesy. “Who’s making the push? If there’s not competitive nature in the room and there’s not competitive nature in any room, meeting room, and it’s stagnant then you sit there behind you and nobody is pushing you, ‘I don’t need to go any harder because nobody is behind me pushing me.’ That’s the pressure we put on the twos as much as the ones. Why aren’t you taking that job? The only way you’re going to prove that is out there on the practice field.”
As both coaches said, it all starts in practice.
The intensity in practice has been a main point of emphasis this week. Mullen questioned the team’s toughness after the game and said they had not learned to practice the way this coaching staff expects them to yet.
If the offensive line is not playing with physicality in practice, there is no reason to believe it will just magically change in the game.
“When you have the program rolling, to me, and we split up on scout teams, I have to be like, ‘Whoa! Hey, these are our own guys. Be careful. We can’t be hitting guys this hard. Just wrap ‘em up and keep ‘em up. Let’s not be just laying guys out,’” Mullen said, “And the offensive line with a nastiness. I mean, just trying to maul people. When I have to say “whoa” instead of “sic ‘em”, we’re going to be in much better shape.”
The guys seem to have taken that message to heart this week and put a strong two days together ahead of Colorado State.
“There’s a lot more sense of urgency in practice,” said offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor. “I feel like we’re practicing a lot harder and stepping up to the challenge, and it’s showing.”
While that is a step in the right direction, it does not take away from the fact that Florida is either severely lacking in talent, severely lacking in effort or severely lacking in all of the above along the offensive front.
That is a product of the state the previous coaching staff left the team in, but this staff has to find a way to make it work and develop the players it has at hand.