Florida Gators offensive line making strides down the stretch

It seems that, no matter what team they’re rooting for, every fan thinks they have the worst offensive line in the country. You could probably find Troy fans that don’t like their offensive line, a unit that has given up one sack in seven games. Every play starts up front with the offensive line but, for the most part, it’s a thankless job.

“They ask me about an award Tez got, so somebody said thank you,” Florida Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers joked.

Martez Ivey was named the Southeastern Conference offensive lineman of the week for his performance against Georgia last Saturday.

The SEC is a line of scrimmage league with some of the biggest, fastest, big men in the country playing on the offensive and defensive lines in the SEC. The league has 300-pound defensive linemen that move like linebackers in other conferences while being able to bench press your car. The Gators went into the 2015 season with one player that had started a game for the team previously. That led to a SEC worst 45 sacks allowed during the season.

“We basically started over last year with a whole new group,” Summers said. “This year we’ve added a couple guys to that but watching them develop, that’s the pride that you have as a coach, seeing that group of guys come together and kind of lock arms and become the protectors for the team.”

The Gators returned starters all across the line in 2016 but their production wasn’t consistent to start the season. The line, even after it’s best two-game performance against Missouri and Georgia, still catches flack for their perceived lack of performance.

“I think what happens is it’s human nature when you watch a football game to follow the ball and jump up and down when the ball crossing the goal line,” Summers said. “Most people couldn’t tell you how the guy crossed the goal line other than to watch the guy carry it or catch it across there. But they can all tell you when he doesn’t cross the goal line what happened. All right. The offensive line didn’t do what they were supposed to or we would have crossed the goal line.”

Whether our not they get the credit, the Gators offensive line is playing better this season. They’ve allowed just nine sacks through seven games — 12th best in the country, 2nd in the SEC — and they’re peaking at the right time.

“The room feels great,” center Cam Dillard said. “Everybody feels like we’re coming together and we’re doing what we’re capable of, and there’s so much more left out there for us to continue grow on.”

Florida faces a critical stretch this month. The Gators will travel to Arkansas this week before hosting South Carolina. Florida is on a three-game winning streak and if they push it to five over the next two weeks they’ll punch a ticket to Atlanta and the SEC Championship game. That’s the ultimate goal every season but coming in No. 11 in the first College Football Playoff Ranking leaves Florida with a chance to make a run at a National Championship. If The Gators win out they’re in. It’s that simple. That task will be tall with additional games at LSU, at Florida State and a likely date with Alabama in Atlanta, but it begins up front with the offensive line, a role they want to take on their shoulders.

“You want the responsibility of being the engine that drives the offense. Certainly I think that’s where you want to get,” Summers said. “Really good, dominant elite teams have an offensive line that’s able to do that. Not every game in this conference are you going to out and just knock people back. But I think controlling the line of scrimmage is certainly something that you have to be able to do if you’re going to win conference championships. We assume that responsibility.”

Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC