For the Florida Gators, there are indeed some concerns on the offensive line coming into the 2011 season. It isn’t from a talent standpoint. Most of the guys that will inhabit the top eight spots on the depth chart were highly recruited and have a chance to really do some things. But, as a group the issue is experience and youth, something they hope to overcome in a big way.
The offensive line has to be the most cohesive unit on the football field for the offense to be effective. Five guys working as one on each play is what it will take to make things happen.
That cohesion, according to some of the guys, is going to be why this unit will succeed in 2011.
“I think we have a tight bond,” sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison said Friday. “We all came in about the same time. We hang out a lot outside of football. I just think our bond as a unit is going to help us. It will just help build our relationship for the entire line.”
Harrison finished the spring on the top of the depth chart at center and reiterated that the cohesion of the group will allow them to get through mistakes.
“Since the line has to work together in order to successfully execute plays, he said. “Us having a relationship with each other, knowing how each other acts and their drive, it will help push through the game no matter what situation we are faced with.”
Redshirt freshman Ian Silberman added to this mantra. The perceived issues of the group seem to be something that is inspiring the group.
“They say we don’t have enough experience, we are too young, or too small,” he said. “We are a good unit, a close unit. We are trying to get the best eight guys on the field and keep on building as a unit so we can move the ball as an offense and score points.”
There are also outlying factors in the eventual success of the line. Sophomore Jon Halapio is one of the more experienced of the group and believes the teaching that is going on from offensive line coach Frank Verducci is one of the main reasons his unit will succeed this fall.
“I think what separates us from everyone else is the coaching staff we have,” Halapio said. “I have full confidence in the next two weeks that Coach Verducci is going to coach us hard and teach us well. I think we are determined to make this offensive line the best.”
Halapio elaborated a bit on why Verducci, who spent last year with the St. Louis Rams, is a guy that will make a big difference.
“He’s just different,” he said as opposed to what they were used to. “He’s more professional in the way he conducts meetings. He is a perfectionist. He paints the detail in every single play from the first step to the last step. He’s not too worried about what is going in the play, but worried about our technique and detail as a player. “
Verducci was tactical in his teaching of the unit. During the spring, he wanted his guys to recognize the entire play and understand the moving parts that go into the play. Now, according to Halapio, it is all about fine tuning their individual roles inside the play, instead of the big picture.
“That is the way he taught us in the spring,” he said about the broader picture. “He is now just trying to work on our detail.
Junior tackle Xavier Nixon earned all-American honors as a freshman before missing a great deal of his sophomore year due to injury and recovery. Still, with what seems limited time in the rotation, Nixon is one of the most experienced of the entire group. He understands what it takes and believes this group can do a good job.
“We have the ability,” Nixon said. “We are here and working every day. There is a great work ethic from the guys. We just have to handle our business like we know we can.”
A strong group is going to have defined leaders and you would like it to come from the center on the offensive line. With Harrison being a sophomore with very limited experience, they are going to have to look elsewhere. According to Harrison, there are two guys they will be able to lean on.
“Definitely Jon Halapio, he happens to be my roommate which is great, him and Xavier Nixon,” Harrison said. “They have some experience. Jon is a hard worker and knows what he is doing and gives it his all. Xavier is the same thing and he knows football. He wants to help us out as best he can.”
A leader is usually someone that has been through the fire. It may be someone that has faced adversity and a bunch of it. Nixon has certainly been there with the time he has spent on the field and away from it.
He was injured in the preseason in 2010 and missed several weeks recovering. In the meantime, he also lost a lot of weight due to illness and the fact that he couldn’t exercise his body properly to maintain the muscle mass he needed.
He got down to 240 pounds since the injury and has steadily progressed to get his body weight up to a very healthy and muscular 296 pounds.
“I was sick during the time in the spring when I lost it all,” Nixon said before stating that he knows it isn’t healthy or wise for his body to go through that kind of transition. “It slowly came back when I started working out. It can’t happen again. I feel great now, I feel healthy and good.”
As a guy that has been through these trials and tribulations, including hard fought field battles with some of the nation’s best defensive fronts, Nixon knows that he can share with his fellow lineman the idea to lean on each other and don’t internalize when something goes wrong.
“My biggest obstacle was myself and keeping confidence in myself” he said. “When things don’t go well, you can’t get yourself down because then you are a step behind everybody. You have to keep your head up and keep running.”
We see it all over with this offensive line. The personal work it takes to get to the point where they can not only be a contributor, but a likely difference maker as an individual. In turn, the individuals that make a difference make a stronger unit.
For Silberman, he came to Florida a bit undersized himself, but with the help of strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti and his staff, He is now one of the remarkable makeovers on the entire team. A makeover that should benefit him greatly with his move inside from tackle to guard.
“Last year I came in about 250 and today I weighed in at 302 pounds,” Silberman said. “It was just a lot of hard work. The main goal was just to get to 300. That goal hasn’t changed even though I moved to guard.”
It isn’t just about gaining weight, but also about doing it the right way and maintaining the athleticism.
“The coaches like me at 300 and I feel comfortable at 300. Coach Mickey and the strength coaches know exactly what they are doing and I feel when I am running that I am still 270 pounds.”
All the individual attention for them to get to the proper weight and to make their bodies into what they need to be is tedious and precise. That is much like their attack of a game plan and what is actually their main goal moving forward, which is basically to win each play they are on the field.
“We just make goals that we will always end up on the opponent’s side of the ball if we are run blocking,” Harrison said. “Pass protection, we want no pressure in the general vicinity of the quarterback. A goal every single play, and as long as we execute that whether run or pass, we won’t have problems.
It goes back to Halapio’s remarks about Verducci and him being a master of details. Five guys working as one will make each play work for the offense. Lots of work over the summer, time put in getting their bodies in shape, time spent in meeting rooms going over film. It all adds up, despite a lack of experience.
Halapio was asked to describe why this group will succeed in 2011 in just one word or phrase.
“Determined,” he said emphatically. “I see it for myself.”