Offensive Line Impressing White

Offensive Line Impressing White

The lack of playmakers on the Florida offense this season was made more difficult by an underperforming the offensive line. The Gators struggled to find consistency in the trenches to produce any run or pass game. With all of the issues on the offensive line this season, Florida interim offensive coordinator Brian White has been encouraged with how they looked early in bowl practices.

"I've been really pleased with the offensive line, and that's where it all starts," Brian White said. "As a group and as a unit, it's all going to start and end with them. If we can control the line of scrimmage, we'll have a great chance of success in this game."

Florida tackle Chaz Green was healthy and played against Florida State, which gave the unit a boost after it struggled for most of the season. The Gators' offensive line improved during the span of time since the regular season ended because of film study, but White also thought the time off helped. With the day-to-day grind of the season over, it allowed the offensive linemen to step back, clear their minds and review the problems of the season.

There were plenty of them. Lack of depth was the biggest factor, as there weren't younger players lower on the depth chart to push the starers in practice. The lack of true experience also hurt, after Florida lost Mike Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert and Maurice Hurt from the 2010 team, and the entire trio is currently starting for their respective NFL team. The young offensive line was thrown into the fire of the SEC in 2011, and it didn't go as well as Florida hoped.

"Self evaluation is always good," White said. "The best time to self critique is when you have some time. Once you're on the roller coaster of the season, it's hard to self critique. You try to do that, but it's not enough hours in the day. The time has provided that benefit for us."

The unit will have to be on its game against an Ohio State defense that is anchored by its defensive front.

"They're very physical and well coached. They're extremely sound. It starts with their defensive front. John Simon is an outstanding player. Johnathan Hankins is excellent. Nothing has changed in that regard. They're a young football team, just like we are.

"(The defensive linemen are) hard to block and keep blocked. It sounds very simple, but really athletic guys that are big and physical, it's hard to control them over the length of a game."

Speed is what makes the SEC unique, especially in the trenches. However, White doesn't see any difference between the SEC defensive linemen Florida has faced all season and what he has seen on tape of Hankins and Simon.

"Ohio State always has a lot of speed and high athletes. Just look at NFL rosters. The quality of their players speaks for the university itself."

INJURY UPDATE: Deonte Thompson returned to practice on Wednesday. Florida head coach Will Muschamp said on Tuesday that Thompson wasn't practicing because he was sick and at the team hotel. He practiced with the team on Wednesday at Jacksonville University, and White was impressed with how the senior looked before his final game at Florida.

"He looked pretty good in practice today," White said. "He didn't have any issues with reps or stamina, so i was pretty pleased with how he practiced."

Jeff Demps missed practice on Wednesday for what Muschamp called a personal reason. White confirmed that Demps rejoined the team for practice Wednesday.

SECOND YEAR BUMP: The first year for a program under a new head coach is usually shaky. Players are doing their best to adjust to a new scheme and new voices at the top of the program, while coaches are trying to find the best ways to connect and make players respond on the field. The second year is what most coaches build for, and Florida is no different.

At the end of the 2005 season, Urban Meyer built momentum with a win over Florida State and continued that into an Outback Bowl win over Iowa. The 2011 Gators don't have the victory over the Seminoles to hang on, but the extra practices and time on the field can help get the ball rolling as Florida heads into the 2012 season.

"I would say that there's always a learning curve in your first year with any program," White said. "Once you flatten that learning curve, you see exponential jumps. That's what we're hoping for."

Some players have responded in bowl practices and shown positive signs that have the Florida coaches optimistic heading into next season.

"I've seen a lot of progress with our young players, Chaz Green being one," White said. "Andre Debose is another. Hunter Joyer (is getting) valuable reps, plus Mike Gillislee. There are a lot of players that have improved dramatically. Hopefully they can put the performance on the field and use it as a spring board into 2012."

Another young player making an impact is tight end A.C. Leonard. The freshman started slow as he was held out of the first few games with a torn meniscus. Since he returned, Leonard has caught on quickly and allowed the Gators to run a two-tight end set with Jordan Reed on the other end. Leonard has his best game of the season when he led the Gators with 65 receiving yards against Florida State.

"AC's role will increase," White said. "Hopefully in this game you'll see more of AC Leonard. He's an extremely talented young man. People have to realize there are only so many balls to go around. There's no flavor of the day. This isn't Baskin-Robins. Sometimes you just have to eat vanilla ice cream every once in a while and hand it to Demps and Rainey. Last time I checked, they weren't all bad either."

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