Mike Summers has his work cut out for him. The grisly veteran offensive line coach at the University of Florida has to turn around one a unit that had one of the worst season long performances in a long time for the Gators. On a team that struggled to run or pass, there was a huge constant and that was the guys blocking and pass protecting up front.
To be fair, the offensive line was decimated with injuries last year. By the end of the year, the four top offensive tackles on the team were busy in the training room and not on the playing field. The highest rated lineman, guard Jon Halapio, was just drafted, but spent all season playing with healing labrum that kept hiom from playing anywhere his best.
It really was a mess up front, to go along with most very position on the team that was set back because of injury.
Still, there seemed to be talent on the unit and even with the injuries the group underperformed. A lot could be made of the apparent rift between the past offensive coordinator and offensive line coach and the effect that had on the unit… it certainly didn't help.
In a few months, things have changed a great deal.
Max Garcia has moved from left guard to center. The senior is likely the most talented player on the line from last year and until now, but struggled a bit this spring snapping the ball in the shotgun. As a blocker he is as good as the Gators have and is currently on the preseason Rimington watch list awarded to the nation's top center.
The snapping was a big issue all spring, but the staff seems content on making the move for Garcia and it is always a good thing to have a stalwart in the middle if you can and someone that the staff can trust to make line calls.
Senior Chaz Green returns at right tackle after missing last year with his own torn labrum. We saw plenty of Green this spring to say that he is in the best shape of his college career and the staff agrees that he will be a big improvement at the position in 2014.Green has really toned his body and is quite a bit leaner, but stronger than he has been in his career. This should play dividends on the edge.
The starting right guard should be huge senior Trenton Brown. Dropping his weight to about 345 pounds in the spring, Brown looked encouraging as both the third guy at tackle and a starter at right guard. He is a massive body that played pretty well to end the season, his first on campus after transferring from junior college.With Brown and Green on the right, that side should be improved over a healing Halapio and the turnstile that was the right tackle a year ago.
Junior D.J. Humphries returns at left tackle. He should start out the season healthy after being hurt in some way or form for the entire 2013 season and not playing the last four games of the year with his own injuries.
Humphries was an all-star candidate as a freshman and received Freshman All-American honors for his rookie season. His weight is up as it needs to be, but they have put it on him in a good way. He provides another upper classman with a lot of experience on the line.
Junior Tyler Moore will be playing the position he is meant for when he lines up at left guard this year. Moore is a solid guy inside, but struggled with speed rushers on the edge when he was asked to play tackle a year ago due to injuries.
Moore is also returning from injury after a scooter accident caused an elbow injury that made him miss the last few games of the season. He looks to be an improvement over the revolving door at the left guard position a year ago.
The staff feels pretty good with five veteran upperclassmen starting up front and junior Trip Thurman as the sixth guy. But, the same as last year, depth is a real concern, especially in terms of experienced depth.
One red-shirt freshman the staff wants to get on the field is Roderick Johnson. Another injury casualty early in the season a year ago, Johnson will push for a spot at the guard positions, but will inevitably end up at tackle where his long arms and quickness they believe will be a big asset up front. The bottom line is, he is a player that needs to play.
While Thurman could get some reps at center, red-shirt freshman Cameron Dillard isn't too far off from getting on the field if something goes wrong with Garcia.
Drew Sarvary will likely play this year as a junior college transfer. He will be a junior in 2014 and showed glimpses of playing well in the spring. Freshman Kavaris Harkless was a bit of a surprise as he has been able to add some quick weight and played well in the spring as a left tackle. He arrived early on campus from Jacksonville Trinity Christian Academy.
The staff thought they had an athlete in red-shirt freshman Antonio Riles who was doing okay as a defensive tackle over the last year, but they have determined in order to get him on the field, he will have to play on offense and so it wouldn't be surprising to see him play in 2014 after he learns a bit more.
While true freshman Nolan Kelleher will miss the entire season with back surgery this month, a trio of talented prospects will arrive in June to compete. Humphries is the only true freshman to play and start on the offensive line in quite a while, so expecting a lot out of David Sharpe, Andrew Mike, and Travaris Dorsey in year one is probably a little too much.
One thing that will help the young guys and even the older ones is a simplification of the offensive scheme. Much more zone blocking from the unit will happen after switching to more of a spread attack. This will just let these jumbo athletes play ball and not worry so much about what they are doing.
At the end of the day the line is a good seven strong, with little room for injuries, especially like a year ago. Getting that eighth and ninth guy in the rotation early is imperative, especially if the injuries do come.
If this group can hit September healthy it could very well be way ahead of the ball in terms of what we saw last season. They still need to mature in the second unit and the team has no choice but for this unit to be substantially better than last year or they are staring down another mediocre season or worse.