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The staff downplayed the ability and the readiness of the backups on the offensive line last season. I think they were a little over-zealous in their concern as I think there is quite a bit of talent, albeit inexperienced, waiting in the wings.
The Gators look to be strong up the middle on offense with two experienced guards (one will likely move outside) and center returning. Youth will play a big role this year up front with only one senior scholarship offensive lineman (Steven Rissler) on the roster. For a successful offensive campaign in 2006, it will all start in the middle with Rissler.
Rissler (6-3, 310) has played a ton of football and is battle tested for the trenches in the SEC. Rissler backed up Mike Degory at center last year and got the bulk of his snaps as a starting guard. He plays mean and hard, which the coaches love. He's versatile enough that if there were injuries at guard, he could move over without missing a beat.
What I want to see this spring: Getting the ball to the quarterback and proving that he can make the line calls would be a great place to start. He needs to be the leader on the offense with his experience and wisdom. That will go a long way in making this a strong bunch.
Junior Drew Miller (6-5, 305) is probably the second most experienced player on the line. While he got only a few snaps in 2004, he settled in as a starter at guard in 2005 and even earned SEC lineman of the week against Georgia. Miller will over outside to tackle this spring due to the emergence of other players inside and the fact the coaches think he is one of the top five linemen on the roster, versatile enough to play either inside or outside.
What I want to see this spring: Miller is one I thought could move outside all along. He will definitely make the tackle spot that much stronger. After a short adjustment to a new position, I want to see Miller dominate at tackle and make himself a fixture there for two years.
Junior tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6, 309) has played some in his two years on campus. He actually played some as a true freshman. He's blessed with great feet but he needs to show a more aggressive attitude when he's on the field.
What I want to see this spring: I want to see that aggressive side. When the defensive end comes around the end, punch him until he doesn't want to come back any more.
Junior guard Carlton Medder (6-5, 315) has always packed a few more pounds than the coaching staffs have wanted. Not blessed with the quick feet, Medder has had to fight the physical part of the game, but now he looks to have really shaped himself into someone capable of competing at this level. He has very little game experience so he will need a great spring or else he could get passed up on the depth chart by some of the younger players.
What I want to see this spring: Although Medder has continually made progress in his three years he has never gotten on the field for meaningful playing time. He needs to show some improved athletic ability this spring and make some noise while he's got a chance to prove himself.
One of the players that Coach Urban Meyer continually talks about in a positive manner about is sophomore guard Jim Tartt (6-3, 310). Tartt would have started most of the games last season except for a chronic sore shoulder from two surgeries. He also had some high ankle sprains so he missed a lot of action and there were games when his effectiveness was limited. When he's good to go, the coaches rave about his nasty play in the trenches and say he is the prototype road grader guard they are looking for.
What I want to see this spring: Stay healthy big guy. If Tartt can stay healthy and get some reps in the offense, he should continue to be a dominant force in the middle of the line and what the coaches want.
It is definitely too early to call sophomore tackle Jason Watkins (6-6, 310) a disappointment. He spent two years behind seasoned veterans at tackle and is just now going to have his chance to really compete for a starting spot. He has extremely long arms that have filled out nicely and he moves well in short space. He has to learn to get off the line better and he has to prove he can be an effective pass blocker.
What I want to see this spring: Watkins is a bear if he gets his arms on the defensive end. Usually that battle is over. Quicker ends seem to give him fits and that is what he needs to work on, especially if he is pushing someone down the field while trying to zone block. I want to see Watkins get quicker and faster.
What a difference a year made for freshman tackle Simon Codrington (6-7, 310). He came into the program less than a year ago at 270 pounds. He put on 40 pounds since then and to look at him and Watkins standing side by side, you can hardly tell the difference. They are body clones except Codrington has an inch of height on Watkins. Codrington's arms are probably longer, but the last time we saw he wasn't as adept at swallowing up the pass rusher as Watkins was.
What I want to see this spring: Show some strength. That is a lot of weight to pile on although admittedly it looks like good weight. This will be the first chance we get to see Codrington in action since two-a-days last August so I just want to see how strong he actually is.
One of the starting guards early on may be freshman Ronnie Wilson (6-4, 310). Wilson has drawn a lot of praise for his work ethic. He came in too heavy as an early enrollee last January but since then he's lost 40 pounds. Word was he was almost pressed into duty last season with a couple of injuries, but the staff held off and that should pay dividends down the line.
What I want to see this spring: I hear he plays like Tartt on the inside so I want to see him be that smash-mouth player that is not going to take anything from the defensive guy in front of him. With Wilson, Tartt, and Rissler manning the inside, it should make for a much meaner trio than the starting unit of last year. I believe this is what the staff is pushing for in the middle of their offensive line.
It should be a big spring for freshman Eddie Haupt (6-4, 295). Back surgery kept him out of most of fall drills last year, but the word is he is healed nicely. Haupt will be counted on to provide depth at center and learn the position quick to take over next season. A member of Coach Meyer's leadership council, he is well thought of by the staff and that bodes well for a position that is supposed to be a leader of the offensive line unit.
What I want to see this spring: He probably needs a little more weight and strength but most importantly, he needs to get healthy and learn the system in that order. He should be a vital cog on offense for years to come if he can do those two things.
A true puppy, although more like a Great Dane, true freshman and early enrollee Carl Johnson (6-4, 345) is going to have to learn the ropes for a bit in the spring. Some very positive noise is coming out of the camp in the off-season drills but it will certainly take a little bit of adjustment time for Johnson to make his niche on the line. He is big and strong, versatile and quick enough for tackle or guard.
What I want to see this spring: With Miller's move outside I tend to think that this may push Johnson to the inside. The staff loves big body type guards that are strong and overpowering but I'm not sure that Johnson has matured into his body style just yet, so we will have to see. That said, I want to see how "The Pancake Man" handles the tough, experienced defensive linemen he's going to see lining up across from him this spring.
In a truly perfect world freshman Maurice Hurt (6-2, 315) would be looking to red-shirt for sure this first season. Again, with Drew Miller moving to tackle, the inside line spots become thinner and a chance for playing time and getting into the two deep is possible for Hurt. He has already done a superb job in the weight room, having lost 30 pounds since he got on campus in January.
What I want to see this spring: Depending how the numbers shake out at tackle and guard, I am not looking for a bunch early from Hurt. I would really hate to put expectations on a guy this young to come in and perform and then say he doesn't live up to them. The same should actually be said for Johnson although he had so many more accolades coming in.
That is a look at the offensive line for this spring. It is actually a pretty formidable unit even if four starters have graduated. I would bet there are many teams in the SEC that would trade personnel with this group in a heartbeat as far as ability goes.
One major thing to consider in how the offensive line grows this spring is the competition they will be facing every day. Florida's defensive line looks to be one of the deepest and best in the country in 2006 and matching up against the offensive line will only make them better.
Next we will take a look at that Florida defensive line.