Image Credit: ESPNI
The least discussed yet most integral part of a successful offense are the big uglies up front, the offensive line. Knowing that – and with knowledge of how thin the Florida Gators were in that unit last season – makes the team’s accomplishment of winning the SEC East in 2015 even that more impressive.
Reflecting on Florida’s offensive line issues from a year ago, head coach Jim McElwain believes he saw a unit during 2016 spring practice that made ‘light years’ of improvement over the last 12 months.
“You should have seen it last spring. We had a pizza delivery guy and a bartender playing,” said McElwain last week at a Gator Gathering speaking engagement in South Florida. “We’ve come light years. And yet, it was problematic. You’re playing three true freshman, there’s a pretty good chance it is going to be problematic.”
One drastic improvement along the offensive line for the Gators this season? Numbers. Florida dealt with a a single-digit roster last spring. This March, the Gators had 12 scholarship linemen in camp, 11 healthy enough to take contact reps. There are two more joining in the summer.
What McElwain believes is most important for Florida’s development at the position, though, is the number of snaps those green big men got last season, not only in mop-up duty but in major roles against some of the toughest defensive lines and pass rushes in the nation.
Sophomores Martez Ivey and Fred Johnson were bright spots in particular, and though Ivey sat out the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, the two are expected to be major players for the Gators this season.
“Through that experience, these guys have grown. I think the leadership piece has been pretty darn good. [Ivey being out with injury], that helped us gain a little more depth at some spots,” McElwain said.
“Are we there yet? No. Are we still a work in progress? Yes. And yet, we’re so much better than what we were, plus, some of the [playmakers] around them [have improved].”
For Florida to truly show progress in year two under McElwain, its offense is going to need to be dynamic despite there being new starers at quarterback, running back, tight end and wide receiver. Regardless of those losses, as is often said, it all starts up front.