Banged up offensive line limiting Gators in spring

By Adam Silverstein
March 26, 2013

In each of the last two offseasons, the Florida Gators battled through deficiencies on the offensive line during spring practice. In 2011 and 2012, low scholarship numbers limited what Florida was able to do on the practice fields. The Gators remain handcuffed in 2013 but for now for a different reason – a rash of injuries that has prevented head coach Will Muschamp from running practice the way he wants day in and day out.

“What really hurt us is on the offensive line. Right now we got six healthy guys,” Muschamp said Tuesday after announcing that redshirt sophomore Trip Thurman (shoulder) will likely be out an extended period of time.

“Our numbers are good as far as scholarships – we got 11 guys on scholarship right now for spring which is about normal of what you want with the incoming guys coming in to get your numbers to 15-17 in that range – but we’ve been hit.”

Thurman (assuming he is out for the rest of spring) joins redshirt junior Chaz Green (ankle) and redshirt junior Ian Silberman (shoulder) as players sidelined until at least the summer. Additionally, redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (knee) is extremely limited and redshirt freshman Jessamen Dunker remains suspended indefinitely at the very least until his legal cases are settled.

That leaves six scholarship offensive lineman for Muschamp, offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis to work with: sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries, redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia (also dealing with a back issue), redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore, redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison, redshirt senior Kyle Koehne and redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams, who is playing offensive line for the first time after shifting over from the defensive line.

In other words, not much at all.

“It’s just tough right now on those guys, “Muschamp explained. “Now it’s even harder to get scrimmage snaps because of the lack of numbers at those positions. We’re adjusting as we go.

“This coming Saturday – and even with the spring game – it may be more of a practice-like atmosphere, which will be good from the standpoint of seeing some of the individual work we are trying to do. It’s an opportunity to get better and that’s what we’ve kind of focused on through spring – technique and fundamentals of each position.”

Florida only took 30-40 snaps while scrimmaging on Saturday, not an ideal number for a coach who likes to practice in full 11-on-11 “because that’s football,” as he puts it.

The offensive linemen simply cannot take “60-straight snaps,” let alone 120-130 in a full scrimmage, so Muschamp and the coaching staff are devising ways to break up scrimmages with some other drills.

“[We will] incorporate within the scrimmage some 7-on-7s, some special teams periods where we just concentrate and we let those guys take a break. That’s how I’ve structured practice really is gone with certain spurts of scrimmage and then within that special teams, skeleton, one-on-one, different times of practice as opposed to just putting the ball down and scrimmaging,” he explained.

“Certainly at every position, do we need to continue to work on techniques and fundamentals of the position? Absolutely. Can you simulate some situations as far as skeleton is concerned, half line, half-line run, do some of the things where you’re not banging on that position constantly? You can.

“But at the end of the day, you got to play football and that’s 11-on-11 and putting the players in situations … letting them play the game and understand being a better situational team, which is one of the challenges we had coming off the season, being better in some of the situations.”

Despite the low numbers, Muschamp still feels “very strong with where we are on the offensive line” and is pleased with the way Garcia and Moore have been practicing in their first time being on the field with the Gators. In fact, he thinks both sides of the ball have practiced quite well over the first two weeks.

“We’ve still had a good, physical spring,” he said. “I’ve been pleased with the physicality.”

While the practices may still be intense physically, Florida as a team looking to replace at least two starters on the offensive line needs their big men to get as many reps as possible before the summer sessions. And with the way the injury bug has hit the Gators, it looks like that simply may not be possible at this point in time.

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