Florida O-line could become team’s biggest strength

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The story of Florida’s 2012 offensive line was one of Jekyll and Hyde.

The Gators finished third in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 187.69 yards per game, and consistently ran it down opponents’ throats, while the offensive line yielded 39 total sacks, the most of any SEC team and tied for eighth worst in the country.

Although it was a Jekyll and Hyde tale, the O-line showed dramatic improvement from even 2011, and the progress gained in one year has to comfort Florida coaches and fans. The physically punishing running game was a welcomed surprise. That was brought about by Will Muschamp, strength coach Jeff Dillman and position coach Tim Davis.

And thankfully strides have been made to improve the up-and-down unit entering 2013.

Florida’s lack of a passing game usually falls on criticism of quarterback Jeff Driskel, but it was a perfect-storm-type combination between Driskel’s lack of development, receivers’ inability to create any separation and the offensive line’s pass blocking bafflement.

Gone are former top offensive line prospects Xavier Nixon, James Wilson and Matt Patchan, however the trio never lived up to the billed hype upon signing with Florida. Particularly Nixon and Wilson were five-star busts, while Patchan was made of glass and was injury-plagued throughout his career. He has since transferred to Boston College to play under Steve Addazio.

The core nucleus of what was good about Florida’s O-line returns. Center Jonotthan Harrison is the veteran anchor of the unit, and right guard Jon Halapio has flashed some strong ability in three years. Rising sophomore and former top tackle prospect DJ Humphries received a wealth of experience appearing in all 12 games, sometimes used as a blocking tight end with his 6-6, 275-pound superior athletic frame. Tackle Chaz Green has shown excellent ability and agility at times, too, but his starting job could be in jeopardy.

The biggest upgrades have come in the form of three transfers.

Max Garcia comes to Florida from Maryland. Garcia is a former three-star tackle from Norcross, Georgia, who started all 12 games as a sophomore for Maryland at left tackle. The Terps only yielded 17 total sacks in 2011 with Garcia as the anchor. He spent 2012 on Florida’s scout team and stood out among all linemen this spring. He’ll be a big upgrade at left guard.

Another massive transfer was Tyler Moore. Moore is a former four-star, top-100 prospect who signed with Nebraska. He started four games as a true freshman at tackle in 2011, which is more than any other true freshman lineman in Nebraska’s storied history. He’ll continue to battle with returner Chaz Green for the starting nod at right tackle, and he made up massive ground this spring.

Lastly, Florida signed a mountain of a man in Trenton Brown. Brown is a JUCO transfer listed at 6-8, 363 pounds, and he’s a pure road grader. Brown was named a second-team NJCAA Football All-American in 2012 and anchored a rushing attack that averaged 188 yards per game on the ground.

Unlike last season, once Florida irons out its starting five, the O-line has a chance to be the team’s strength in 2013.

The running game shouldn’t have any drop off losing Mike Gillislee. Matt Jones, Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown look more than capable of replacing Gillislee, who toted the rock more than any other back in the SEC.

The pass blocking will improve by combination of a year’s experience for Driskel, who shouldn’t make the same rookie mistakes in 2013, and more talented and superior athletes along the offensive line.

Florida’s O-line is more athletic and deeper than last season. The Gators should show marked improvement in 2013.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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