Offensive Line May Hold Key to 2011

This is the time of year when Gator football players launch into a rigorous strength and conditioning program to get themselves ready to compete for an SEC Title. It's also the time of year when people like me begin looking at the major issues that will help define the upcoming campaign.

To me, it's clear to me that the Florida Gators will rise or fall based on Frank Verducci's ability to put together a solid offensive line.

There's no position on the team – not even quarterback – that we know less about than the O-line. The unit lost four starters from last season and Florida rarely substituted up front in 2010. That lack of foresight and a less than stellar performance in the spring game leaves this unit a huge question mark heading into the summer.

Let's be honest, other than tackle Xavier Nixon we have not seen enough of any of these guys to be confident about what they will do this fall. Jon Halapio got the most playing time among other returning linemen, but that was clearly with mixed results. James Wilson has the most experience overall and has shown he can play at this level, but he has yet to show that he can stay healthy.

Speaking of health issues we don't know what veterans Matt Patchan and David Young will be capable of doing either. If Wilson, Patchan and Young are on the shelf Florida will have just 11 offensive linemen to choose from and that includes two true freshmen.

Jon Harrison, Nick Alajajian and Chaz Green would probably be the favorites to join Halapio and Nixon in the starting lineup with Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne and newly arrived 6th year senior Dan Wegner also in the mix. Wegner is intriguing because he played at Notre Dame and knows Gator Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis and his offense. Wenger was coached by Verducci at Notre Dame in 2009.

But Wenger was no lock to start at Notre Dame had the Irish medical staff cleared him, which it did not. His value to the Gators might well be more on the practice field, sidelines and meeting room than actually on the field. He can help the other linemen learn the system more quickly and let them know up front what makes Verducci tick.... and what ticks him off.

It's always risky to hard a guess on a starting line this far out, but other than being wrong there's really no risk. I'm not betting on any of the injured players so I see Green and Nixon at tackle, Alajajian and Halapio at guard and Harrison at center with Silberman the No. 1 back up.

It doesn't matter if I'm absolutely right or dead wrong about who will be the guys on the line for the first offensive play of 2011. What does matter is that they can create holes for Florida's backs and protect a quarterback whose confidence has to be at least a bit shaky after what happened last season and this spring. That's not the least bit clear, but Verducci's challenge certainly is.

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