Offensive Line Needs to Surprise

If the Florida Gators want to have a successful season in 2011 one unit that will have to play above expectations is the offensive line. Florida lost four starters from a unit that frankly did not play well at all a year ago and that has to have most Gators worried. The recruiting along the line has been good, but health and depth are at a premium, of course there is now a lack of experience too.

Just looking at the numbers one would have to start worrying, especially when you know that there are three or four in the group that were questionable even to come back and play for this version of the Florida Gators.

The Florida staff wants 17-18 offensive linemen at any one time and the gators should have 14 on roster when the season starts. That is less than a three deep before preseason practice starts taking a toll with injuries. This of course is only the case if senior center and Notre Dame transfer Daniel Wenger is added officially to the roster. We have heard everything is a go, but there has been no official word for some reason.

For this particular line, the most experience and talent should come from the outside. Juniors Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan are two of the highest rated linemen Florida has recruited at the tackle position. Out of high school, Nixon was the top rated tackle in the country, while Patchan was the fourth rated tackle in the class before Nixon. Both have played and Nixon started at the mid-point of his freshman season where he earned freshman all-American honors.

Both have had injury problems and weight problems that seemingly have been cured. Patchan has been particularly frustrating because he keeps getting ordd injuries that limit his practice or playing time.

Redshirt freshman Chaz Green will probably get the starting nod on day one when the fall starts. Green was impressive this spring with the new staff and Patchan will likely have to beat him out to get the spot.

Backing that trio up at tackle will be sophomore Kyle Koehne who has impressed at times on the practice field but never been able to really make a move. He will be joined by freshman Tommy Jordan who will likely redshirt in his first season on campus.

At guard, a couple of sophomores lead the pack to start. Jon Halapio started all of 2010 and shows promise but really has to improve on his reliability in terms of knowing the playbook. Halapio joins Patchan as the most physical offensive linemen on campus. Ian Silberman earned his stripes this spring in front of the new staff. The sophomore played some as a tight end, but really an extension of the line of scrimmage last year. He is pretty green either way, especially after moving inside after being outside a year ago.

Senior James Wilson was one of the highest rated prospects coming out of high school that Florida has ever signed on the line. When he can play, he plays pretty well. However, two knee injuries that will never heal completely have and will continue to limit his playing time. He can be a devastating blocking guard, but he can't do it for very long. He should be the top backup at guard.

Behind them are a couple of players that haven't done anything of note yet and are entering their junior seasons. Nick Alajajian was a highly rated center prospect and may very well play there this fall, but with Wenger on board he can add depth to the guard position. David Young has two bad knees from high school injuries and is another that can never seem to get healthy. He had microscopic surgery in the offseason and is expected to be about as healthy as he has been since his arrival a few years ago.

Freshman Trip Thurman will likely redshirt. Thurman is a big wide body that can move people around inside, but his lack of experience and lack of time in the weight room at the collegiate level means he probably doesn't see the field in 2011.

The center position will be something big time to watch. The starter for the beginning of fall camp should be sophomore Jonotthan Harrison who had a great spring and won the job then. Harrison is big, physical, and intelligent which makes him ideal for the position and making the line calls necessary for the offense.

The wild card will be Daniel Wenger, who we mentioned transferred in from Notre Dame as a senior. Wenger has taken the entire line under his wing this offseason to run through the play calls. Nobody knows the offense like Wenger, as far as the line calls go and that could very well move him to the top of the pack. Adding Wenger to serious playing time really helps with the depth on the line.

Junior Sam Robey has gotten some positive vibes as far as the staff liking what he can bring to the table and most of that came at the very end of spring drills and during summer workouts.

What to Expect:

Expectations are pretty low for the common fan after last year and the lack of quality play from the line. Still, one has to wonder if it can be any worse? The talent is there or at least was recruited. Some of that talent has missed a great deal of time due to injury and some won't ever play the game at that high of a level, but Florida wouldn't trade their offensive line talent for most of the teams on their schedule.

Like the rest of the offense, I expect the line to get better as the season progresses. If Wenger can step right in and play, they may make a faster transition and the added depth will help all along the inside.

This team is going to go as far as the Gators can run the ball and play action pass. The offensive line has to be a big part of that.

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