O-Line Bond is Growing Strong

There are many things the Gators need to do to ensure a good season, but building depth and quality play on the offensive line are high on the list. The line lost lots of experience from 2010, but according to recruiting rankings and on paper, the talent should be there. Talent is a relative thing though and the depth is an issue. Tight bonds are growing in the unit and that seems to be helping.

Any large unit on a football team is going to have to have their leaders and one of the clear leaders among the offensive line at Florida is sophomore guard Jon Halapio.

With a full year of playing experience behind him, Halapio is about the most experienced lineman on the roster and has been putting that experience to use as a leader of the young guys.

"I feel real comfortable," Halapio said last week when asked about becoming a leader for the unit. "There are a lot of young guys on the team and players that are younger than me. It makes it easier because I am older than them, they respect me, and I feel real comfortable."

Year ago there was a ton of experience up front but that didn't translate into successful line play. Halapio believes the communication with everyone up front just wasn't there.

"We are communicating on the line a lot better," he said f the 2011 unit. "Last year the veterans knew what was coming, but when I was out there they didn't really communicate with me. Everything is working better now. We are doing better, but there is still things we need to clean up."

One thing helping this unit is a closer bond between most of the group. Three of them are currently roommates with Halapio, center Jonotthan Harrison, and Kyle Koehne who has moved back and for the between center and guard lately but has made himself into one of the more prominent pieces to a line that will require continuity.

"It helps a lot because we are all roommates and live together me, Harrison, and Kyle," Halapio said. "When we go back home, we sit on the couch and watch film and stuff. The chemistry is a lot better and we communicate on the field as well."

Koehne says a lot of the cohesion of the group was formed in the summer and with the help of strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti.

"We did a lot of team bonding this year, especially as an offensive line we have gotten real close as a unit," Koehne said. "That has helped a lot. Coach Mick is a great strength coach and we just worked our butts off every day (over the summer).

Halapio has been a mentor and says that watching game film and of his specific opponents was something he regretted not paying more attention to as a freshman.

"I always tell them to get into the film and watching the film," he said. "I just came in knowing I was going to start because of the depth issues we were going through so I didn't take the film work as serious as I should have. I wasn't lost, I just didn't prepare as well as I should have. "

As a group, Halapio likes where this one is going.

"We are feeling real good on pass protection," he said. "It has gotten a lot easier in the way the coaches are helping explain and teach us. We feel real comfortable. We aren't totally there yet… we have a lot to clean up."

They really don't want to see a repeat of last season and the lackluster line play.

"We all talk about it all the time," Halapio said. We don't want to repeat what we did last year.

Koehne is one of the most encouraging bits of news to come out of fall camp. The fact that he has made huge strides and is now considered one of the top five linemen can only be a positive for the position battles going on.

"Kyle Koehne has had a real good camp the last two weeks," Halapio said. "He is a real technician and so he's had a real good camp. After our first scrimmage in camp I think he graded out the highest among the offensive line."

Koehne has persevered through lack of playing time and sometimes wondering just what his plight was on the team. Once he started getting noticed and was inserted into the starting rotation in camp last week, a bit of frustration was lifted from him and his family.

"It was a great feeling," Koehne said when he first heard he would be in the starting lineup. "It was the first time I heard it and it made my family proud."

As Halapio mentioned, Koehne's consistency as a reserve got him noticed,. Then when some minor injuries occurred, he stepped up and performed against the better players on defense as well.

"It was in the middle of camp and the numbers were low, so they just put me where I was needed and they liked how I was performing," Koehne said. "I had to go 1's and 2's to fill in for spots and stuff. I was getting some compliments on film from coach Verducci."

"When we grade our film we look at multiple things…technique, result, finish. As time went on I think coach started noticing my grades were getting better and better in overall aspects."

It isn't necessarily easy making the move inside from outside.

"It is a big adjustment , especially going against the types of personnel you face every day like Jaye Howard and Dominique Easley," he said. "There is a lot of footwork change as well."

Being listed as one of the starters doesn't mean that Koehne is going to stop performing there. He understands he still has room to improve.

"I consider myself more physical than last year, but I still have a lot more room for improvement," Koehne said.

Both linemen feel that the coaching change has been good for them and the line. They have nothing to say but great things about Steve Addazio and the job he did, but with what this team is doing now, offensive line coach Frank Verducci and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis have made really brought some stability in a time where things really could be shaky.

"He is a genius," Halapio said of Weis. "He thinks of different ways to execute plays with all 11 people, the easiest way to execute a play."

And the two coaches are on the same wavelength all the time as well.

"They are like twins, (Weis) says one thing and we hear it again with Coach Verducci in the meeting room," Halapio said. "When we meet as an offensive unit, before individual meetings, they both say the same things."

Koehne goes as far as to say that the two line coaches taught the game a lot differently. Addazio was all about aggression and being physical whereas Verducci is a technician and teaching the group the finer things of offensive line play.

"I love Coach Verducci he has been a great coach and has taught me a lot," Koehne said. "He has added more to my toolbox than I could ever ask for. He is just a different type of coach, both coaches are great offensive line coaches, they just have different things to offer. (Verducci) teaches different hand work, footwork, hand placement and that kind of stuff.

Patchan Has a Reputation

Just because they are becoming more technical does not mean that the line isn't also expected to be physical. Halapio says that starting right tackle Matt Patchan plays the game with a little bit of a mean streak.

"When he runs off the ball he is just trying to poke somebody's eyes out," Halapio said of Patchan while smiling. "He brings that nasty intensity to the offensive line."

Defensive Line Making The OL Better

With his experience from last year, Halapio is a good one to ask just how good the defensive line is playing this year compared to last. Halapio thinks that the 2011 version of the defensive front is certainly making the offensive line work hard and there is one guy that really stands out.

"I think they have all gotten better in the pass rush, especially Dominique Easley," Halapio said. "He is a real good pass rusher and a real good run stopper. They have all gotten better, but I think Easley has gotten a lot better.

"He's just relentless, since he has been here I have never seen him tired on or off the field. He plays relentless and runs to the ball, he has a great motor. He's really explosive off the ball, I don't know if he knows the snap count, but I can't even get out of my stance. By the time I get out of my stance he is already on my pads."

Evidently Easley has a way of taking the edge off of the boys when the group is ready to cool it off after practice or intense meetings.

"He has some weird dance moves, I don't know where he gets those from," Halapio said of Easley. "His dance moves bring a little energy to the locker room. If we are having a dull day he picks it up when he starts dancing."


Fightin Gators Top Stories