Spring Preview: The Offensive Line

The Florida Gators are looking to move forward on offense and most folks that do this for a living will say it always starts up front. Despite a huge changeover in the backfield, the offensive line is one place that has to play better. Four starters and a few key reserves return from a unit that didn't play well a year ago, but they have one thing now they didn't have then, more experience.

Outside of transfer Dan Wenger who did his one year on the line and is now gone, Florida entered last season with 23 total starts among the other four guys on the line. If experience is the key for a unit like the line, Florida should be in much better shape, entering the 2012 season and more than tripling that number with 75 career starts among the linemen on the roster.

These guys have now been places and done things, but need to do more.


Harrison returns at center.

For continuity's sake, experience at the center position is maybe the most important piece of the puzzle on a line. With that in mind, the Gators enter the 2012 season with the first returning starter at the position in four years and Maurkice Pouncey did the trick in 2008-2009.

Jonotthan Harrison (JR< 6-3, 295) had a good year and while he had a few bad snaps early in the season and in one game in the middle, his snapping improved a great deal over time.

Harrison is a physical player in the middle and now has started 14 games while playing in in all 26 games in his two seasons on the field. His intelligence makes him a natural for the position and he seems to work as hard as anyone.

Backing Harrison up is Sam Robey (SR, 6-3, 297). Robey doesn't get a lot of playing time but has seen action in 32 games over his three years of playing time. Another intelligent player, he is a valuable person at a position that can be hard to teach and play at the SEC level.

Tommy Jordan (R-FR, 6-4, 291) red-shirted a year ago while recovering from labrum surgery. Jordan should be ready to go this spring and will get his first shot at the center position. If he can come in and establish himself, it would set up nice to play behind Harrison for two years before taking over the position. He is said to be a very powerful blocker and fires off the ball very well.

GUARD The Gators want guards that will maul folks. These are big burly types that sometimes look more wide than tall, and have the punch of a jackhammer at the snap of the ball.

Halapio will be a 3 year starter.

The one guy along the line that has been in his spot for basically the last two years is guard Jon Halapio (JR, 6-3, 324) and he exemplifies the above description. Halapio has progressed over time and needs to hit his junior year in stride and lose the mental breakdowns that seemed to show up big on TV in his first year and early in last season.

Halapio has 20 starts to his name and has played in a total of 28 games in his two seasons on the field. He is certainly a leader off the field among the group.

The opposite guard spot is likely to be a battle and that battle will start this spring. The first one in line as far as experience goes has to be Nick Alajajian (JR, 6-4, 280) who only has one start to his name but has played some part in 25 games in his last two years.

Alajajian came to Florida out of high school as one of the more highly touted lineman earning a spot on the Army All-American squad after his senior year. His chance to shine should be this year and he should be given that chance starting this spring. His value may lie in his versatility as well and he could play at any position along the line.

Behind Alajajian this spring are a couple of freshmen. Trip Thurman (R-FR, 6-5, 310) fits the physical description of the position. He missed last season with shoulder surgery just like line mate Jordan. Again he will be afforded every opportunity to win a spot in the rotation this spring.

The other guard candidate out there this spring is true freshman Jessamen Dunker (FR, 6-5, 320). Dunker enrolled in school early out of Boynton Beach and brings his Under Armour All-American resume to the fold and is already physically built to play in the SEC. Dunker has only played football for about three years but excels as an athlete and could make some noise in his freshman year.

Maybe the guy that had the most promise coming into the spring but will miss it is Ian Silberman (SO, 6-5, 300). Silberman had surgery this week on his labrum and will miss the entire spring, but should be ready for fall practice in August.

Silberman started August practice last season as the starter at one guard spot but was replaced before the first game and really saw little action. The injury was something that bothered him throughout the year and the shame is he won't be able to compete this spring and try to win the one open guard spot. He came to Florida as a tackle and has that kind of athleticism, but he has been able to put on weight and really looks the part of a mauling guard now.


Florida wants tackles that can move, with long wing spans and super strength up top. They want guys that can reach on outside pass rushing defenders, yet have the ability to move their feet and get to the next level to block linebackers in some of their running schemes. It should be a three horse race for the two spots.

Green had an excellent freshman year.

If I had to pick a player that is most likely to start it is the one that played the best when he was on the field in 2011. Chaz Green (SO, 6-5, 310) played very well as a freshman and started at tackle in eight of the nine games he played in, missing four games due to injury.

Green is super athletic and has power when he punches his opponent. He plays the game at a high intellectual level and was certainly the most effective tackle on the field a year ago.

Xavier Nixon (SR, 6-6, 315) has the most experience along the line. He had a difficult junior season and often played hurt because of injuries along the line. That seemed to set him back at times and he looked slow and uncertain and allowed a lot of heat from the outside on an offense that could ill afford it.

It was such a contrast from his freshman year in 2009 when Nixon started the last half of the season and earned freshman All-American honors. The staff is waiting for that Nixon to return and getting and staying healthy is the first step. One positive note in that direction is that he is up an extra 20 pounds from his playing weight at the end of last year. It is supposed to be good weight.

The status of Matt Patchan (JR, 6-6, 295) is a little unknown. Patchan injured or tore a quad muscle in the practices leading up to the Gator Bowl victory over Ohio State. We will find out in the next week if he will be able to help out this spring.

Patchan would be a certain challenger at tackle and the fifth year junior, who was granted a red-shirt and an extra year of eligibility because of different injuries, needs to stay healthy in order to compete for the spot. He played as a defensive lineman in parts of his freshman year and he certainly plays a rough and tumble game when he is in there.

At times last year, Kyle Koehne (JR, 6-5, 302) was playing with the starting unit. He has been moved around a great deal and played all five positions along the line, but he is one of the more aggressive and physical players in the unit and with his reach and ability to move, he makes for a very active tackle.

Koehne could very well get a shot inside at guard, but that is to be seen. If getting the best five on the field is a priority with new offensive line coach Tim Davis then this spring is a time that Koehne can display his traits and make a move at guard or tackle.

Humphries comes in with credentials.
All eyes will be on freshman D.J. Humphries (FR, 6-6, 270) who was the most heralded prospect in the Gators top five 2012 recruiting class. Humphries is technically sound and if he can put on the weight needed to play at this level, he will challenge right away for a spot in the rotation.

He is extremely agile and athletic for a big man and he comes in with an attitude of working hard and getting his body right. With the low numbers, it seems almost impossible for Humphries not to see action in 2012.

The spring numbers along the offensive line aren't too bad. The problem is, they don't add any more to this group in June and so in August, it will be this same group at practice every day. The young guys should get a ton of reps between now and then and that is always a plus for them. In the end, this should be a much improved group.

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