Muschamp Watching Offensive Line Mature

Will Muschamp described first-year offensive line coach Tim Davis in one word on Friday—toughness. That's the characteristic the Florida head coach said last fall that the offensive line lacked throughout the season, so it doesn't come as a surprise that it's a quality their first-year position coach exudes. The Gators have spent the spring trying to get tougher at the line of scrimmage.

"He brings his hard hat to work every day and he loves being at the University of Florida," Will Muschamp said after Friday morning's practice. "He loves coaching college players. He's passionate and has energy. The players are a reflection of their coach."

The lack of a running game was a big issue for the Gators last season. Florida ranked eighth in the SEC at 144 rushing yards per game. Without Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey on the team this fall, the offensive line will need to be much improved to open holes for less proven backs.

Muschamp doesn't have much doubt the offensive line will do that. Besides the improved toughness that Tim Davis is preaching, they also look better physically. Part of that comes from new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman moving the group to Olympic weightlifting, but it's also a part of physically maturing.

"These guys are a year older and they're all back," Muschamp said. "At times we did some good things but it certainly wasn't what we wanted at times.

"There's a lot more communication and same page of what we're doing and how we're doing it. That has been huge. They've made some size as far as their strength is concerned because they're older."

The bond between the offensive linemen has also been focused on this offseason. They were close during last season, but the mistakes happened because of inexperience. Going into last year, the only offensive lineman that had consistent playing time before the 2011 season started were Xavier Nixon and Jon Halapio.

"The two closest-knit positions on the field have to be the secondary and the offensive line," Muschamp said. "They have to be together in their communication and what they do. Generally, when they give up something, it's big. The other band is normally playing when you give up a play on those two.

"I'm very optimistic about both lines of scrimmage. We addressed it in the offseason and heading into spring."

INJURY REPORT: Solomon Patton (groin), JaJuan Story (ankle) and Stephen Alli (groin) will all miss the scrimmage on Saturday. Muschamp does expect all three to return to practice next week.

Nick Alajajian moved to defensive tackle this spring, and Muschamp thinks it's a permanent move. He also said that Alajajian has a wrist injury that hasn't kept him out of practices, but it could require surgery after the season.

LEONARD RETURNS: A.C. Leonard was reinstated to practice on Monday after meeting with Muschamp. He is also participating in team meetings.

Besides that, he isn't doing much.

"He has done the things I've asked him to do from a standpoint of the measures I took with him to this point," Muschamp said. "I've allowed him to practice only. No decision on the fall has been made. No decision about playing has been made. He still has an awful lot to do to play for our football team and for the University of Florida.

"He's very remorseful about what happened. He made a mistake."

Muschamp also said Leonard's status for the spring football game on April 7 is up in the air.

JOHNSON IN THE BACKFIELD: Chris Johnson moved to running back in the offseason to build some depth. With only Mack Brown and Mike Gillislee returning with experience on the field, Omarius Hine and Johnson added to the depth at the position.

Johnson got reps at running back in high school, and the move seemed like a good fits.

"He's a tough, physical runner that runs the ball downhill," Muschamp said. "He'll stick his face in there in protection. We're very pleased with what he's been able to do in limited time.

"We felt like it's running back because of his high school film, going back and looking at that like Brian White did. We thought this guy deserved a chance and can be a solid player for us."

Muschamp expects the position move to stick into the fall. Part of that is because of the lack of depth while he also didn't have a natural fit on the defensive side of the ball.

"What I look at is—where do you help the team the most?" Muschamp said. "We were moving him around trying to find his spot. He's kind of a ‘tweener' between linebacker and safety."

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