Offensive Line Has Big Opportunity

The Florida coaches and players have praised the line as the strength of the offense since spring practice. The unit looks improved through the first four games of the season, but its chance to impress comes against the LSU defensive front this weekend. The Florida offensive line will face two likely first round picks at defensive end and plenty of depth at defensive tackle.

"They've proved it every game so far," Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "I believe they'll continue to do so. They're the strength of our offense. That's what we've been saying since spring and they haven't let us down yet. We're going to have to keep riding them and running behind the big guys."

This weekend's challenge will be unlike one the Gators have faced this season. After leading the nation in sacks during 2011, Texas A&M recorded eight of them against Florida in the second week of the season, but the Florida coaches blamed Driskel for holding the ball too long on six of them.

The pressure this weekend will be off the edge. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are both expected to be first round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. They've only combined for three sacks in five games this season, but that barely tells the story. Mingo alone has seven quarterback hurries, while Montgomery has added 6.5 tackles for a loss.

The interior linemen aren't much easier to block.

Anthony Johnson and Josh Downs have split starting duties next to Bennie Logan, but whoever is in the middle, it's hard to get movement and run the football. Johnson has been disruptive all year. The defensive tackle is fifth on the team with 19 tackles and second on the team with 5.5 tackles for a loss.

"If you go block this front, you've done something," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. "They're very good. They've recruited well. They've got depth. They're big, fast and physical. And there is no question that being able to put a hat on this group and get some movement and be able to run the ball consistently is going to be key in the game.

"You can't get in one-dimensional game with these guys because they're going to be able to rush the passer, and they're going to get you off the spot pretty quick, as far as the quarterback is concerned. Staying balanced in what you do is very critical."?

The necessary push at the line of scrimmage wasn't present for the Florida offensive line last year. The Gators ran for 113 yards against LSU last season and were forced to abandon the run early in the game as the Tigers took a convincing lead in the first half. It didn't bode well for Jacoby Brissett, who was seeing his first career action at Tiger Stadium, as the Gators were forced to throw more than they wanted.

The hope for this year's matchup is that the Florida offense will be able to run the ball more effectively and get on the board early in the game. The success of the offensive line will play a big part in it.

"The O-line, with every spot, they all have to be on the same page," Florida wide receiver Frankie Hammond said. "Through the first four games, they have done a heck of a job. They've just got to keep working, keep progressing and keep taking it day by day. If they do their job, we should be fine."

INJURY REPORT: Wide receiver/tight end Trey Burton (back), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee) and tight end Jordan Reed (head) are all expected to practice Monday. Defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd (shoulder) is fine for the game and practiced last week.

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb) will be non-contact in practice on Monday and Tuesday with a cast. He'll participate in contact at practice on Wednesday to see how comfortable he is in the cast during game action.

"His experience, maturity, playmaking ability, being able to make some defensive calls and calm some guys down in situations in a game like this— there is no question it will be an added boost," Muschamp said about Jenkins.

FRESHMAN A FACTOR: D.J. Humphries got increased reps at left tackle against Kentucky, and he could be in line for more playing time this weekend against the Tigers. Trusting a freshman to protect the quarterback's backside against an elite defensive line isn't ideal, but Muschamp has been consistent since taking the job at Florida that he best players will play.

"It's possible. Whoever practices the best will play," Muschamp said. "We expect him to do a championship job."

It'll be Humphries or Xavier Nixon at left tackle, and the experience factor couldn't be more different. Humphries has only been on campus since January and played in four games, while Nixon is a senior that started games as a freshman.

If Humphries gets the nod, he has the trust of the quarterback.

"He's a guy that's worked hard ever since he's gotten here," Driskel said. "He came in in the spring, a little undersized but he's really fast and he's great in his technique. We have all the confidence in the world in him. If need be and he plays, he'll be fine.

"He's quick as well. He has great technique, and he's a smart player."


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