Expectations high for offensive line

HOOVER, Ala. -- The Florida offensive line had some of its brightest moments in years last season and some down moments as well. A team that could run on anyone was also a team that had trouble throwing the ball and a lot of that had to do with pass protection. A year later, this offensive line looks to have solved some of its issues and the expectations are back up for a group that has regrouped.

A lot of the high expectations for this offensive line and maybe the offene in general is the fact that the offensive coordinator and most of the offensive staff has returned for the first time in four years, the entire time that all of the offensive personnel has been on the campus at Florida. Senior offensive guard Jon Halapio is excited about being able to just play ball without having to adjust to everything new on offense.

"We know what they expect from us," he said about retaining the offensive staff. "We understand the game plan and why they are doing what they do. We have more experience on the offensive line. Jeff Driskel is throwing really well right now. He is doing extra on and off the field He is watching extra film. He's being a great leader… it's just been good for us."

This offense will have to make big strides from a year ago when head coach Will Muschamp leaned on a seasoned defense and a very strong kicking game. Florida will still be good on defense, but how good remains to be seen and the kicking game is expected to be at least a notch less talented tha a year ago.

"We lost some key players, especially on defense," Halapio said. "I feel like we have the leadership to keep this thing rolling. We have me and Jonotthan Harrison on offensive line. We have Easley on defense and Antonio Morrison. We have all these great leaders that can be leaders right now. We want to keep the tradition going of being great players.

The offensive line is expected to take a step forward with the addition of two key transfers that should step into starting roles and a group of guys that have some real experience heading into the season. Halapio likes where they are at now, but knows it has been a work in progress since the first day of spring. This group has some numbers as well.

"It definitely wasn't like that the first day, but you know we added Max Garcia from Maryland and Tyler Moore from Nebraska and over the time having them, we have been practicing together and I feel like we are gelling pretty good," Halapio said. "I think we are three deep right now and the last time we were three deep was when we had the Pounceys. It's really good to feel like we have those players to take a load off."

The Gators start the season in hot August and September and two noon-time games. They play home against a 2012 bowl team in Toledo and then on the road, in Miami, against the Hurricanes. Halapio knows it would be good to have some depth ready to go so they can rotate and stay fresh in the two match ups.

"It really depends on how camp goes," he said. "If we have an eight man rotation going on it means we can be fresh and take a series off here and there as we rotate."

Halapio will be up for some post season awards this year and most of that comes from his ability to pummel defenders in the running game. He knows he and the offensive line need to work more on pass protection and the passing game in general.

"For me, it is easier to put my hands on a guy and finish him," he said. "I love run blocking, going one on one with a guy. I love playing the biggest, baddest defensive tackle and it's why I love playing in the SEC.

"The next step for me to perfect my craft as an offensive lineman is getting to that second level against quicker and faster guys like linebackers. Getting out on screens faster, going against quicker guy, like Easley, to help me get quicker on my feet, just reaction on blitzes and everything that has to do with quickness.

"If there is anything the offense needs to do better it is pass protection. We have been doing a good job of that(this spring).

"We gave up 30 something sacks and when you give up that many sacks it is definitely a let down. It starts up front with the offensive line,. Wee have been doing a good job of going and watching film with the quarterbacks, tight ends, and running backs, because it doesn't all fall on our shoulders."

The line returns two guys that will start for three years for the Gators and the transfers that have multiple starts under their belt and a few more that have also started for the Gators. It is an experienced group that adds some comfort heading into the offseason.

"Having people with experience on the line gives us that trust factor to protect him (Driskel)," Halapio said. "We've played a year together, and now we trust each other."

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