Offensive line depth a concern

The Gators head into their last week of spring practice looking for depth on the offensive line. The first team isn't as much of a concern because of experienced players, but the lack of quality depth is the focus for coach Will Muschamp. Florida doesn't have experienced backups that it could trust if they were called upon at this point in the season.

"We have too much separation between our first group and second group, and that's on both lines of scrimmage, the offense and defense," Will Muschamp said.

The good news for Florida is that it has months to prepare that depth. But with only four practices left before the Orange and Blue Debut, there aren't many chances remaining for those players to show the improvement the coaches need to see.

Max Garcia has filled the center spot on the first team this spring, but the move has come with some obvious challenges for him. He's learning to snap for the first time. The snaps haven't shown the improvement from the beginning of spring to now that the coaches would like to see.

"I'm extremely concerned about some snapping issues that continue to occur," Muschamp said. "I think the first couple of practices and some newness in there, I can kind of get that. After a while, we've got to move past that."

Cam Dillard is serving as the backup center but isn't ready to handle the position in the SEC. Trip Thurman also starting taking reps at center in recent practices.

There is a trio of tackles the Florida coaches like on the outside with Trenton Brown, Chaz Green and D.J. Humphries. The only one that looks to have a starting spot locked down is Humphries at left tackle. Muschamp said the Florida staff has talked about moving Brown to a guard position in order to get the best five offensive linemen on the field at the same time with Green sticking at right tackle.

However, behind those three tackles, there isn't anyone ready to handle the rigors of an SEC defensive line.

Tyler Moore appears to be a favorite for a starting spot at guard, but the other guard position is in flux. Moore continues to battle through elbow pain after breaking his elbow in a scooter accident last November. He was held out of weight lifting in the offseason and has still impressed the coaches in spring practice.

The Florida coaches weren't even sure if Moore would be able to participate in spring practice, but he hasn't missed a snap of it so far.

"He's playing through it because it's important," Muschamp said. "You've got to give the guy a lot of credit. He's got a brace inhibiting pretty tough in terms of getting his hands on people. He will not have to use that in the fall, but we've just got to build his strength back. You can see a different strength level with him as opposed to where he was in the fall."

Muschamp said earlier this week that they would like redshirt freshman Rod Johnson to step up and earn the other guard position. If it doesn't happen, Brown could slide inside and take the position. Thurman has been working with the first team this spring and could be another option.

The issues at guard are so bad that the coaches even moved defensive tackle Antonio Riles to offensive guard during practice on Friday morning. Muschamp stressed that the move is not permanent and that they wanted to see how the redshirt freshman looked. The results were positive. He needed help lining up and knowing where to go, but for a player lining up at offensive guard for the first time as a college player, Muschamp liked the way Riles looked.

"That's something we wanted to create some depth," Muschamp said. "I told Antonio that he's a good football player, he's a great kid and he doesn't need to be standing by me come fall. We need to get him on the field and get him in an opportunity. That's something we're going to experiment. This is what spring is for. I thought he did some really good things today just moving around.

"He's a big body that is a good athlete, and I think that the guard position would fit very well. Not that he was not doing well at defensive tackle, but we've got to continue to build depth on both lines of scrimmage and that's the way to do it. We just have too much separation right now between that first group and where we are from there."

INJURY REPORT: Punter Johnny Townsend had surgery on his wrist and will miss the remainder of spring. He is expected to be back in 8-10 weeks.

Fullback Gideon Ajagbe has a shoulder injury that will keep him out of the last week of spring. Muschamp said that if there were two weeks left in spring, he could probably return.

Safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) is back at practice but still limited. Guard Rod Johnson is expected to be cleared on Monday from what Muschamp has called a head injury.


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