Importance of the offensive line

HOOVER, Ala. -- Among the injuries that happened last season, the offensive line was hit with the worst of them. The Gators were forced to move players around on the line and put players on the field that weren’t ready for action. It’s one of the most important positions on the team this fall.

The Gators have a lot of units that need to play well. Quarterback Jeff Driskel has to stay away from mistakes and come close to his potential. The receivers, which Will Muschamp called the best at Florida since he took over, need to become reliable targets for Driskel. The running backs are talented, but the order of carries isn’t clear at this point.

Those groups need to play better than last year, but the offensive line needs to take the biggest step forward.

The good news for the Florida coaches is that they feel comfortable with the group of starters.

“I feel very good about our offensive line,” Muschamp said. “You take our first five to seven guys, all guys that have played and played well for us.”

The tackle position is set with D.J. Humphries at left tackle and Chaz Green at right tackle. Humphries has struggled to keep his weight up during his first two years on campus, but Muschamp said on Monday that he is up to 295 pounds. He dealt with a sprained MCL and played in only five games last season.

Green missed the entire season with a torn labrum. He’s now healthy and will start the season at right tackle, giving the Gators two experienced tackles.

“Both of those guys are very athletic and have played extremely well for us at times,” Muschamp said. “Both guys had outstanding springs.”

The guard position looked unsettled halfway through camp, but a position change altered that. Trenton Brown was working at tackle with Green and Humphries, but after the two solidified their starting roles, the Florida coaches moved Brown to guard. What they found was a road-grader, a physical lineman ready to clear holes in the running game.

The other guard position will likely be Tyler Moore’s. He moved around to multiple spots throughout the 2013 season but seemed most comfortable at guard. Trip Thurman could back up either spot.

“You take a combination of Trenton Brown, Trip Thurman, Tyler Moore are all guys that played, certainly capable of playing championship football for us up front,” Muschamp said.

The interesting spot is at center. Florida moved Max Garcia to the position before spring, but he struggled snapping the ball. It lasted longer than the coaches would have liked, but they’re confident he has overcome it heading into fall camp.

Garcia split his time between guard and tackle last season. Florida didn’t have a need at center since Jonotthan Harrison stayed healthy. By the time spring ended, the Florida coaches believed they found their replacement in Garcia.

“He's more natural as an inside player as opposed to playing on the edge which we had to last year,” Muschamp said. “As spring progressed, he made some positive moves at the center position. He certainly is an outstanding leader for us.”

Behind the starting five, there are questions. Thurman is likely one of the first offensive linemen off the bench. Roderick Johnson will join him off the bench, but Johnson missed most of the spring with a head injury after he redshirted last fall.

“We don't have as much experience (with the backups), but I really like our talent level,” Muschamp said. “To see Rod Johnson, Antonio Riles and some of those guys moving around excites you about the athleticism and the future of our offensive line.”

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