Kentucky defensive ends present a problem

The D.J. Humphries injury forces Florida to make some changes on the offensive line, and they won’t have time to settle into the new positions. Kentucky’s two defensive ends will challenge the Gators this weekend.

Chaz Green moves from right tackle to left tackle, pushing redshirt freshman Rod Johnson into the starting lineup at right tackle. It’s not a difficult move for Green. He worked at left tackle some during fall camp to prepare for the possibility of this happening.

However, he spent the last two weeks of game preparation working at right tackle. This week, he has been focused on the smaller techniques of flipping sides. The technique is mirrored from one side of the offensive line to the other, but it still takes some time to get used to.

“It’s just body positioning and being more used to changing up your technique and everything,” Green said.

It’ll be the first career start of Rod Johnson at right tackle. He took a redshirt last season, but reports from the practice squad were optimistic about him. Johnson had a chance to win a starting job in spring practice, but a head injury kept him off the field for most of it.

During fall camp, it finally came together. The 6-6, 310-pounder proved enough to the coaches that they moved Trenton Brown inside to guard, getting the best five men on the offensive line to start the game while Johnson served as the first tackle off the bench.

That won’t be the case this weekend, as he gets his first career start when the Gators open Southeastern Conference play against Kentucky. Green has mentored Johnson over the last year and believes he’s ready for the challenge.

“I’m telling him to embrace it and prepare as much as you can, so you leave no doubt,” Green said. “We go against such great defensive players in practice, so you can just use that as confidence going into the games, knowing that you get good practice every week, week in and week out. Embrace practice when you go out there, just to work on certain things.”

The offensive line was able to ease into the season against an overmatched opponent in Eastern Michigan. That won’t be the case when they take the field this Saturday. The defensive end position is the best spot on the Kentucky roster, led by Alvin Dupree and Za’Darius Smith.

They combined for 13 sacks, 16 tackles for a loss and nine quarterback hurries last season.

"It's a concern,” Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “That's the first thing you do when you turn on film is (ask), can they rush the passer? These guys can. We've got to hold up, plain and simple. We've got to find a way to win those battles as much as we possibly can to make some plays. I think that's obviously something that's going to be a challenge all night for our guys."

Florida won’t have Humphries on September 20 when it travels to Kentucky. The Gators could use a week to let the new lineup on the offensive line settle in before Alabama, but that won’t happen against Dupree and Smith. They switch sides to keep the offensive line honest.

“It’s good to get that experience early,” Green said. “They’re two great pass rushers. We’ve got our work cut out for us and we have to work our technique and watch film and study them to a ‘T.’

“(They’re) speed rushers. He plays kind of like a buck linebacker, kind of like how Dante (Fowler) does for us. That’s something that we’re definitely accounting for in terms of protection.”

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