What’s left: Offensive line

The biggest challenge for Jim McElwain and his staff is rebuilding the numbers and talent on the offensive line.

The offensive line won’t look close to the same next season. Florida graduates guard Trenton Brown, center Max Garcia and right tackle Chaz Green. Brown played in every game but one and started six of them, while Garcia and Green both started every game in 2014.

Florida also found out that offensive linemen Drew Sarvary (concussion) and Nolan Kelleher (back) will give up football for medical reasons.

The coaching staff will also sweat out NFL Draft decisions. Guard Tyler Moore, who started seven games this year, recently said that he would enter the draft but still has time to reconsider if he would like to return. Left tackle D.J. Humphries started every game except two he missed with injury, and he has a decision to make about leaving early. His return would be an important boost for an offensive line searching for bodies.

If Humphries does leave, the Gators could still have two talented tackles. Rod Johnson played in every game this year, including starts against Kentucky and at Alabama, and had a good year as a redshirt freshman. He’ll be the emotional leader of the group next season, as Johnson doesn’t lack for energy on the field during games or practice.

The coaches have been high on Johnson for a long time, and he was able to show why in 2014. If Humphries does return, Johnson could play right tackle or even move inside to play some guard.

The other offensive tackle, if Humphries leaves, is expected to be David Sharpe. He played in five games this season and showed surprising athleticism in his 6-6, 330-pound frame. Coaches raved about his conditioning in the fall, and he continued to improve with more playing time throughout the year. With a full offseason in the weight room before his sophomore campaign, Sharpe could handle either tackle spot for the Gators next year.

If Humphries leaves, there won’t be much proven depth behind Johnson and Sharpe at tackle. However, if Moore holds strong with his decision to leave, the Gators are in serious trouble on the interior of the offensive line.

Trip Thurman started nine of the team’s 11 games this season and played in them all. His return will be important for Florida, and he could even be a candidate to slide into the center position.

However, the coaches could want to put a younger player at center to build some continuity at the position. If Thurman does play center, the Gators would head into the 2016 season with their fourth different center in four years. Wherever he plays in 2015, Thurman’s return means an experienced starter comes back for Florida.

Behind Thurman, there aren’t many proven answers in the middle of the offensive line. It’s a lot of question marks and players that haven’t proven themselves yet.

Cameron Dillard (6-4, 297) and Antonio Riles (6-4, 295) are the only interior linemen on scholarship that have been in Gainesville for more than one year. Dillard struggled in open practices last year and Riles just completed his first regular season after moving from the defensive line. Both players saw action in only four games in 2014.

Three freshmen redshirted during the 2014 season Travaris Dorsey, Kavaris Harkless and Andrew Mike. Dorsey is listed at 333 pounds and needed to drop weight, but he projects to be an interior lineman. Harkless (6-5, 282 pounds) and Mike (6-6, 276 pounds) both worked at tackle in the fall.

This is a position that has plenty of playing time available for incoming linemen, whether junior college or true freshmen.

Fightin Gators Top Stories