The Gators have seven scholarship offensive linemen available for the spring, making it hard for Florida to piece together a first team and a second team. Instead of using it as an excuse, the players have decided to use it as a rallying cry. They know the offense needs them to step up despite their limitations.
“The guys have really locked arms and realized that every man out there has to be part of what we’re doing and they’re fighting their way through it and doing a really good job,” Mike Summers said.
That doesn’t mean Summers can relax during practice. He joked on Friday that whenever there’s a pile on the field after a play, he has to turn his head and look the other way, hoping that all of his players can make it back to the huddle healthy.
The Gators have used Rod Johnson and David Sharpe at tackle this spring with Cam Dillard serving as the starting center. The guard position has rotated throughout the spring with no clear answers yet, but players like Travaris Dorsey, Andrew Mike and Antonio Riles are getting their chances.
“The thing about this group of guys is they care about each other and care about the team,” Summers said. “They fight their way through tough times, and that’s how you build the foundation of a football team. That’s really what we’re doing right now at all positions. It’s really exciting to watch because at some point in the season, this toughness foundation is going to be what carries us, and we’re learning all about that right now.”
Summers answered questions about many of his offensive linemen during his press conference on Friday.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE ROD JOHNSON
“He’s staying out at tackle and he got so many valuable reps out there,” Summers said when asked if Johnson could play guard in the fall. “Rod is versatile enough that if we had to make a move and put him in (at guard), I think he could adjust to that pretty good. That tackle spot is kind of dicey when you’re out there and all that space, and he’s learned to handle that pretty good under fire. I kind of like him out there. It’s a pretty good comfort zone to have him sitting out there protecting our quarterback.”
More on moving inside: “Well, with the numbers the way they are, we’re going to evaluate and look at every opportunity. But as we start into it, we’re going to start with him out at tackle. But you guys know, you guys were at Vandy last year and Chaz (Green) played at every position on the offensive line at some point in time. As the season rolls on, guys like Rod become very valuable because of their knowledge and experience. He could play a number of different places.”
OFFENSIVE TACKLE DAVID SHARPE
“You talk about comfort to look out there and see a guy with his kind of size,” Summers said. “At some point, a shadow kind of comes over the practice field and I think it’s getting ready to rain and it’s just him walking past me. He is really starting to develop a personality that is expressive. I think he spent most of last year just trying to figure out what to do, was very reserved in his ability to communicate at the line of scrimmage. So he’s learning how to communicate. He’s a very gifted athlete at tackle. We just have to refine his skills so that the things that he’s good at we continue to grow at, but the things that he needs help with, we need to continue to put him in the right position. But I’m excited about what he can be. He is everything that you would want to have in a young offensive lineman.”
OFFENSIVE GUARD/TACKLE ANDREW MIKE
“He’s a young guy that has a lot of football in front of him,” Summers said. “Certainly has got the size that we’re looking for. Right now, we just need him to grow and develop in his experience. The offensive line is a tough place if you don’t have a lot of experience. That’s what we’re dealing with right now, is just trying to get these guys a lot of scrimmage turns and expose them to as many different things as we can so we can learn and teach off of that. He’s in that process right now of, ‘What foot do I step with? Where do my eyes go? Where do my hands go?’ And, ‘Oh yeah, I’m supposed to see that linebacker right there.’ So there’s a lot of things that happen in three or four seconds that you have to process. So we’re on that path now of learning it. I’m excited about what his future could be.”
OFFENSIVE GUARD ANTONIO RILES
“It’s been like putting flower seeds in a pot and you put some water on it and you watch it grow,” Summers said of working with Riles. “At first, you just see some leaves kind of sticking up above the dirt. Now, I’m actually starting to see the bud of a flower coming. He’s really done a good job. It was awkward for him at first for him to come over and learn the basic fundamentals, really the mindset, of being an offensive lineman. We got that accomplished through most of last year, so he was able to start the spring kind of with a clean slate of knowing what to expect. When he first came over, everything that hit him was brand new. I see him do new and better things every day, and that’s a pretty cool thing to watch happen, too. He’s had things happen to him that he hasn’t had experience at, so as he gains that experience, he knows how to better handle that situation.”
OFFENSIVE GUARD TRAVARIS DORSEY
“I think a pleasant surprise,” Summers said. “He continues to gain knowledge of the offense and I think all those young guys right now. It’s really a struggle, from a coaching aspect, because you want to teach fundamental techniques. How to strike. How to come off the ball. How to get in the right pass protection position. How to exchange guys at the line of scrimmage. All of those fundamental things, but you also have to teach assignments. All of those things kind of come together at one time and sorting them out is where we are right now. Dorsey from the start was struggling with some of the offense and I think this second week into it, it’s starting to make sense for him and I’m starting to see more of his athletic ability and more of his strength. I’m encouraged with what he’s been able to do.”
CENTER CAM DILLARD
“Cam Dillard has stepped in there and really has taken charge of that position. That’s a leadership position. When I came in here last year, we had graduated a senior and we moved Max [Garcia] in there and he had never really snapped before. We spent all of spring chasing the ball all over the field and now that he’s gone Cam moves in there and he’s done a really good job of delivering the football and really taking charge of the offensive line in a leadership role. That center position is so critical to us because he controls the ID of the front, and he sets the blocking scheme of the front. That guy has to understand football, and he has to understand me and what I’m expecting from him. He’s done a good job of that. Nick Davis has worked in there. Antonio Riles has worked in there. At some point I’ll have everybody in there plus my graduate assistant. We’ll all be taking snaps.”