McElwain: Johnson injury ‘heartbreaking’

The Gators lost an important member of the offensive line, but they also lose a leader at the position.

As a redshirt sophomore, the Florida coaches were counting on Roderick Johnson to be a leader this season. The Gators announced on Tuesday afternoon that Johnson’s football career is over after being diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis.

“Just heartbreaking news on Rod,” Jim McElwain said before speaking to the Titletown Gator Club on Tuesday night. “It was one of those deals that we wanted to make sure that we got as many opinions as possible to make sure. Just feel horrible for him, and yet at the same time, a blessing that it was kind of discovered through what we kind of thought was probably a stinger.”

Johnson spent the spring practicing at right tackle before suffering the injury during a scrimmage on April 3. He’s the emotional leader for an inexperienced group of offensive linemen, and that won’t change going forward. McElwain said Johnson would still be heavily involved in the program. His first major responsibility will be working with the incoming freshmen when they report to campus this summer, helping them adjust to the college level.

His insight was valuable to the less experienced linemen on the team in the spring, and that will be an important part for a position that will have even less experience with Johnson no longer on the field.

“He'll be a huge part of this program, this football team,” McElwain said. “We're kind of going through the different things we need to do right now, but I look forward to him being a great influence on these young guys that are coming in. As they get here this summer, I'll put him in charge and he'll work almost as a coach, as a student assistant moving forward. Look forward to him being with us as he continues to get his degree and move forward into that part of his life.”

The Gators will head into fall camp with 13 scholarship offensive linemen, but six of those players will be true freshmen. Despite the lack of depth, McElwain said they don’t expect any position changes at the position. They spoke as a staff about potentially moving some defensive linemen to the offensive side, but they decided that the depth on the defensive line is important for the up-tempo offenses Florida will face this fall.

“I just feel we’ve got some really good players, like on D-line for example. At the same time, the numbers there are based on the offenses you’ve got to play. Those guys rotate a lot, and they’ve got to be able to play. I’m not sure we think of it as lightening that as much as it is putting it on these guys that are here (on the offensive line) and the new guys coming in. Let’s go get in the fast pass lane and get on the ride early and go see what we can do.”

INJURY REPORT: McElwain was mostly encouraged by the team’s health coming out of spring practice, but two players did have surgery that shouldn’t limit them for the fall.

Left tackle David Sharpe had surgery on his eye that McElwain called “cosmetic stuff.” Offensive guard Antonio Riles had hernia surgery that was planned while he continued to practice during the spring.

"I think the big part is about the guys who already had their surgery and where their rehab goes,” McElwain said. “This will be huge summer to see where they’re at. But other than that, we kind of came out of spring pretty good."

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