Gators’ camp preview: Offensive line

All eyes will be on the offensive line during fall camp.

The Gators have questions to answer at multiple positions on the line. The Florida coaching staff will be forced to trust true freshmen on the line of scrimmage, and offensive line coach Mike Summers will face a challenge this fall to make sure multiple inexperienced players are ready.

The only returning player that has ever started a game at Florida is senior Trip Thurman, who sat out in the spring with a shoulder injury. He’s expected to be ready to go when fall camp opens on August 6. Thurman played mostly at guard last season and could figure into the decision at center if Florida needs him to. His versatility on the interior of the offensive line will help Summers piece the unit together, but Thurman is locked into playing either guard spot or possibly center.

The most logical choice to be one of the starters at the tackle position is David Sharpe. After playing in six games last season, Sharpe became a backup at both tackle spots and saw most of his time at left tackle. That’s the position that makes the most sense for Sharpe this fall. Even with his 6-6, 355-pound frame, he has surprising quickness for his size.

The questions come at the other tackle position. Roderick Johnson lined up with the first team opposite of Sharpe in the spring, but Johnson was forced to stop playing football because of a spinal condition. He will stay on as a student assistant and should be a valuable asset for an inexperienced line.

Going into the start of fall camp, the two names that make the most sense on paper at offensive tackle are Mason Halter and Martez Ivey. Halter is a post-grad transfer that played at Fordham the last three years. At 6-6, 295 pounds, Halter started every game at left tackle for Fordham last season and was named an FCS All-American by three media outlets. His 33 starts over the last three seasons make him an intriguing option for the Florida staff.

However, there’s no player more intriguing than Ivey. The five-star recruit is listed at 6-5, 302 pounds on the Florida roster. He earned his ranking because of a projectable body and advanced fundamentals on the offensive line at Apopka High School, and after Johnson’s injury, Ivey could be forced to play a big number of snaps as a true freshman.

The other tackle options have even more questions around them. Andrew Mike is over 300 pounds and could play either guard or tackle. He took a redshirt last season and has bulked up to handle the load of either spot. Kavaris Harkless redshirted last season and is 6-5, 300 pounds to start fall camp. The Trinity Christian Academy product could provide depth at the tackle position. The other options are freshmen, and there’s no clear answer where the staff will use them. Nick Buchanan (6-2, 285) and Fred Johnson (6-6, 305) make the most sense to be future offensive tackles of the freshmen class.

The interior of the offensive line has more questions. As long as he’s healthy, Thurman is basically a lock to start at either guard spot or potentially center. The questions come with the spots around him. Of the returning players, guard Antonio Riles and center Cam Dillard should see time on the field this year. Riles, a former defensive lineman, is 6-4, 322 pounds and has the size to handle playing on the line of scrimmage in the Southeastern Conference. If the coaches want to start the year with more experienced players up front, Riles makes sense at one of the guard spots.

Dillard is where things get interesting. He hasn’t impressed in open practice sessions since coming to Florida, but if he’s going to play, this year would make the most sense after last year’s center Max Garcia graduated. There’s no other clear answer at center unless the Gators want to move Thurman there, but that just creates another hole at the position next season.

The remaining options at guard and center are freshmen.

Tyler Jordan has been viewed as the future center, but maybe the coaches elect to throw him into the fire as a true freshman and prepare for years to come? At 6-4, 292 pounds, Jordan has the size for the position but the strength is what might be in question to start the year. Fellow freshman T.J. McCoy, who went through the spring at N.C. State before transferring, also has the frame of a potential center at 6-1, 302 pounds.

Freshmen Brandon Sandifer and Richerd Desir-Jones are important pieces of the future at offensive guard. Sandifer’s 6-3, 357-pound frame makes him a monster that could use a year to reshape his body, and Desir-Jones has a high school wrestling background that could help him in the trenches.

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