Neither of them come as a surprise.
Thurman mentioned former five-star recruit Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan as the two early standouts among the group that has seven scholarship freshmen. Ivey has been a well-known recruit for years and was always seen as a potential instant impact recruit. Even though teams generally try to stay away from playing true freshman on the offensive line, the Gators won’t have much of a choice because of the numbers and Ivey will be thrown onto the field.
Jordan enrolled for Summer A to get some extra time in the weight room, and it has paid off. His knowledge of the Florida offense and understanding of what is expected from the center position has stood out to the veterans on the team.
“They want to know the offense and want to be on the field,” Trip Thurman said after Saturday’s practice. “A big thing in wanting to be on the field is wanting to learn the offense, meeting with coach individually and meeting with me individually.
“They’re asking me, ‘hey what about this call? What if the linebacker goes here? What do I do?’ That’s big for the young guys and a lot of the young guys don’t understand that. To get on the field, you have to know exactly what you’re doing. Martez and Tyler have stepped up.”
Listed at 6-5, 302 pounds, Ivey has the frame college coaches dream of on the offensive line. He can still bulk up some and get stronger, but the freshman has the look of a dominant offensive lineman on the edge. The returning players could tell that about Ivey when the freshmen got to campus. What they didn’t know is that his drive to study the game off the field matches his upside on it.
“Physically he’s a specimen,” Thurman said. “He’s a big guy coming in as a true freshman. He’s going to be a big part of this offensive line moving forward. He and Tyler Jordan have stood out because they want to learn. They are in the meeting room with me and Coach Summers going over plays, being ready to go come practice time.”
Thurman has learned a lot about the center position in recent years. His versatility is an important part to the Florida offensive line, and it has helped him be able to line up at any of the five positions up front. That knowledge has created an appreciation for what goes into playing center. Thurman knows all the calls and defensive recognitions that must happen before every snap.
That’s what makes Jordan’s emergence so impressive to him. Thurman has been on campus for five years but has seen Jordan embrace what goes into learning the center position since he came to Gainesville.
“He’s a smart guy, and centers have to be on point with everything,” Thurman said of Jordan. “They’re making calls every play, making sure everybody is on the same page. That’s a key position in this offensive line and always has been. Max Garcia last year was a key leader for us, getting everyone on the same page. Tyler has really stepped up because he wants to learn and he’s picking it up quickly.”
There were a few other freshmen linemen brought up by players on Saturday. Thurman also mentioned Richerd Desir-Jones as a standout, and safety Keanu Neal pointed out center T.J. McCoy, who he said “has some dog in him.”
Florida coach Jim McElwain praised the group’s size after the team’s first practice on Thursday. It’s especially good news for a position where the Gators will have to count on many freshmen. The Gators have 15 scholarship offensive linemen but seven of them are true freshmen and three are redshirt freshmen. That’s two-thirds of the offensive linemen that have never played a collegiate snap.
Thurman has played in 28 games in his Florida career. The other four linemen who have playing experience have been a part of just 14 games at Florida.
The unit it going to have growing pains, and it’s going to need a lot of inexperienced players to emerge. It has only been three practices, but Thurman thinks the freshmen will be able to help in a big way.
“Honestly, they know what to do,” Thurman said. “They need to be stronger with the heat. It was hot out there today. We had to adjust practice a little bit and went a little earlier than we had scheduled. They know what to do. In the meeting rooms, they’re calling out calls. It’s just the mental part of the game when the heat hits you. When that Florida sun hits you, they need to dig deep and mentally focus on getting the job done.
“We’re a bunch of young guys, obviously, but we do have tremendous upside. If we want it, we can be the best we can be.”