Could the Gators start a freshman LT?

The moving parts on the Florida offensive line could force at least one first-year player to start the season opener.

During the first 20 minutes of Tuesday’s practice open to the media, freshman Martez Ivey was lined up at left tackle. After Mason Halter opened camp as the left tackle, McElwain continues to talk him up as a lineman that could play anywhere on the line. With David Sharpe working mostly at right tackle, it could open the left tackle spot for Ivey in the season opener as long as he continues to progress.

“He’s done a really good job,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said after Tuesday’s practice. “Here’s the one thing, sometimes with freshmen, it’s like the stage becomes awful big just from fitting in, the pace, all the things that go on. He’s a guy obviously that you don’t think of him really as a freshman right now, just the way he’s playing. That’s great to see.

“We kind of thought that when we recruited him. Sure enough that’s kind of how it’s been.”

McElwain said he has experience starting freshmen at left tackle, doing it a few times at Eastern Washington and Montana State. During his time at Alabama, they started D.J. Fluker as a true freshman at right tackle.

The Gators don’t have many options at the tackle spot, and with Ivey’s impressive play in recent weeks, it’s a fit that makes sense. Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson have both also impressed out of the freshmen class.

“We started offensive linemen in the past,” McElwain said. “It’s not something you want to make a living at obviously. I think it speaks to how those guys are coming now. I’m real proud of those young offensive linemen, just the way they’ve come in. They don’t look out of place. They’re grasping it, they’re playing hard. Fred Johnson’s doing a great job, as well, at tackle. I think we’re coming together at that spot. I feel pretty good about it.”

INJURY REPORT: Safety Keanu Neal suffered a leg injury during Friday’s scrimmage and wasn’t at the field for the open portion of practice on Tuesday. McElwain said the training staff is “still working” on his leg.

“What I try to do is keep those guys inside and get as much treatment as possible,” McElwain said. “That was the case with him.”

Receivers Raphael Andrades and Valdez Showers both missed practice with unspecified injuries. Freshman safety Kylan Johnson also had an injury but will not require surgery. McElwain added that Johnson “is really doing well” in practice.

PASS RUSH IMPROVING: Losing Dante Fowler has raised question marks about the Florida pass rush, but McElwain indicated on Tuesday that he still expects the Gators to be able to pressure the quarterback. The return of Jonathan Bullard was an important part of that, but the Florida defense should have enough pass rushers around him to anchor the defense.

Alex McCalister has been plagued by a hamstring injury but was second on the team in sacks behind Fowler last season. Add in breakouts from Caleb Brantley at defensive tackle and high praise for freshmen defensive end CeCe Jefferson, and the Gators have enough rushers to make the quarterback uncomfortable this fall.

“I think those guys up front come with a lot of experience and worked against a heck of an offensive line even in practice last year,” McElwain said. “I think them perfecting their craft every single day is something that you see.

“We need to be able to pressure the passer, obviously. We need to create havoc up front and the key there is to create negative plays for the offense. And that's one of the things with their pressure we feel like we can do."

POWELL LEARNING ON THE FLY: The Florida coaches moved Brandon Powell to slot receiver immediately after taking over. The sophomore has the speed and elusiveness to be tough to cover at the position, but after playing mostly running back last season, he had a long way to go as a true receiver.

The coaches spent a lot of time with him in the spring to make sure the transition was as easy as possible, and Powell caught on to the position so quickly that he’s able to move around the offense and make matchups more difficult for defenses.

"We're putting a lot on his plate and yet he's handling it well. I think his versatility, both having been taking handoffs in the backfield is not new to him as we shift and motion him around and put him in different spots. I think the thing that he's done, I'm really proud of what he's done, is learn to be a route-runner. It continues to get better and the guy's going to be a big part of what we do."


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