Young Gators offensive line meshing

The goal for the offensive line during the season opener was to get as many players on the field as possible.

Florida is still searching for its group of 8-10 linemen that the coaches trust, and they wanted to get a big group of them on the field together to see how they would handle game action.

The first-team offensive line featured Mason Halter at left tackle, Trip Thurman at left guard, Cam Dillard at center, Antonio Riles at right guard and David Sharpe at right tackle. By the third series, freshman Fred Johnson was playing right tackle and Tyler Jordan was mixing between the guard and center positions. Travaris Dorsey also mixed into the guard positions.

McElwain also liked the way their rotation at tackle worked. With Halter and Sharpe starting at tackle, they got enough reps for Johnson on the field in his first collegiate game to feel comfortable with his play. Freshman Martez Ivey should join that group at some point this month when he recovers from a knee scope.

“We had a lot of guys play valuable reps, not just cleanup duty,” Jim McElwain said. “Overall, pretty good. I thought they did a pretty darn good job."

There were still communication issues that need to be cleaned up this week in practice. The only Florida turnover came when Will Grier was sacked and fumbled the ball, and it came after the offensive line didn’t pick up a blitzer.

“The whole stadium saw where they were coming from,” McElwain said. “We’ve got to push out there and probably get a big play there. Those are the things, that’s why you play and you learn from it.”

There aren’t many experienced offensive linemen on the Florida roster. Antonio Riles earned his first career start on Saturday while playing in his fifth game in Gainesville, but he’s looked at as one of the most experienced players at the position. Riles came to Florida as a defensive lineman but had to deal with the transition to the offensive line. He’s using that experience to help the freshmen get ready to play right away and help the Gators.

Riles and Jordan have built a close relationship as interior lineman, and Riles thinks Johnson has the potential to be special at offensive tackle.

“Those young guys most definitely stepped up,” Riles said. “Fred and Tyler did a really good job coming in and doing what we needed them to do. We’re excited about them. They got a lot of reps tonight. They can only get better.”

There’s still room for the unit to grow, and Riles was the first to admit that after Saturday’s blowout win.

“I think we did a pretty good job,” Riles said. “There’s things we’ve got to fix, but everybody got their jitters out. A lot of us played and started our first game. It’s exciting. We’ve got all that down pat now, we’ve just got to learn more, seeing more and getting better.”

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