The young players on this year’s team will benefit from the extra bowl practices, but that’s especially the case on the offensive line.
Florida played three true freshmen -- Martez Ivey, Fred Johnson and Tyler Jordan -- on the offensive line this season. Ivey got the most consistent playing time of the three, seeing action in every game since a torn meniscus kept him out of the first two games. Johnson was a contributor early in the season but his playing time disappeared during the second half. Jordan played in every game this year, starting the final two games at guard.
The bowl practices will go a long way in helping the trio of impact freshmen improve before they’re counted on to be leaders for the unit next season. Johnson seems locked into offensive tackle, but Jordan could stick at guard or even move to center. Ivey played most of his snaps at guard this season but looks best suited at tackle long term. The 15 bowl practices that begin on Friday will help him get reps and let the staff begin to make decisions about next season.
“That's what's exciting about this,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “You're preparing for a game and you're getting spring-ball-type work, which I think is great. And there's a lot of competition at some of those spots. This will only help you as you head into the offseason.”
Florida signed seven scholarship freshmen offensive linemen last season, and four of them -- Nick Buchanan, Richerd Desir-Jones, T.J. McCoy and Brandon Sandifer -- took redshirts. McElwain said that Buchanan and Sandifer were close to playing and could have helped on the interior of the offensive line if needed.
“The two guards were really good players, and they’re going to be good players for us,” McElwain said. “They’ve got to restructure their bodies a little bit, move forward and get ready to go.”
The Gators will lose center/guard Trip Thurman and right tackle Mason Halter to graduation after the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, but everyone else will return next season. Florida will have three options to replace Halter at right tackle with Ivey, Johnson and David Sharpe, who played left tackle for most of the 2015 season. Thurman split time at center and guard. When he was at guard, Cam Dillard started at center. However, that unit struggled late in the season and improved when Thurman started at center and Jordan stepped in at right guard.
Next year’s unit is a long way from being set with the best combination. Spring practices will go a long way in determining it, but to give the coaches an idea of what could work, they’ll push all seven of the freshmen over the next two weeks of bowl practices.