Expected Contributors: Redshirt junior Guard Antonio Riles (6-4, 311), Sophomore Guard Tyler Jordan (6-4, 304), Redshirt Freshman Guard Nick Buchanan (6-2, 309), Redshirt Freshman Guard Richerd Desir-Jones (6-4, 297), Redshirt Freshman Guard Brandon Sandifer(6-3, 330), Redshirt Junior Center Cameron Dillard (6-4, 308), Redshirt Freshman Center T.J. McCoy (6-1, 295), Freshman Center Brett Heggie (6-4, 314)
Strengths: The strength on the interior will have to come from Jordan and Dillard. Jordan started the last three games of his freshman season and likely would have hit the field sooner if not for his own versatility. Because they need to double train him as the backup at center, he spent time away from the guard position, but when an injury hit late in the season Jordan was ready to hit the field and performed well. He plays with a mean streak, power, and quickness. He’s also heady which does allow him to switch positions. At one scrimmage in the spring he played tackle because of injuries, without having done so in other practices.
Dillard has improved his strengths and was pretty good at snapping the ball a year ago, his first with real time at the center position. Along with Riles, he’s the oldest guy on the offensive line and in his fourth year and with that comes a maturity that you just can’t teach. It is likely he makes a big improvement in overall play this season.
Riles showed me something when he started at defensive tackle against Florida Atlantic and made some plays in the game. After getting unseated early in the year, that little switch showed me some quicks and toughness we weren’t really sure about. Again, another guy in his fourth year, his maturity should be a big key here.
Buchanan and Sandifer looked to be the top backups at guard and although they didn’t see the field a year ago, both have made offseason transformations that should help them. Buchanan added weight and muscle to his frame and now has the kind of size they are looking for at the position in the SEC, while Sandifer went the opposite route and lost some extra weight that he came in with and is much more athletic now. The biggest thing these two will bring is competition to the guard spot, something that just wasn’t there a year ago. Desir-Jones is a fighter, let’s see how far he can get in August before we reassess where he is at.
McCoy has impressed more than they thought he would and will certainly press Dillard for the center spot. That is just what you want in an offensive lineman and he is a guy that too plays with a mean streak. Heggie will still be recovering from a broken bone in his wrist as August rolls around, but has forced himself to come in primo shape for when he can really start banging. Do not rule him out to get on the field somehow.
Of course if Martez Ivey stays at guard, that changes the equation here, but I believe he will move to tackle when August rolls around. I moved him to tackle and that position jumps up a notch if he does move there, keeping him at guard does the same thing. Either way, there is some flexibility.
Weaknesses: Experience is still a big deal. A lot of guys counted on to play this year have never had a snap of college football. Some of the starters haven’t done a ton. Jordan can be a star, but outside of him I am not sure who we can really pinpoint as a star offensive lineman in the interior just yet. Not to say there aren’t some, but we haven’t seen it yet.
Comparison to 2015: Because I believe Ivey is moving outside, I don’t know if there will be a huge pickup inside, but there should be some. Just from a maturity factor at center and one of the guard spots there will be improvement. I also think that it will be a quicker unit overall with Jordan and Riles instead of the reliable and bull type play from Trip Thurman who is off to the NFL on a free agent contract, and this is even with Ivey playing at guard a year ago. I still think the largest dividends on the line of scrimmage will come in 2017.