Gators Fall Primer: The Trenches

The Florida Gators start football practice for the 2016 season in earnest on Thursday. Here is a look ahead at what to expect in the trenches in head coach Jim McElwain’s second season at Florida.

There are big changes from last year in the trenches and most of the time that would be a bad thing. But the Gators look to be much more experienced  

Here is a breakdown on both the offensive and defensive lines…


Likely Starters: David Sharpe and Martez Ivey

Sharpe has really established himself as a leader in the offseason which means he has come a long way since the end of last season. This is something that needed to happen for the guy with the most experience on the offensive side of the ball.

He has the ability to be an all-conference player and with a new mindset, maybe this will happen. He has already received several preseason All-SEC nominations and has the ability to be that good.

I inserted Ivey here because of a few things. He is the second most experienced player that can line up at tackle and because Fred Johnson has struggled with some things in the offseason. That said Ivey has elite tools along the offensive line. He plays the game like a guard because he is a tremendous road grater up front, but he has the quickness and length of a tackle. Because of depth, I see him playing on the outside, because of talent I see him starting.

Top Challengers: Fredrick Johnson, Jawaan Taylor, Andrew Mike

Johnson will likely get the first snaps up front to start fall camp, but as stated above I expect Ivey to take over. Johnson is raw but super talented and athletic for his size. If he gets the work ethic thing down, he can be a really good one.

Taylor is a true freshman and was pegged for guard when he committed to the staff last season, but he has really reshaped his body and they want him to try it out at tackle because of the lack of depth. He’s a powerful player and physically should be able to compete in year one, where most find it very difficult.

Mike was one of the bright spots that didn’t see the field in his freshman season in 2014. Then he fell behind a year ago.  They need some numbers up front, so getting back on track would be a big thing for this unit.

Full Tackle Roster:  Junior David Sharpe, Redshirt Sophomore Andrew Mike, Redshirt Sophomore Kavaris Harkless, Sophomore Martez Ivey, Sophomore Fredrick Johnson, Freshman Stone Forsythe, Freshman Jawaan Taylor

Dark Horse Candidate: Jawaan Taylor

He just has that nasty streak about him when he plays and if he can translate that to the college level quickly, he has a chance to see the field with the lack of depth up front.

Bottom Line: The starters need to stay healthy and Johnson needs to get with it. This can be a pretty talented position but still think there is some work to be done.



Likely Starters: Tyler Jordan and Antonio Riles

Jordan started the last few games of the season in 2015 and played very well. After splitting time at center and guard most of the fall, he was finally allowed to play one position and that helped him. He’s up over 300 pounds now and will be a force. He is a possible All-SEC candidate.

Riles impressed me when asked to play defensive tackle against FAU and he started and played well. That tells me he has the athleticism to be a very good guard even though he lost his starting spot during the season last year. He has a good bot of experience now and continues to progress. The only thing that keeps him from starting is an injury or Ivey staying at guard.

Top Challengers: Nick Buchanan and Brandon Sandifer

These two redshirted last year and both weren’t ready. Buchanan progressed a bit during the fall, while Sandifer did some good things in the offseason to get his body in better shape. This is a big fall for both guys and both should push for playing time and see the field in 2016.

Full Guard Roster:  Redshirt Junior Antonio Riles, Sophomore Tyler Jordan, Redshirt Freshman Nick Buchanan, Redshirt Freshman Brandon Sandifer, Redshirt Freshman Richerd Desir-Jones

Dark Horse Candidate: Brandon Sandifer

The work ethic displayed in the offseason by getting in better shape is a big move for Sandifer. He is a power driving guard that can move the pile and if he keeps up the hard work, he can challenge Riles or whoever is starting for that spot opposite Jordan.

Bottom Line: Jordan is a year older and played well to end the year last year, he should be better. Riles or whoever is the other guard will have to play up a little to play like Ivey did a year ago, but they aren’t far from that. The experience factor is huge along the line and maturity means even more than that. This should be another position that is improved.



Likely Starter: Cameron Dillard

Dillard is one of the guys that have taken advantage of the summer and his teammates believe he will be a much better and stronger player in 2016. We can probably count on one hand the number of bad snaps from Dillard last year when he played the position almost the entire year. That is a great thing and something they don’t have to worry about. Now he really hit the weight room and will do more pushing instead of being pushed up front. Another year in the offense will help with play calls as well.

Top Challenger: T.J. McCoy

McCoy made a great push last year and now has made himself a viable option at center. Despite his lack of size, McCoy plays big and is relentless when in line combat up front.

Full Center Roster:  Redshirt Junior Cameron Dillard, Redshirt Freshman T.J. McCoy, Freshman Brett Heggie

Dark Horse Candidate: Brett Heggie

Heggie is recovering from a wrist injury, but really has kept himself in great shape. Once he has recovered he will be a force at the position and someone that will come out firing and contending to get on the field

Bottom Line: Dillard and McCoy should be much improved form a year ago and McCoy performing well could give them some flexibility along the line if they want to look at moving Dillard to guard to help with that position. This should be an improved position overall.




Likely Starters: Joey Ivie and Caleb Brantley

Ivie may not be spectacular, but he is steady and relentless when he plays. He’s a bull most of the time and he just beats on the guy across from him over time and will keep coming. He is probably a little underrated for the way he has played so far I his career.

Brantley is a nice compliment. More of a playmaker and quick twitch guy, he lost some weight before last season and had a really nice redshirt sophomore year. They are expecting huge things from Brantley who wants to go pro after the season.

Top Challengers: CeCe Jefferson and Taven Bryan

It appears that Jefferson is going to see a lot of playing time inside and especially in passing situations. He showed tremendous bull rushing ability at end last year with quickness to also get around linemen that they just aren’t ready to handle. He’s pushing 280 pounds now and we can look for him to play inside on passing downs and outside on running downs.

Bryan is the most athletic lineman on campus. He is the team’s freak with his size, strength, and quickness numbers. Coming from Wyoming it was a huge change in the competition he faced, but he has been coming around big time. We have seen some big plays from Bryan, now it is time to get the consistency up.

Full DT Roster:  Senior Joey Ivie, Redshirt Junior Caleb Brantley, Redshirt Sophomore Taven Bryan, Redshirt Sophomore Khairi Clark, Sophomore CeCe Jefferson, Redshirt Freshman Andrew Ivie, Redshirt Freshman Luke Ancrum

Dark Horse Candidate: Khairi Clark

Clark has had a really good offseason and the word is that he is ready to step it up. He got a good taste of playing time last year as defensive line coach Chris Rumph is into playing a lot of guys. He was solid last year but looking to make a move in 2016.

Bottom Line: The position is solid this season with Brantley a possible All-SEC / All-American candidate and Ivie not far behind. There is quality depth as well, and next year will be the issue with the first listed here moving on.



Likely Starters: Bryan Cox and Jordan Sherit

Cox is feeling a bit disrespected heading into his senior year and after a really nice redshirt junior campaign. That should be a good thing as he looks to prove his doubters. He’s got tremendous size for the spot and is exceptional against the run.

Sherit got better as the season went along in 2015. He followed it up with a really nice spring showing quickness we hadn’t seen before. He will have guys pushing him, but this is his time.

Top Challengers: Jabari Zuniga, Justus Reed, Keivonnis Davis, Jordan Smith, and Antonneous Clayton

Zuniga is someone we always hear about. We didn’t see a lot in the time we were able to watch spring ball, but the players and staff swear by him. After a redshirt season he actually lost some weight to get quicker and we should see him make a move this year.

Reed is one of those guys that goes quietly and then all of a sudden will make a big play. If / when he gets consistent he can really push to get on the field more.

Davis should have redshirted in 2015, but that went by the wayside in the last three games. The fact that he showed up a couple of months later than his freshmen brothers last year and ended up playing ahead of some of them says a lot about his ability and what they think about him. He’s certainly going to play a lot in 2016 and push Sherit at the RUSH end spot.

Smith was a nice surprise in December for the 2016 class and enrolled in January to compete this spring. He has to gain a little more weight, but has put on quite a bit of muscle since arriving. Again, with Rumph playing a lot of guys, the likelihood of Smith getting on the field is pretty high.

Clayton was the highest rated prospect in the 2016 class and has also been busy putting on weight and muscle to be able to compete. He may have the quickest ‘get off’ on the roster now. That will be something to watch in August as we move through practice.

Full DE Roster:  Redshirt Senior Bryan Cox, Redshirt Junior Jordan Sherit, Redshirt Sophomore Justus Reed, Redshirt Sophomore Thomas Holley, Sophomore Keivonnis Davis, Freshman Antonneous Clayton, Freshman Jachai Polite, Freshman Jordan Smith

Dark Horse Candidate: Jachai Polite

I watched Polite destroy the best offensive linemen high school had to offer in the summer of 2015 at a Florida NIKE ‘The Opening’ tryout. He has a lot of the same tools as Clayton, but is a bigger version. His build may make it easier for him to play earlier and more than most freshmen.

Bottom Line: This is a deep group with star potential in the younger guys, but high quality in the older guys as well. Substitution will be key here and Rumph has a lot to work with. They have to replace the play making ability of Alex McCalister who is off to the NFL, but they have the group to do it.


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