The offensive line is a far cry from the first year that Jim McElwain was on campus in 2015. That year they had six healthy bodies for spring practice and relied on a Division II grad transfer to play tackle. They played four true freshmen far more than they wanted to and had no choice.
This spring the body count doubled, even with a couple of injuries. But there is still some room to grow. Let’s talk about it.
The Bad Stuff
Junior Martez Ivey got a couple of SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week awards in 2016 and sophomore Jawaan Taylor received some SEC All-Freshman awards as well, but that is it as far as accolades for this group so far. A true star in the unit has yet to emerge and the two listed above look to be the possibilities at this point.
While the overall numbers are better, the number of real linemen they feel comfortable with rolling out on the field of play isn’t where it needs to be at this point. Guys like junior Andrew Mike, sophomore Nick Buchanan, junior Kavaris Harkless, and redshirt freshman Stone Forsythe still have yet to prove anything and have been on the field little to none in their time on campus.
Possible Bright Side
Buchanan made strides over the spring. Harkless was expected to, but missed most of spring with injury. One has to wonder what they will get from senior Antonio Riles, he was a projected starter last year but a preseason injury ended that after starting in six games in 2015. All three should be in the mix for playing time and could push to get on the field a bit.
True freshman offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort showed up in January and impressed by late spring. He will be in the mix in fall camp. True freshman T.J. Moore showed up this week and will get a six week jump on the rest of the freshmen in his class. He could play tackle or guard, but he does figure to get in the mix in the fall although they have no idea what they have in him just yet.
The Good Stuff
The Gators have a legitimate six players they feel they can roll with in the fall and compete at a high level with. Of those six, only redshirt freshman Brett Heggie has no college experience. Experience has been at such a premium over the last two years and finally that doesn’t appear to be an issue.
The two big names are Ivey and Taylor of course. While Ivey played mostly at guard last season and the year before, he was able to slide out at tackle for a couple of games and earn All-SEC weekly honors. He has 21 starts to his name over his first two years on campus. Taylor started 12 of the 13 games he played in as a true freshman. Those two should be the starting tackles in the fall and that should be a very solid combo, again, something we haven’t been able to say in a while.
There are battles brewing inside between the remaining four of Heggie, Fredrick Johnson, Tyler Jordan, and T.J. McCoy. The most versatile of the group is Jordan who can easily rotate between any of the guard or center positions and has done so in-game numerous times. He started the last three games of his freshman year and started seven last season sustaining an injury and an eye issue that had him miss a few games. Jordan came away with a very positive spring and won the lunch pail award a few times in the spring as the hardest worker on offense.
McCoy was a bright spot at the end of the season when he was forced into action and seemed to bring a toughness up front that the group lacked. He’s a little smaller than desired and not exactly quick, but he has heart and he plays hard every snap.
Johnson may have more upside than anyone on the line. If he starts to bring it every play, he could be a real difference maker. He’s really athletic and surprisingly strong.
Heggie, while an unknown quantity in terms of experience, impressed a great deal over the spring and will see significant playing time in the fall. He will challenge for a starting spot and could play at center or left guard when he does line up.
I have said it for almost two straight years, but this is the season where the offensive line will make a big step forward. Not enough of them have done anything to make this an elite group yet, but as far as a group that gels, they will make those strides and be a much more cohesive unit. Instead of patching things with guys that haven’t played, you should have a reserve or two that has seen the field and in tough situations.
Offensive linemen aren’t like other positions on the field. While getting the higher rated prospects doesn’t hurt, you can find big time talent just as often from the prospects that don’t have all the stars in recruiting. Time will tell what becomes of this group.