POSITION ANALYSIS: O-Line Has 5 Good Starters

The moment that spring football practice ended, Coach Urban Meyer announced a total shakeup on the offensive line. Randy Hand flip-flopped from right to left tackle. Tavares Washington moved from left tackle to left guard and left guard Lance Butler shifted to left tackle. When fall practice begins Monday, the changes in the offensive line will be the center of attention for the staff and for fans alike.

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So much change may have some Gator fans feeling a little bit queasy since a consistent offensive line is so critical to this new spread option offense. Making so many changes was not easy but the choice to move players around didn't happen without a lot of thought. The staff is committed to getting the right players at the right positions and getting them on the field.

Even with the many changes in positions, the offensive line should be a real strong point for the Gators this season. Three players return with over 1400 plays under their belt, including two three-year starters. Four seniors dot the starting offensive line, and a redshirt freshman that unseated some very good players. The questions about the starters lie in the position changes. The questions about the backups all are tied to the lack of experience.

One staple of the offense over the last three years --- back for his fourth as a starter --- is senior center Mike Degory. Most likely the top center in the SEC, if not the country, Degory brings stability to a unit that has a lot of camaraderie and a lot of playing time together. His ability to read the defensive fronts and put the offensive line in position to make the right blocks helped make Florida's offense tops in the Southeastern Conference last season. The 6-6, 304 pound Degory has started every game of his college career and has an amazing 2,552 plays under his belt. He is the epitome of what coaches are looking for in offensive linemen.

Left tackle Randy Hand has nearly the same track record on the field as Degory. With 29 starts in 35 games, he was the first true freshmen to start on the offensive line since Reggie Green and Jason Odom back in 1992. The 6-6, 310-pound tackle has been in on 2,479 plays. Because he is a natural lefthander, Hand may feel more comfortable on the left side. He has quick feet and soaks in his man off the edge.

Lance Butler will make the move from left guard to right tackle. Blessed with the build of a prototype tackle, this also seems like a natural fit for Butler. Maybe the best on a line full of hustlers, Butler can often be seen 30-40 yards downfield blocking for his teammates. He seems to relish the role of knocking down smaller defenders on long plays. A seasoned veteran, Butler has 22 starts in 28 games and 1,490 plays under his belt.

Tavares Washington is the fourth senior starter on the line, but his experience is limited. He came to Division I as a heralded junior college lineman but injuries have kept him off the field except for 65 plays and two starts. After a spring in which he looked good at left tackle, he was moved to left guard where his 6-3, 320-pound body seems to be a better fit. He's got very good feet and exceptional speed for a man his size.

Jim Tartt is the lone non-senior on the starting offensive line. He enters the fall as the starter at right guard. The 6-3, 315-pounder is the kind of road grater that Coach Meyer likes at the guard position. Tartt had a great spring. Although he began the spring behind several players, he finished strong. He had offseason surgery to repair his shoulder once again, but all reports are that he is finally 100 percent healthy and ready for practice to begin.

The second unit offensive line was much maligned in the spring. With one upper classman in the group, this unit begins the fall with plenty of question marks to go with its abundant youth and inexperience. Still, it is a group of very talented players who have earned an offseason reputation for hard work.

Junior Steven Rissler will anchor the second unit and start the fall as the backup at center. He comes in with the fourth most playing time on the offensive line with 541 plays and three starts. The 6-3, 310-pound Rissler started the spring as the starting right guard and could move to one of the starting guard positions in a pinch. He looks to solidify the center position in the meantime and looks to be a capable backup to Degory. He plays nasty in the trenches and is a smart player.

Sophomore Drew Miller brings a lot of potential and it is likely that he will be an excellent offensive guard someday. The 6-5, 310-pounder was in for only 28 plays as a true freshman so his experience is practically nil. He is one of the strongest players on the team and it is only a matter of time before he becomes a big time contributor.

Sophomore Phil Trautwein is the backup at right tackle. The 6-6, 310-pound Trautwein runs extremely well and with a little added aggressiveness, could see the playing field more often. He also played during his true freshman season but only for 60 plays.

Redshirt freshmen Michael Brown and Jason Watkins should battle it out in the fall for the backup left tackle slot. Brown was moved from defense to the offensive line in the spring. The 6-4, 295-pounder worked his way ahead of Watkins by the end of the spring. He has very quick feet. The 6-6, 300-pound Watkins has added 25 pounds of muscle since he arrived on campus last August. He has long arms and a big frame. He has a lot of potential but needs to establish himself early in August drills.

Ronnie Wilson looks to be the first back-up at left guard. The 6-4, 310-pound Wilson worked extremely hard to get his body in shape and mold it into a player that has a chance to see the field this season. Wilson is one of two true freshmen offensive linemen that came to school early and worked hard to make the rotation in the spring. He is another of the mauler type guards that the staff prefers. He lost 40 pounds during the spring, making him much quicker.

Eddie Haupt is the other true freshman lineman that was an early admit in the spring. He will start the summer as the third team center but if he can step up his game in the fall, he could make the two-deep charts. Haupt is 6-4 and 300 pounds, an addition of 20 pounds of muscle sine he arrived in January. He plays a heady game, but he has a nasty streak, too.

Sophomore Carlton Medder is in his third season in Gainesville and the 6-5, 312-pounder is still looking for a position to call home. He rotated between guard and tackle in the spring and it remains to be seen where he will end up in the fall. He has a chance to play in the future largely because he has gotten serious about his conditioning.

True freshman Simon Codrington starts his first fall as a definite project on the offensive line. At 6-7 and 270 pounds, he will need to fill out and put some good muscle on before he sees the field at Florida. Codrington could start seeing meaningful minutes in a couple of years.

Jonathan Marvin is a 6-3, 330-pound fifth year senior that should not see any significant playing time. Marvin has been on the practice squad for four years and doesn't look to crack the lineup for his final season as a Gator.

SYNOPSIS: This is a strong unit all the way around. The coaches bad mouthed the second team line all spring but the talent is there. No school has a two-platoon line that has experience. That just doesn't happen. I look for the offensive line to be the team strength along with the receivers and quarterback.

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