VETTEL: Talking O-Line With Coach John Hevesy

With four senior starters the Florida offensive line comes into the 2005 campaign with tons of experience. Mike Degory (38), Randy Hand (29) and Lance Butler (22) have combined for 89 starts in the trenches. Tavares Washington has not played much (65 plays) but is a fifth-year guy who certainly looks the part. Jim Tartt is fighting shoulder difficulties as he tries to hold on to the fifth starting job while veterans Drew Miller and Steve Rissler have shown ability.

But beyond that first year line coach John Hevesy is trying to find some answers. Who is his third best tackle? If Rissler is at guard who finishes the two-deep at guard? I spoke with Hevesy as Florida wrapped up week two of training camp to try and get a feel which if any of those questions has been answered.

LV: John, you've been through two hard weeks of training camp, what have you seen in your guys to this point?

JH: The first group, they're getting better. They just need a better awareness of what's going on all the time, the scheme and the protections we get into. The second group has a long way to go because they're young. There are a lot of freshmen in that group and they're still trying to figure out college football.

LV: Let's start with the first group and Mike Degory at center. Coach Meyer said in the spring that he was more optimistic than usual about a first year offense because he has an established quarterback and center. Talk about Degory and what he brings to your unit.

JH: He brings the knowledge, understanding and awareness. He's like a coach on the field where he can help people out and get them aligned and know where the defense is going.

LV: You have a guy in Lance Butler who has started at three different positions (LT, LG, RG) and if all goes according to plan will start at his fourth (RT) opening day. What does his versatility do for you?

JH: The first five guys are not going to move, but if someone goes down, the sixth best guy goes in. I'm not going to put the tenth best guy on the field just because he happens to be a right guard or a left tackle so the ability to play multiple positions is critical.

LV: You made an evaluation over the summer to move some guys around after spring. Was there any drop off in continuity from what they learned as a result?

JH: No, not really. In the spring I just wanted to see the guys and what they had physically. Mentally I wasn't over-challenging them with that. I just wanted them to learn the offense and have an understanding of the offense. Now I want them locked into one position and let's go. It was just a matter of figuring out physically which position was best for them and now, mentally picking up those spots.

LV: So much is said around this team about trust and accountability. How do you feel about your first unit? Do you trust that they will get the job done?

JH: Yeah, I do. The first five a do. The second five I don't … I don't want to say I don't but I still question them. I'm still trying to get to know them and how they work and they're still trying to figure out me and figure out college football. They've been very accountable but there's always room for improvement.

Coach Hevesy coaching up the offensive line at camp

LV: Do you see progress with some of the second team guys?

JH: Absolutely, there's progress. But it's a roller coaster. Yesterday (last Thursday) they came out and I thought they had a great day. They picked up blitzes they had never seen before. Then today they come out and can't block three of them. Their minds are running and running and running and things just keep coming at them.

LV: Are there one or two that you feel are close to being ready to provide you with some depth opening day?

JH: Yeah, I think Steve Rissler at center, and Drew (Miller) and Jim (Tartt) have been rotating at guard. Phil Trautwein would be in the first three. Carlton Medder has been a surprise thus far and he's getting better, so those are the next four. So I'm looking at nine right now.

** Note, he mentioned five guys but one (Tartt or Miller) will be starting **

LV: What about Ronnie Wilson? He came in and competed in the spring and obviously made a lot of progress physically in the off-season. How close is he to rounding out that unit?

JH: Very close. He's probably right around that spot right now, but he's a true freshman and I'm not going to play him unless I have to play him. But if he's gotta go he's gotta go, but with a freshman you know on that first play he's going to be awfully nervous out there.

LV: You have two weeks until the opener. Are you feeling pretty good about how strong this line can be by the first game?

JH: Oh yeah. They're going to continue to get better. Right now they're pretty tired physically and mentally because we've been working them so hard. But we do that to see if they can push through, because if they can do it when you can't function … just fight it out. We'll be in the best shape in the country come that first game. At that time, they'll be fresh everywhere physically and mentally and that's what we hope to unleash on 'em.

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I think the Florida offensive line will be a good solid unit in 2005, but this isn't "The Great Wall." John Hevesy is making the most of a wonderful gift from the previous coaching staff with three guys who have started over 20 games apiece. The guard situation remains a concern, to me. Washington has not proven himself and Tartt has been injured. I would rank Drew Miller as the #6 guy right now and would not be surprised to see him ending up playing more snaps than either of the other two.

I'm curious to watch and see how Hevesy gets playing time for the young linemen. Fatigue is not the issue on the offensive line that it is on defense, but with four senior starters, playing second-teamers is hugely important for the development of depth, and building the line for 2006 and beyond.

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