Hevesy: Florida Added Four Quality O-Linemen

A fifth offensive lineman would have been a nice addition to Florida's signing class of 2006 but the Gator staff is happy with the four they've got and they were not willing to sign a project. The emphasis was on quality and the ones that got away were all top-rated players. The four the Gators did sign more than fill the quality bill for offensive line coach John Hevesy.

Hevesy lost five linemen off of Coach Urban Meyer's inaugural team and there are big shoes to fill since four of them were starters. It's going to be difficult for the new guys to come in and start right away but Hevesy expects at least one or two to make a hard run at some early playing time.

"I think the group is very good," Hevesy said. "The one thing about offensive linemen is you really don't find out about them normally for two years down the road. I am very happy with the group. Obviously, I wanted one more, but I think we got great quality with the one's we signed. I think we got four guys that want to compete. We will see what they are like when they get in front of us and then get ready to go."

Florida got the big one it needed early in the recruiting process when Durham (NC) Southern offensive tackle Carl Johnson committed in early summer. Rated five-stars and the sixth best offensive line prospect in the country by Scout.com, Johnson was a Parade and US Army All-American. The 6-6, 350-pounder has the agility and quick feet to go with the incredible size. He enrolled in January so he will have a chance to make a statement for playing time early on.

"He learns well and is a very coachable kid," Hevesy said. "He has a chance to compete early with him being here already. His natural size and athletic ability will help. He will have the natural learning curve of a freshman but we expect a lot out of him. He played center in the Army All-Star game so we know he is versatile. However, we are definitely going to start him out at tackle."

Maurice Hurt of Milledgeville (GA) Baldwin is another offensive lineman already on campus and able to start learning the offensive system in the spring. The 6-3, 345-pound guard has the prototype size the staff is looking for in a mauling interior lineman. Hevesy says that Hurt is a good student of the game.

"The one thing about Maurice is that he learns very quickly," Hevesy said. "What he has learned in the three weeks he has been here is like night and day from when he showed up. We will have to drop a little weight off of him but we expect him to come in the spring and compete for a job. He is definitely a road grading guard."

Ft. Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas had three linemen the Gators were very high on during the recruiting process. The two that got away --- Sam Young and Dan Wenger (both to Notre Dame) --- may have gotten more publicity but Marcus Gilbert may have the most long term potential in the bunch. The 6-6, 290-pound tackle is rated four stars by Scout.com. He has a basketball background that perhaps gives him an athletic edge on the football field. Hevesy wouldn't be surprised if Gilbert ends up competing for playing time even as a freshman.

"Marcus Gilbert is from a winning program and that is a bonus," Hevesy said. "One thing to definitely say about him is that he is very athletic. He has been coached well and played against great competition at St Thomas Aquinas. He will just have to make strides this summer in his confidence for playing against college competition. I see no reason that he can't come in here and push everyone in front of him."

The last but certainly not the least of the fab-four linemen is Jim Barrie of Tampa's Berkeley Prep. The 6-5, 305-pounder was recruited by every major powerhouse in the country and the Gators were lucky to ink him on signing day. Playing at a smaller school was a minus for Barrie in the eyes of some recruiters but no one could doubt his domination. Hevesy knew for sure he had a good one when Barrie dominated practices and the game in the CaliFlorida Bowl game that pits Florida and California's best prep players in an all-star game.

"I haven't quite figured out where (Barrie) will end up yet," Hevesy started. "I want to see where he is at when he shows up here. The one thing is his high school didn't play against the greatest competition but he did very well out in California in the CaliFlorida game. Now we will just have to see what he does in preparing for the competition that he will have in August.

"He is a real aggressive player and he does a lot of great things. That was what impressed me in that CaliFlorida game. He faced competition like he will see in the next four years. He has the want to. We just need to see where he is with technique, fundamentals and body strength."

The staff is smiling over this class which has helped re-stock the depth chart. A few depth issues remain at certain positions including offensive line but they refused to sign players just for the sake of adding numbers. They would rather hold the scholarship until next recruiting class and fill the roster spot with players of the same quality they landed this year.

"Right now we only have 13 on scholarship and we always want 16 on scholarship," Hevesy said. "We are still down three. We graduate one after this year, so we will want to sign at least four next year. We can recruit five great ones and that is what we can and will do (when we need to). It is just a matter of getting what we need."

The Gators have a relatively young and inexperienced group of offensive linemen ready for the 2006 season. It may be the lone place outside of cornerback where the Gators have a lot of questions to begin the season. With two early enrollees that will show up ready to compete there is no doubt competition will be fierce for all five starting offensive line spots. All four signees on the offensive line could make an impact early in their UF careers.

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