Spring Breakdown: The Offensive Line

New Florida Gator Offensive Coordinator Steve Addazio is looking for a lot of the same old stuff from his offensive line in 2009. He will have to replace two key cogs at tackle and may have to rotate some in the process, but Addazio considers the cupboard pretty full at the moment. It's just a matter of finding the right fit up front and his line should not miss a beat.

The Florida Gator offense has been on a tear in the last couple of seasons and has been one of the most efficient run and pass offenses in the country in the two year span. The old saying goes, "it all starts up front", and the Gator offense is no exception to this rule.

The Florida offensive line has led the assault on offense for a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in one season and one of the best rushing performances by a UF team in history in the next season. It was also at the front of the highest scoring offense in Gator history in 2008 and looks to do more of the same in 2009.

Addazio knows there are some holes to fill, but he feels he has the guys to fill in just fine. One of the key figures looks to be junior tackle Marcus Gilbert who did start some at left guard early in the 2008 season.

"Well unfortunately for us, Jim Tartt was not a factor for us because he didn't play," Addazio said noting the left guard's health issues his senior year that kept him out of almost all action all season. "Marcus is a substitute for Jason Watkins (at right tackle). He's played a lot of football and more multiple positions than Jason ever did. He is more diversified and ready to play. That is going to be a very good transition right there. I am going to settle Marcus down at tackle, I don't plan on jockeying him."

Junior Carl Johnson played extensively at left guard and started most of the season at that position with Tartt being injured. Johnson had a phenomenal year at left guard, but has shown the versatility in his time on campus to play on the outside, so when healthy, he will start out there.

"We had a phenomenal player in Phil Trautwein," Addazio said of his now departed starting left tackle. "We can plug in Carl Johnson at left tackle, but that means a less experienced guy is going in at left guard. That is the one, whether we put Carl at tackle and put a less experienced guard or leave Carl at guard and plug in a less experienced guy at tackle. Somewhere on the line the experience is going to be less."

There are other options and Addazio has some monsters to plug in the gaps and make this offensive machine run like it has for two seasons. There are a couple of injuries up front that will allow younger p[layers to get even more repetitions and Addazio sees that as a bonus.

"(Sophomore) James Wilson, and (sophomore) Mo Hurt are guards," Addazio said. "I am not sure where I am rotating (freshman) David Young right now. I don't know how much Mike (Pouncey) is going to be going (this spring). He is rehabbing right now. We could be a little bit of scissors and pasting up front this spring. That is s a good thing, we can let the young guys go at it."

Johnson will be nursing his knee for a lot of the spring so he will be missing anyway. But, at left guard, Addazio cannot wait to get a look at James Wilson to see how he can push his weight around and make a difference for this 2009 team.

"We have a lot of top end players like James Wilson who is just missing experience and being healthy," Addazio said of Wilson's lack of previous playing time. "He's an unbelievably powerful guy. He is a massive thick powerful guy, our guys will tell you that. He will knock you right off the ball. He just has to learn the whole play in and play out, duration of the game, duration of the practice, complete knowledge. Physically, he will knock you back."

Wherever they line up is almost not important for Addazio, his first goal is to get the best five linemen on the field regardless of position.

"Mike and Maurkice can play tackle for me," he said of the Pouncey twins who have been a trademark on the line for two seasons. "Mike played tackle in the preseason last year. I want to get the best five out there. Carl can play guard or tackle. James Wilson is a guard, Mo is a guard. Pouncey's have flexibility.

When all are healthy, the sixth lineman at the moment is Mo Hurt, of course this is before the first snap of spring where anyone of them could make a move up and down the depth chart. Hurt has a little bit of experience himself, and so the staff knows what they are getting out of him.

There are other options also. Redshirt freshman David Young has shown he can play SEC football.

"David Young could be lined up on the inside, but I'm not sure yet," Addazio said. "He's real smart, really hard worker. He reminds me of Phil where he is a real diligent guy. He's stout and powerful. He's just a freshman we just need to see if he has the athleticism off the edge."

Redshirt freshman center Sam Robey "offers up some flexibility" according to Addazio. He is a guy that can play inside or outside as well. Junior Corey Hobbs also played some with the second unit at center in 2008.

One very exciting option this spring will be sophomore Matt Patchan. Patchan played all of 2008 at defensive tackle before a knee injury sidelined him for the last couple of games of the season. Still, Patchan came to Florida as one of the most heralded offensive line prospects in recent memory. He will get that chance to play along the offensive line this season.

"He's athletic, but we just have to get him a little bigger," Addazio said. "However, people like to think you have to be this weight or that weight...You have to be strong, fast, and tough. Of course, there has to be some reality there, but what is the difference between a guy that is a strong 285 and a sloppy 295 pound guy."

More options this spring include two true freshmen that early enrolled. Both are slotted to start on the outside and compete at tackle, but both seem versatile enough to play either spot...something that could get either on the field faster. Nick Alajajian and Jonotthan Harrison are highly regarded prospects that will get their chance to prove themselves this spring.

"Nick Alajajian and Jonotthan Harrison are both working hard," Addazio said about their first couple of months on campus. "You can tell they are working hard because the other players respect them because of their work ethic The strength coaches respect them because they are adapting and learning the system. It has been a tremendous jump for them. I think they have handled it mentally and physically, so it's been a real positive."

Along with Mike Pouncey and Carl Johnson, junior Jim Barrie is expected to miss most f not all of sporing practice due to his ACL tear last fall.

What I want to see...

Marcus Gilbert stabilize the right tackle position. Gilbert was out of sorts at guard last season, but the staff feels he is much more mentally and physically prepared to play tackle in this offense. If he can perform at a decently high level, this will go a long way in stabilizing any issues they may have on offense with roster turnover.

One of Matt Patchan, David Young, Nick Alajajian, or Jonotthan Harrison nailing down the left tackle spot will also go a long way to help the team. My opinion is that with James Wilson healthy for the first time in a while, it will be impossible to keep him off the field and so Carl Johnson will inevitably be the best fit out at left tackle. Still, getting one or more of these younger guys to play well this spring would just be a bonus as far as depth.

Sam Robey coming on strong at center would be a real positive, too. At the moment, if Maurkice Pouncey were to be sidelined, brother mike Pouncey would take over at center, at least when he is healthy. Getting Robey to man that second team spot at center and entrench himself can only be a good sign for this offensive line.

One through six has been established in the eyes of the staff. Pouncey, Pouncey, Johnson, Gilbert, Wilson, and Hurt are the top six. Priority number one is establishing numbers seven through nine and once that is done, the line will be ready to roll with business as usual.

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