Spring Eval: Young OL Got Work

One area for the Gators that should be a real team strength in 2010 is the offensive line. Four starters return along the line from a group that played well coming down the stretch of the season on a team that finished ranked third in the nation. Some older guys missed a lot of practice this spring for various reasons, but that allowed some youth to get in the mix and show what they can do.

To start off with the spring evaluation of the offensive line, we need to eliminate a few names from the discussion. Senior guard Carl Johnson, sophomore tackle Matt Patchan, sophomore center Sam Robey, and freshman center Kyle Koehne saw no action when the teams went to pads because of various injuries. All four are expected back in the fall, and all but Koehne have at least somewhat proven themselves to the staff before this spring. If there was one to worry about health wise it would be Patchan because he had such a horrendous injury to his knee, but all reports indicate he will be ready with the others in August when the team starts preparing for the season.

At center, Michael Pouncey returned for his senior season and had a good spring. Early on there were quite a few mis-snaps in the shotgun, but as the spring progressed this was not an issue for Pouncey. As I say to everyone, he is a clone of his brother and really it is very difficult to tell them apart on the field or off of it. They play so alike and like his brother, Michael Pouncey takes no prisoners when he has to lay a block down. He seemed to do well calling blocking assignments as well, or as much as we could tell anyway.

The lone backup by the end of spring was sophomore Nick Alajajian. Alajajian really struggled snapping the ball almost the entire spring, but he did make considerable improvement in the last week. If I had to guess, Alajajian is probably going to stay inside at center and probably behind Robey for a while, he played center an awful lot this spring and it looked as if the staff was trying to find him a new home. If that move does happen, I would imagine Koehne will move to the outside at tackle, he has a long frame that may be well suited to play tackle.

Junior James Wilson was plugging right along at left guard before he got injured. I personally believe he will lock up the open spot on the line at right guard when Johnson returns in the fall. Wilson was getting praised up and down practice in the first week and a half before he got injured and finally was able to practice in the last two leading up to the spring game. Wilson is much like Carl Johnson in that he is built to just demolish people, however I think he might have a little bit quicker feet than Johnson.

Maurice Hurt practiced very little early on before getting injured, but he is a versatile player that can play either guard spot or center as well. It will be between Hurt and Wilson for that open spot on the line, with Hurt lacking in the sheer size of Johnson and Wilson. He also has a history of injuries, so that is something to watch out for with him.

Two redshirt freshmen that played well this spring at guard are Jon Halapio and Jonotthan Harrison. Halapio is explosive with his blocking and seems to find himself on the better end of the battle when he engages defensive linemen. He has a knack for putting defenders on the ground and continuing on. Harrison is a hard working and tough player that the staff loves and he did nothing to hurt himself in regards to playing time this fall. Both should be behind Wilson and Hurt, but both should get to play a great deal in 2010.

One lineman that earned some points this spring is versatile sophomore David Young. Young played on both teams in the spring game and played guard for one squad and tackle for the other. That versatility will get you on the field quick with a coach in Steve Addazio that loves putting his best five players on the field at one time instead of just slotting an person from the second team at a specific position that has an injured starter. Young has been remarkable given that he came to Florida with two broken knee caps. He can maul like a guard, but has long arms to push the defenders away like the good tackles will do.

Xavier Nixon started the entire spring at left tackle, where he finished the last several games of the season a year ago. Through the first 10 practices or so, Nixon dominated from a very important position that will guard John Brantley's blind side. In the last two weeks, fatigue wore on him as he was down nearly 30 pounds from his playing weight a year ago and having to play dozens of more snaps due to the number of injuries on the line. This gives him something to really work on in the off-season as he will get ready to take on an entire SEC schedule as the Gators' starting left tackle.

Marcus Gilbert was the other starter at tackle and on the right side, and Gilbert is much more comfortable on the outside than what we saw from him on the inside last season early in the year. Gilbert is massive and has long arms that he can ride defenders away from the path of the ball carrier. His bulk allows him to be a good blocker on the edge in the running game as well.

Ian Silberman saw his first spring on campus as an early enrollee and fared pretty well. Silberman was thrown to the dogs as well with all the injuries and despite being the smallest lineman on the roster, he was able to show he belonged out there with the big boys. Silberman isn't tiny, but being the puppy of the group, he understands he needs to gain some bulk in the off-season. He has tremendously quick feet and a broad shoulders that will allow him to add the weight.

When this group is healthy, there aren't many teams that will field a starting unit as good as Florida's backups. A little thin at tackle, a healthy Matt Patchan will cure some of those ills, while David Young can play out there in a heart beat. They even experimented with Pouncey at tackle, and he would be great there as well with his quick feet.

It is a very versatile group that showed this spring that it can sustain good play even with some chinks in the depth chart due to injury. It was a very good spring for allowing the staff to see which young guys can really play...and most of them can.

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