Still worried? Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line coach Steve Addazio isn't.
In the spring, he said he already knows which players will make up his O-Line in the fall and he trusts them, a result of their experience.
If you still have questions regarding Florida's offensive big men, Addazio would probably understand. Spring ball wasn't exactly a series of shining moments for the OL. In fact, most of 2010's starters were dealing with bumps and bruises and opted out of spring practice and the Orange and Blue scrimmage. Addazio is relying on what he has seen from his starters in the past and giving them the benefit of the doubt. He's counting on a productive fall to shake off any rust that has accumulated on the large shoulders of Brantley's protectors.
And now, please welcome your starters!
Heading up the most experienced position on this Florida team is one half of the Pouncey twins: 6-foot-4, 310-pound senior Mike. Number 55 will no longer be confused with his brother Maurkice who departed early for the NFL. Look for Mike, the lesser-known Pouncey, to blaze his own trail this year. He has something to prove with his move to center and, while the two-headed Pouncey monster is no more, one twin with a mean streak like Mike's could be the key to success for these linemen. Addazio boldly stated his admiration for Mike, saying he could potentially outshine his brother if he puts in some serious work this season. He's already earning honors as a member of the All-Conference team decided by the SEC Blue Ribbon Forecast.
Mike Pouncey can play any position on the O-Line and has shown his prowess at guard, starting 28 straight games there. If 6-foot-4, 293-pound redshirt sophomore center Sam Robey shows he can handle the middle spot, Pouncey could go back to guard to fill a void created by injury or another issue.
Robey spent the spring dinged up and didn't participate in contact drills very often. Most likely, he will take on the back-up center spot behind Pouncey and continue working so he can really own the position upon Pouncey's departure. Robey will also be a choice at back-up tackle and is similar to Pouncey with his ability to play any position on the line. Coaches have continued to comment on his work ethic, as well. If he can get healthy for fall, you should feel very comfortable about the guy bolstering up a couple of back up spots.
One starting guard position will go to 6-foot-5, 360-pound redshirt senior Carl Johnson. Johnson is another who took it easy in the spring but he is a proven beast on the field. He started all 14 games in 2009 and has played in 39 contests throughout his career. It will be interesting to see exactly where he ends up on the OL because he is versatile like so many of his linemen peers. Expect to see him at guard but don't forget his performances at starting left tackle last season and even a few showings at center behind Drew Miller in 2007.
Johnson's counterpart at that other guard spot could be a bit of a toss up. In general, this O-line will lend itself to some regular rotation, especially if the offensive scheme is more focused on passing. Also, sending guys in and out to keep them healthy is easy with such a well-rounded group.
6-foot-3, 315-pound redshirt junior James Wilson will be one body making a case for himself as a starting guard in 2010. He looked a little slimmer in the spring, which should help him avoid some injuries. Wilson played in every game last season and started four of them. Expect to see him on the left side.
If it isn't Wilson, it could be 6-foot-3, 320-pound redshirt senior Mo Hurt. With a name like that, Hurt was born to be an offensive lineman, Hurt is looking to wreak some havoc in the SEC come fall. He played in 13 games last season and started five. Steve Addazio may have his hands full here with so many starting options. Competition for starting jobs will be fierce throughout the season as this OL continues to evolve and improve.
An underclassman with a little less experience could also make a run for a starting guard job. Sophomore Jon Halapio came on strong in the spring while some veteran lineman were out with injuries and has proven himself in a couple of games in The Swamp. At 6-foot-3, 305-pounds, Halapio looks like he belongs next to the older guys and his play during spring practice shone with potential. If he comes out hard in the summer and fall he could very well snatch some starts from Wilson or Hurt.
The common theme continues where we didn't see much from starters in the spring. Marcus Gilbert dealt with a variety of minor ailments that kept him out of contact. Still, you have to trust this kid. His knee may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and partially responsible for Tim Tebow's concussion in 2009's Kentucky contest, but, other than that, he has been on point. Gilbert has played in 42 games and has 17 career starts under his belt. He often grades out a Champion with multiple knock downs. Look for this 6-foot-5, 322-pound redshirt senior monster to be a leader on Florida's offense.
Gilbert will probably nab the right tackle job and sophomore Xavier Nixon will stand across from him on the left. Don't be fooled by Nixon's youth. He has five career starts already and has seen action in ten games at Florida. Nixon stepped up and started as a freshman so he did make some mistakes in 2009. Even so, his upside is huge and he will continue to prove why he deserves that number one spot this season.
A game-changer for the tackle situation comes in the form of a healthy 6-foot-6, 273-pound Matt Patchan. After staying out of spring drills due to a knee issue, no one is really sure of Patchan's health and it may be too early to include him in talks of starters. For kicks, let's say he is good to go for 2010. Patchan is someone you want on the football field however you can make room for him. He started as a defensive lineman during his freshman year and then switched over to O-Line before getting injured. This athlete can do it all and even had coaches talking about moving him to tight end for a while. You can't blame them. He towers at 6-foot-7, 290-pounds and runs a 4.7 second 40-yard-dash. If he is a realistic option after healing his injury, you will see significant playing time from Patchan.
Redshirt sophomore David Young could be another viable selection at tackle as he saw ample reps in the spring. The 6-foot-4, 304-pound underclassman saw action in 13 games last season and could be part of a constantly rotating offensive line. He may grab a few starts but he is more likely to be a go-to second team option.
The glass-half-full view surrounding the slew of injuries that plagued starters on the O-Line in the spring has to do with opportunity. Young faces like Xavier Nixon, David Young, Ian Silberman, Jonotthan Harrison, Jon Halapio and Nick Alajajian were able to put in some valuable time. Addazio will have a multitude of pieces to play around with when this year's starters move on. In the meantime, he will continue to build experience on the second team. It is very likely that some young players will see game time in 2010 since there is so much talent to use.
Florida is also welcoming two new additions that join the roster in 2010. One, the 6-foot-4, 271-pound Silberman, was an early enrollee and already participated in spring drills. Silberman spent some time confused by Florida's offense but, when he got it, sparks of future promise were evident. He is very athletic and hits hard.
6-foot-6, 278-pound Chaz Green did not enroll early and will start his campaign as a Gator with summer workouts. Green is built like a defensive lineman and is quick on his feet. He wants to take it slow and learn the offense very well before being thrown into the fire. He has a great trust in Addazio, however, and will be a quick study. Also, Green will get bigger. His dad is double the size of him and Green continues to put on good weight.
Getting healthy and staying that way will be crucial for this group. Their experience is undeniable but it doesn't do anyone any good if they can't play.
If they can fight off the injury bug, have confidence in the army that will protect John Brantley. Know that they understand the task at hand. They are aware of how precious their cargo is.
For more coverage of the Florida Gators, visit FoxSportsFlorida.com
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