Four seniors dot the offensive line with starters Carl Johnson, Michael Pouncey, and Marcus Gilbert along with veteran Maurice Hurt. The Gators finished 10th in rushing offense and first nationally in pass efficiency offense in 2009, which only highlights the elasticity and flexibility of a line that has to know how to run block and pass protect well.
While the Gators lost the heart of their offensive line in Maurkice Pouncey to the first round of the NFL draft and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pouncey's twin brother Michael Pouncey will move from his starting right guard spot to take over the center duties. Pouncey is supposedly going to be able to handle the same situations his brother did at center. Maurkice won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's best center.
Pouncey has the flexibility of playing anywhere along the line, but the Gators love to have an established center making the calls and getting the ball to the quarterback on every down.
Behind Pouncey are a trio of players that are untested at the position, but each have shown promise. Sophomores Nick Alajajian and Sam Robey have each had solid springs. Robey played well in the spring of 2009, but only got on the field on special teams during the season. After struggling a little outside, Alajajian was moved inside to center because of injuries during the spring and after getting over a bad case of bad snaps, he settled down to have a pretty strong spring at center. Redshirt freshman Kyle Koehne was set to have a a strong spring himself and had a terrific offseason leading up to it. An early injury in spring drills caused him to miss miss most of the spring and that was a big set back. Koehne is definitely a candidate to move outside to tackle with his long arms and lean build.
The Gators will be set at guard with one spot locked down and the other in a fierce battle to see who will start. Carl Johnson should lock down the left guard spot with his experience and the way he plays the game. Johnson is a road-grater in the true sense of the word and benefited greatly once he was moved inside to guard from the tackle position he was playing earlier in his career.
It will be at least a three horse race for the right guard position starting with senior Maurice Hurt. Hurt is probably the smallest offensive lineman on campus but he plays the game mean and with great leverage. He has more experience than anyone but the starters that are already locked down. Junior guard James Wilson is the prep all-American that has played well when in the games, but has missed a ton of time due to injuries. He has a little bit iof experience to his name, but this is a big fall camp for Wilson.
Two redshirt freshmen in Jon Halapio and Jonotthan Harrison will also be battling. Halapio has really been talked about in the same breath as hurt, and Wilson and he should be considered a real possibility to land that starting role as well. Mean and nasty are his game and Halapio has terrific feet. Harrison has the versatility to play inside or outside, but should stay inside and bide his time this year when next year the inside spots will open up dramatically. Harrison is also a mean player and one the staff is really keen on for the future.
The Gators return both tackles including the very experienced senior Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert benefited a great deal when he was allowed to move outside to tackle from a not very good stint inside at guard. Gilbert has the prototype build for tackle with a huge barrel chest, long legs, quick feet, and extremely long and powerful arms.
The other tackle spot should be manned by sophomore Xavier Nixon who was thrown to the fire as a starter at left tackle in his true freshman year, just eight games into the season. Nixon garnered freshman all-American honors and should be a mainstay on the line until the end of his career.
Sophomore Matt Patchan looks raring and ready to go, weighing in at 290 pounds and in the best shape of his career as an offensive lineman. The victim of a terrible knee injury in the 2009 season, he redshirted and has worked at great lengths to get himself ready for the season.
Sophomore David Young will provide depth at tackle and guard and could start for a number of SEC programs. Look for Young to make a move on the depth chart in 2011 when the four seniors from 2010 move on.
Two freshmen tackles are here this fall and will be learning the ropes. With the numbers and versatility on the line, it is likely that Chaz Green and Ian Silberman will redshirt as tackles in 2010. Both came in to school in great shape and while Silberman still needs to add about 10-15 pounds, Green is physically ready for the SEC right now.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: My breakout player is going to be Jon Halapio. He is one of the three most unheralded recruits on the offensive line, but he has really captured the attention of the coaching staff and they are ready to see what he can do.
On Point with Cody Jones: There is nothing that makes a first year quarterback's job easier than playing behind a veteran offensive line. John Brantley will have the luxury of doing that behind four returning starters.
The interesting battle comes at right guard. My favorite to win it is James Wilson. He still shows glimpses of the potential that made him one of the most heavily recruited linemen out of high school. He knows what offensive line coach Steve Addazio expects from the position. Maurice Hurt is valuable off the bench. Don't be shocked if Jon Halapio steals the job. He gets bigger every time I see him.
This will be the season Xavier Nixon is listed among the best offensive linemen in the country. He played well at left tackle as a freshman, and now he is bigger and more settled to the college level. He has all the tools to be a top NFL prospect when he is eligible after next season.
The bright spot for the offense as a whole is Carl Johnson will be playing left guard for the entire season. Over the past two seasons, the Florida offense has sparked when Johnson plays guard. He is over 360 pounds and a road grading offensive lineman. He'll also be the one opening up the running lanes for Jeff Demps and company.