Gator Offense Ready Despite Bumps and Bruises

Losing two left tackles would put most teams in a hole. For the Gators, it allowed more experience to get in the starting lineup. Offensive line coach Steve Addazio trains his linemen at multiple positions, giving Florida the flexibility to succeed despite injuries.

"We're kind of dinged up," Steve Addazio said Tuesday. "We've got some pretty good experience still up front. It's paid dividends in this game, no doubt."

Marcus Gilbert will slide from right tackle to left tackle, which he has adjusted to without trouble. The questions come at right tackle. Senior Maurice Hurt will get the start Saturday, but it will be the first time he plays right tackle in a game at Florida.

A lifetime guard moving to tackle would usually be an issue. However, Addazio is comfortable with Hurt playing the position.

"I'm really excited about what he's done at tackle," Addazio said. "It seems like he took to it naturally, which was nice. He's got great feet."

Hurt's quick feet made it an easy transition. Instead of focusing on blocking with power to open up the run game at guard, Hurt now has to focus on quickness to beat elite defensive ends to the edge when the ball is snapped. It's a different mindset, but Hurt is handling the transition well.

"I was talking to (Florida strength and conditioning coach) Mickey (Marotti) and we were laughing about it," Addazio said. "In terms of his change of direction speed, he's probably one of the tops on either side of the line. He's got amazingly fast, quick feet.

"Mo really can accelerate. He's got great feet and great punch. He knows how to use his hands to get separation. There's a learning curve in there, not just technique but assignments. He's adjusting and there will be some on the job training."

Mike Pouncey offers a reliable center, while Carl Johnson and James Wilson provide experience at guard. Wilson was "a little dinged" during fall practice, but it now back healthy. Jon Halapio is emerging and proving to the coaches that he is ready to play. Sam Robey is working at guard and center to remain valuable on the interior offensive line.

"It's about keeping that pool as big as you can keep it," Addazio said. "Then when your overall numbers drop, you still have the ability to roll with some guys."

Nick Alajajian opened eyes during camp because of his toughness. He has played every position on the offensive line in his young career, but there isn't a move that changes his understanding of the game.

"Nick had a great camp," Addazio said. "He's a tough guy. He's one of those guys you can't beat down. Physically and mentally, he just kind of goes hard. He had a great camp."

The offensive linemen will open holes for a deep group of running backs. Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody get the headlines and are expected to get most of the touches, but it's another running back that has come on lately.

"(Mike) Gillislee, I tell you this all the time, he's a heck of a football player," Addazio said. "They look good and strong. I was watching that tape last night, and they just look fast. I think Moody will have a great year. Those guys have experience and a good idea of what they're doing."

Another key playmaker to the Florida offense is wide receiver Andre Debose. Head coach Urban Meyer announced Monday that Debose was moved from the slot receiver to the X receiver, where he is now backing up Deonte Thompson. The move came from lack of depth at the X receiver, but it could turn into Debose becoming a more valuable player in the future.

"That's a lot to do with what I do, having guys being able to play multiple positions out there," Addazio said. "It's the same philosophy. You want to create some versatility and get guys on a field. It's an effort to say that we have a young player with some talent, let's give him some cross training and increase his opportunity to stay on the football field."

The focus of the Florida offense through camp has been on scoring when they get in the red zone. The Gators struggled to punch the ball into the end zone, but a large reason for that was turnovers.

"The biggest reasons we weren't good in the red zone is we turned the ball over," Addazio said. "That's what hurt us. It was more about turning it over than anything else. We've got to have much better ball security down there. We always have put a heavy emphasis, and we are continuing to do so."
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