Florida Gators spring position preview: offensive line

Offensive line play, of course, is key to the success of any offense. On Friday, we broke down the QB position; yesterday we broke down the wide receivers/tight ends and running backs. Our position by position preview of Florida’s spring practice rolls on today with the guys that will be blocking for them:

Synopsis: Florida’s offensive line play sort of dictated how the team did last year. Early struggles in September coincided with three close wins against ECU, Kentucky and Tennessee, improvement in October saw dovetailed nicely with routs of Mississippi, Missouri and Georgia, and regression in November… well, that wasn’t too good of a month for the Gators, let’s leave it at that. Yes, many of the struggles can be attributed to the ineffective Treon Harris, but while the line showed promise at times, it ultimately faltered down the stretch. Consistency is the goal for this group going forward.

What to watch for: Martez Ivey’s health is perhaps the biggest key. He missed several games last year with a knee injury, but there’s no denying his talent when he’s at full strength. He’s also extremely versatile, seeing playing time at both tackle and guard last year. For an offensive line unit that’s got more than its fair share of question marks, having a shapeshifter like Ivey is something of a divine gift; Jim McElwain can allow guard and tackle position battles to play out, have Ivey work at both, and whichever spot is weaker is where he’ll insert Ivey.

Dark horse: Tyler Jordan hasn’t gotten a whole lot of ink since arriving in Gainesville last year, though he did get plenty of playing time as a freshman. So I’m listing him a dark horse not because he’s regarded as being a long shot to start, but rather because I see this kid shooting out of nowhere to become a rock solid inside offensive lineman, maybe even All-American. He’s a powerful guy with quick feet, and he’s really, really smart. Through a fair amount of film, I’ve noticed something about Jordan: he’s often able to detect which gap the defensive lineman is going to shoot, meets him there and stones him. Sure, sometimes that’s because he’s designed to pull or block to a certain side, but he seems to scope out the interior lineman and meet him more frequently than it feels like doing his job would lend itself to.

Projected starters: LT: David Sharpe, LG: Martez Ivey, C: Cam Dillard, RG: Tyler Jordan, RT: Fred Johnson. The real question, again, is the health of Ivey. If something happens to him, Antonio Riles, Andrew Mike and Brandon Sandifer would likely battle it out for that second guard spot. As for the rest of the line, Sharpe, Dillard, Jordan and Johnson appear locked in at their respective spots. Assuming they all stay healthy, that would be a pretty strong starting five.

Summary: The good news is that Jim McElwain appears to have cleaned up the mess Will Muschamp started up front by leaving just six scholarship offensive linemen simply by adding bodies. And the projected starting five is both a talented and experienced group. The bad news is that there’s still a large degree of uncertainty as to what happens if more than one of the starters go down. You could do a lot worse than Andrew Mike, Brandon Sandifer or Antonio Riles as a backup lineman, but after that, the depth chart drops off like a continental shelf. Here’s hoping there are no significant injuries among the Gators’ offensive linemen, both because of how good the unit could be with them and how much of a disaster it could be without them.