The Florida Gators boasted an impressive offensive line through the majority of the 2014 season; however, things are changing in 2015.
(C+P) — Under new head coach Jim McElwain, the Florida Gators have their work cut out for them this season, although this is not really anything new; the SEC has arguably been the best conference in college football for years. Although the Gators became Bowl eligible and ended up winning the Birmingham Bowl last year, their dismal 7-5 season saw them finish 106th in overall passing and 43rd overall in rushing yards in FBS. If you thought these numbers were bad, buckle up Gators fans; 2015 is looking worse.
One positive note for the Gators’ offense in 2014 was the play of the offensive line, which only gave up 17 sacks and at times looked as impassable as a brick wall (of course, at other times the line resembled an aging fence with a wide-open gate, but this wasn’t a regular occurrence). This year, the Gators’ line is already looking more and more like that fence, except with a wider gate. This isn’t necessarily due to inferior offensive line players; it’s more a side effect of a devastating offseason.
The bleeding began this spring when five offensive line players either graduated or transferred. Coupled with the loss of D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore, who left prematurely for the NFL, the offensive line began the spring with just eight scholarship eligible players. This number was further diminished when top sophomore Roderick Johnson’s career ended when he was diagnosed congenital cervical stenosis, the same condition that ended the career of the eldest Manning brother Cooper. The good news is that Roderick can walk; the bad news is that he was forced to walk off the field rather than risk doing any damage to his fragile spine.
And then there were seven.
It wasn’t over, though; seven soon became six when redshirt senior Trip Thurman missed all of the spring practices after irritating a nagging shoulder injury. There is no word on whether Thurman will start the season, but he is expected to return in September or October (if all goes well). After a series of walk-ons and a few transfers, including the downright scary Mason Halter (The former Fordham University Ram is 6’8’’ and weighs nearly 300 pounds), the Florida offensive line now boasts 17 offensive linemen, 15 of which are scholarship eligible. Numbers, however, can lie; only five of the players have ever played in college, and only three are upperclassmen.
All in all, Jim McElwain and the Gators have a lot to improve upon before the season begins, but there is only so much practice can do; players tend to learn by doing. Let’s just hope that the Gators’ linemen are fast learners.