By Garry Smits, GateHouse Media Services
Tyler Jordan, the Swiss Army knife of the University of Florida’s offensive line, has played under three offensive line coaches in his college career.
The Jacksonville Bishop Kenny graduate has no problem labeling John Hevesy as the most demanding. But he said he and the other UF lineman have learned to put a filter on Hevesy’s booming voice and drill-sergeant demeanor.
“He’s a tough guy to play for,” Jordan said during Florida’s media day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. “But after you get past all the yelling, you take the coaching points, let the other stuff go, and you’ll be a much better player.”
Hevesy returns to UF where he coached the offensive line and tight ends for Urban Meyer from 2005-2008. He went with Dan Mullen to Mississippi State in 2009 and was brought back to Gainesville as the co-offensive coordinator and line coach when Mullen replaced Jim McElwain last November.
Every player on UF’s two-deep offensive line depth chart is back, bolstered by the decision of guard/tackle Martez Ivey to return for his senior season. In that mix is Jordan, who has played four of the five line positions during his career. The only position he hasn’t played in a game is left tackle, but he has practiced there. Entering preseason practice, Jordan is the starter at left guard but Hevesy said he will continue to work at center.
“He’s a great kid,” Hevesy said of Jordan.
With Ivey, Jordan and senior Kavaris Harkless of Jacksonville able to play multiple positions, Hevesy has some flexibility. He also will welcome the return of guard Brett Heggie and center T.J. McCoy, who started a combined 16 games last season before both went down with season-ending injuries.
The offensive line was a weak link for the Gators last season as they contributed to an SEC-high 37 sacks. Florida also rushed for only 15 touchdowns, third-lowest in the SEC, and averaged 4.3 yards per rushing attempt, with only four conference teams doing worse.
The first piece of the puzzle was to get the group bigger and stronger. Strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage took care of that in an off-season program that Jordan said, “really grinded us down.”
Then there was adapting to Hevesy’s ways. Hevesy didn’t want to pass judgment on previous Florida offensive line coaches Mike Summers and Brad Davis but he clearly has his way, or, as Jordan said, the highway.
“There are certain ways he likes doing things and if you don’t do it that way, he will get on you,” Jordan said. “He will coach you to change it.”
Hevesy wouldn’t say the players’ techniques and fundamentals were sloppy, but acknowledged there was an adjustment period in spring workouts.
“I hate saying they’re bad habits … they’re just not my habits,” he said. “I don’t know the (coaches) before so I can’t criticize what they did. What I’ve taught … has worked for me. It’s been successful.”
From 2009-17, Mississippi State had six 1,000-yard rushers and three more players who gained more than 900 yards. The Gators have had two 1,000-yard rushers over that span, Kelvin Taylor (2015) and Mike Gillislie (2012).
When the Bulldogs led the SEC in fewest sacks allowed (11) last season, it was the sixth time in nine years under Mullen they were among the top-five. Last season was the third time the Gators allowed the most sacks in the league since Mullen left and they were among the top five only three times, the last in 2014.
Jordan said the offensive line, which includes four seniors and four fourth-year juniors, has taken it upon themselves to do extra work during the summer to change those dubious facts and figures.
“We’re doing individual work after running and lifting, doing stuff we haven’t done in the past,” he said. “We’re trying to change the outcome of last season and we’ve all matured and grown. There’s more of a brotherhood than the past few years and (the seniors) have one more year to do something special.”