Notebook: Hevesy looking for leaders on offensive line

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Florida offensive lineman Nick Buchanan smiles as he arrives for practice March 12. Buchanan, a center, is the lone returning starter on the line. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

Offensive line coach John Hevesy, who has to replace four starters, is currently operating an assistant football coach’s version of daddy day care.

The veteran coach is working with a ton of youth and inexperience this spring, including four true freshmen who enrolled early.

“I feel older. I feel a lot older. I was like 30 when they were born,” Hevesy said. “It is different. But it’s fun for me to go back to teaching the fundamentals and being very descriptive for the kids to learn the base fundamentals and all the things they have to learn from the start.

“It even helps you with the other guys who were here to go back to them and really learn the concepts and schemes. That’s the biggest thing, you have to figure out how you learn to break everything down so they can learn it in a proper way.”

Even though the Gators have only gone through four practices, the young linemen are showing some progress from day to day.

“They’re getting better,” Hevesy said. “They’re being coachable. You make  mistake on day one, you correct it on day two, then three and four. It’s getting better. We’ve made progress.”

The only returning starter is center Nick Buchanan. The only other players with any significant playing experience are Brett Heggie and Stone Forsythe. Redshirt freshmen Chris Bleich, Richard Gouraige and Griffin McDowell, along with Texas transfer Jean Delance, saw limited snaps last season.

The four true freshmen — Tarquin Michael, Kingsley Eguakun, Will Harrod and Ethan White — are only a few months removed from high school.

It’s a young and experienced group, but Hevesy likes its potential.

“I think it’s very good. Very good. We’ll see,” he said. “The one thing is they’re all eager to learn and they’re learning, they’re all making progress.”

The offensive line is perhaps the only question mark on an offense that has proven playmakers everywhere else.

Hevesy doesn’t hesitate when asked if the development of the offensive line is going to be the key to the offense in 2019.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “No matter what it is it’s always going to be. And for us, it’s going to be us developing between now and August. It’s going to be huge.

“The first thing I need is leadership. That’s the one positive you see, with Brett, Stone and Nick taking leadership of the guys. They’re taking over leadership because they know the drills now because they’ve been here for a year with me. They know the drills so they can even correct the young guys on what to get done.”

Chance for Delance

Delance, who saw only limited playing time in four games last season, has been working with the No. 1 line at right tackle.

“Last year opened his eyes to, ‘I’ve got to start doing things correctly,’ ” Hevesy said. “He’s got all the ability in the world athletically. The little things he’s got to finish up, which is bending and playing with his feet, a good base. He’s made great strides in improving all those little things.

“He’s athletic. Great feet. He’s got power. He’s just got to learn to play with power, play lower and play to his legs than play with upper-body strength. Doing those things, just learning to bend at that edge position.”

Versatility required

Because the Gators are so young up front and the emphasis is on installation early in the spring, Hevesy has only identified two linemen who can play more than one position — Bleich and Heggie, both guards.

Heggie cross-trained at guard and center last season. Bleich has seen reps at tackle and guard and can also play center.

“We have a bunch of guys that haven’t (cross-trained) yet just because we’re doing installation,” Hevesy said. “As we get toward the end I’ll start playing with some guys, just doing different things. I’m going to try to get eight ready for a game, so someone’s got to be ready to go at different positions.”

Banks still out

Hevesy said there is no timeline for the return of offensive tackle Noah Banks, who is out with an unspecified medical condition that was discovered during the Gators’ bowl preparation last December.

“No, that’s medical,” Hevesy said. “That’s something we’ve got to get cleared and make sure he’s healthy first. Don’t want to get into a situation where his health isn’t No. 1.

“He’s progressed very well since the end of the season. Just when the doctor says go, go. That’s between him and his family. His doctors will sit down and talk. Once he’s healthy, he can go.”

TE Krull injured

Junior tight end Luca Krull injured his shoulder in practice a few days ago, and UF coach Dan Mullen is putting the blame on an NCAA rule that doesn’t allow players to wear padding of any kind while practicing in shorts and helmets.

“He got banged up the other day at practice with a shoulder, unfortunately,” Mullen said. “It’s one of those rules that I guess the NCAA says that it’s supposed to keep you safe, that you can’t have any padding on, and he fell on the ground and hurt his shoulder.

“So, if he had any bit of padding on, he wouldn’t have gotten injured. It’s a rule that causes players to be injured. It’s not about player safety. It’s about getting guys hurt, unfortunately. I think his comfort level right now is growing.”

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. The improvement of the offensive line over the course of last year was visible to everyone. The big question is how much closer can Hevesy get them to optimum performance earlier in the season because it’s year two and they are more familiar. — Of course how the talent ultimately compares with last year’s talent matters, as does how many freshmen end up playing significant roles (since they aren’t more familiar). But against that backdrop, if we can get by Miami, that additional bye week at the beginning of the season has the potential to be gold for Hevesy and our oline. He clearly does a good job of cleaning things up that the players put on film in games.

    • Boy, that was an excellent post, Scrud…..dead nuts spot on.

      I think the initial task is not to just get by Miami though, but to serve notice and serve it convincingly. Other than that, I really agree with your take on the early bye week — what a gift. It may just be the factor that leads this O-line to gel quickly, before we get into the meat of the SEC schedule. IMO, that’s the key to a great season in Year Two.