It’s up to offensive line, and UF linemen know it

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Florida's Fred Johnson (74) and his linemates know they hold the key to the offense's success in 2018. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

Granted, they’ve moved on to their third position coach in as many years and they’re in a new offense. But, still, no more excuses.

They’re no longer young and inexperienced. They’re no longer lacking the strength or the will. They’re no longer low on numbers or depth.

No excuses.

It’s time for Florida’s offensive line to be productive, to start playing up to expectations, to be a team strength.

No one knows that more than the big guys themselves.

“For me and for Fred (Johnson) and for Tyler (Jordan), it is our last chance,” senior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said. “Our last chance to get it right. Last chance to do what we came here to do. We didn’t come here to go 4-7. We came here to compete for championships and win a championship.

“That’s my mindset, that’s their mindset, it should be everybody’s mindset around here. This new coaching staff and Coach Mullen, he came in and he like told us, it’s the University of Florida.

“When he was here it was the standard. We’re getting that standard back. We got expectations. It’s not just win SEC East, it’s to win the whole SEC. Then it’s to go to a playoff game, then it’s to go for that national championship.”

Even though the Gators won the SEC East in Jim McElwain’s first two seasons, they did it without what most would consider a championship offensive line.

UF has pretty much been pushed around up front for the past several seasons, even dating back to Will Muschamp’s last two years (2014-15).

Things were supposed to be much different in 2017. This was the season in which the offensive line was going to be potentially dominant, an obvious team strength.

That was the preseason perception because that’s what McElwain had preached throughout last spring and summer.

Then in the season opener against Michigan, the offensive line was basically routed in a one-sided loss to the Wolverines, leaving McElwain and others to question the physical strength and toughness of the group.

Things did not get better from there. The offense — and the line — struggled throughout a 4-7 season that led to the forced departure of McElwain and his staff.

Now, the Gators have a new coach (Dan Mullen), a new offensive line coach (John Hevesy) and renewed hope on the offensive line.

“I think it’s going to be the experience (that will help us turn it around),” redshirt junior center T.J. McCoy said. “We needed what happened to us last year. We thought it was going to be our year and it wasn’t.

“On the offensive line, we have a bad taste in our mouth and we’re just ready to prove everybody wrong and to prove that we can be the strength of the team.

“With the help of Coach Hevesy and Coach Mullen, we’re trying to build a championship atmosphere, especially on the offensive line, by just doing everything right.”

UF’s main goal on the offensive line last season — especially after the alarmingly poor performance against Michigan — was to be tougher and more physical and play with an angry attitude.

The Gators seem to be taking a more cerebral approach under Hevesy. The emphasis this spring has been on knowing assignments and carrying them out with proper technique. UF still wants to be physical up front, but knowing what to do and how to do it seems to be a priority.

“Coach Hevesy has been really big on fundamentals and technique,” McCoy said. “I’d say just us being fundamentally sound. We’ve got a new offense, most of our install is done and now it’s just knowing how to do it, the different techniques.

“Coach Hevesy is really big about technique. In my opinion, he’s Coach (Nick) Savage (UF’s director of football strength and conditioning) on steroids when it comes to technique. He’s a very intense guy, and he’s really big on us doing the thing right, doing everything right. And just having the attitude and really being the protectors of this offense.”

If the Gators are going to turn things around on offense this season and start restoring the high standard of the program’s championship past, the big guys up front will have to do their job, and do it well.

“They go as we go,” Ivey said. “So if we come out slow, the whole offense is going to come out slow. We have the most guys on the field. We got five guys out there, so if we don’t have energy nobody else is going to have energy around us.

“It starts with us. Up front, it’s our job to get everything going.”

No more excuses.


Up next

What: Annual Orange & Blue Game

When: 3 p.m. April 14

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Tickets: Free admission

TV: SEC Network

37 COMMENTS

  1. The key here is like he said, it’s been 3 years and they have not been good. Why will this year be different? Don’t tell me experience. 3 years. This offensive line has been the problem and I’m sorry to say will be the problem next year. Sorry, but they are just no good. Maybe for a few plays here or there. I just believe they are not physically or mentally tough enough to consistently get it done. After 3 years and now and again they are saying they are ready. I hope they prove me wrong, but until I see the entire offensive line pushing the defense back I won’t buy in to this group.

    • 3 years of bad coaching. They’ve shown flashes of what they’re capable of, I just think they spent 3 years with a coaching staff that clearly lacked the ability to get the most out of them. They certainly lacked in the strength program, which resulted in a soft team that got manhandled on a regular basis. The line has been bad for a long time, but then you see several players who left and are now starting in the NFL, which proves they were badly coached in college. I think you’ll see a different line this season that’ll be much nastier and certainly won’t get manhandled as much as they have the last 3 years. Hevesy was the last great O-line coach this program had, so I’m pretty confident in what he can do.

    • Honestly, noone needs them to be a team strength. Just don’t be ranked in the 120s in key stats like sacks given up. Just an average ranking in the 50s to 70s or a poor ranking in the 80s to 90s would be a massive step up.

      • I don’t necessarily disagree with you TJ. An improvement would help –but that means the other offensive areas will need to improve more. And maybe they will, but QB is also critical and that is another huge question mark. The point is to be the best. I think most of us are tired of “settling”. I don’t want to get into that mindset, even though I have to be practical and patient. I have to agree with what TJ and Ray said. I don’t think our line is very talented. I think Ivey is overrated. I am disappointed in the others . Yet, I do think we have to get better this year–can’t get much worse. I hate this time of year because everyone knows the weaknesses from the year before and assumes another year will fix it–everyone is a winner in April and May. But I want to challenge our line if any of them is reading this: it is not about you being a better player any more. It is about being a tougher man. Most can’t stand to lose, but no one likes to be pushed around and abused.

  2. Well Ray, I can see how you came to that conclusion, I watched the same games you did for the last 3 years. And, I won’t insult your intelligence by making irrational predictions either. But between the strength coach and the line coach. something is indeed different this year. Let’s see.

  3. Experience in failure is not a positive. Now they have a lot of work to do, get their technique correct, be physical and athletic enough for success at their position, then work as a unit and stay healthy. A large task to do in one year, and apparently plenty of work to do still.

  4. I am hoping it was mostly poor leadership among the coaching, not lack of talent or a situation where nobody, even Hevesy, can make them tough and playing like it matters(and not being “dead fish”).
    It was astounding to me last year when Mac declared them the strength of the team, then they were absolutely manhandled by a mediocre Michigan team with a pretty good, not great, especially not Bama great, DL. That Mac didn’t even recognize his unit’s weakness. Like he forgot what his OL at Bama looked like, what an SEC OL looked like, in just 3 years at CSU. May coaches Mullen, Savage and Hevesy erase the stench of that, and may this group come out firing in 2018, and make the OTHER team look like the boys vs. men.

  5. Until we see the offensive line play on September 1, all we have is the hope that this staff can maximize the potential of these players. However, it may take more than just one off-season of improvement in strength and conditioning, and technique. Are there players on the roster who possess anything close to the abilities of the Pounceys, Phil Trautwein, Donnie Young, Reggie Green, Zach Piller or David Williams?

    • @ Mark – Martez Ivey certainly has the pedigree and ratings coming in to be just a dominant as the names you mentioned, without question. I firmly believe that the lack of greatness is due to bad coaching and bad strength training from Coach MCYellow being on campus. It might take a few years, like you say, but this is certainly a different vibe from the players.

  6. I said it before (this past weekend) and I will say it again – the Gator O-line has was it takes to be top notch. As Coach H has told them over and over again, it is time to CONSISTENTLY EXECUTE. EXECUTION AND CONSISTENCY are what is needed, so the QB, receivers and running backs know where the holes will be opened up and know that the defense is not going to blow by our O-Line. GO GATORS!!!

    • Glen…. I sure hope you’re right. I believe in this coaching staff but the question will be, how quickly can they turn things around, top to bottom, and get these players playing to the best of their abilities. I sure hope you’re right.

    • No, I think that last years starters who will return this year need to be on a short leash. They need to perform or set and give the younger guys a chance to play. They are an experienced bunch , as a group, who have under performed and if we are going to fix Gator football let’s go young up front…tired of the three and outs, no surge, no pass protection…I don’t think any of our returning linemen should be given starting jobs…been watching the Gators since 1968 and our offensive line is the single worst unit of any area of play that I’ve ever seen…

  7. My fellow posters, I have not come here to condemn. I have not come here to praise. I have come here with the clear open mind of “Show me the change. Show me the improvement. After more than 3 years of promises and bold predictions, SHOW ME IT’S NOT THE SAME OLD SAME OLD!”

  8. Exactly what I have been saying the whole time through the last 2 coaches and the lack of offensive production. No o-line, no offense. No star QBs, Recievers, RBs, etc., ad naseum. Problem understood. Problem will be fixed. Now watch!

  9. I would hope they believe in themselves enough to believe they can beat any DL. That’s important. In reality, they will oppose some bad hombres in the SEC where they need to be able to just hold their own and disrupt the timing but never ever doubt their determination and ability to fight to the end. Have confidence and find a way to win! Go Gators!

  10. There is were it starts and there is were it ends. If the offensive line does not do their jobs, nobody else will be able to do theirs. The QB’s can’t do theirs if they have to run for their lives on every down, the receivers can do their jobs but if the QB’s don’t have the time to get the ball to them is nothing but a wasted effort ditto for the running backs So let’s root for the big guys, as they go, so will the team. GO GATORS!!!!

  11. This team will rise or underachieve (again) depending on what the O-line does. Here in my dreamland I’m seeing them making a miraculous change tearing holes in the D front for our stable of very good backs and providing our QBs plenty of time to throw to wide-open receivers. I know there isn’t much reason to think this will be real this year, but it could be and should be.

    • No, I don’t care who the quarterback is…our offensive line will prevent any/all of the play makers from showing anything…we are not going to be real good because our offensive linemen were overated when we recruited them and now we have to get some kids recruited who are physically and mentally tough enough to play in the SEC…

  12. Don’t blame the oline all the time when the qb stands and stands like in a trance, how long do you need block for. Once they start making plays then the line will get better and better according to all the experts here who don’t have any coaching jobs or ever coached, just expert at giving their usual doom and gloom.

    • @ Sarge – LOL, exactly. Everyone here is a former NFL OL coach. I like EmoryJones post “The OL will be average…” Well, I am glad he knows this in advance, I thought that was God’s gift alone. Why doesn’t he just spare the UF coaches the trouble and tell them not to play this year.

  13. “The emphasis this spring has been on knowing assignments and carrying them out with proper technique.” This line says it all. I reveals just how terrible the coaching was under Captain Yellow Teeth that the offensive line were never coached to even know their assignments. Now, they are getting coached on the proper technique and the proper attitude. Last year these guys were being lied to, they were given no direction in the weight room, and of course they performed the way you would expect any unit to perform when provided with incompetent leaders: they failed because the coaches failed them.

    I am going to straight up say it, and I rarely do this: The offensive line will be good this year. I guarantee it.

  14. as Robbie said last year after the Michigan game (sept. 3, in another of the dozen or so articles over the years titled in some variation of the offensive line is going to get better), the blue print was there as to how to deal with the gator offensive line, just use 7 to crowd, blitz, stunt and confuse…let me know when we have this answered on the field! I think it will take a while. either way you cant know until mid- October at the earliest.

  15. With vastly improved S&C and coaching, + sincere desire on the part of players, something has to give! If it doesn’t improve to at least average, then something is very wrong. Again, the variables are (1) improved S&C, (2) improved coaching, and (3) sincere desire on the part of players. If 1 and 2 remain constant, the root cause must be (3)? Ask yourself, though, had these players been recruited instead by Alabama, Georgia, or even FSU, would they be starting O-Linemen? That’s right, there’s no way to know that. So look, we’re all skeptical, we’ve all been burned by previous false superlatives, and last season was the capstone of mediocre Florida football for far too long. The only logical thing we can do at this point is hold our breaths and trust the new leadership. Glasnost.

  16. Spot on Gator-6. My belief is that all three points will be improved. Will it be enough to win some games? We’ll find out in September. Surely these kids want to win and it appears they’re being taught how….finally.

    Rhetorical question……. did McElwain really believe the OL was SEC Championship caliber or was he just serving up a severe case of coach-speak….maybe as a motivational tool? Or was he just utterly clueless about being a head SEC ball coach?

    Glasnost indeed@

    • Rog, I think….well, he was not entirely clueless since honestly….he had to show somebody something to get here…..but in retrospect he was a terrible choice for an SEC head coach (unlike Smart and Pruitt, who came from the same tree but had fire in their bellies). That is to say, the personality of a head coach is important and communicated by the head coach whether or not he realizes it. Explains, at least, the overall lack of urgency and lack of hustle by the team in general….or “laid back” attitude. Of course, I’m looking at it as an Army officer, but over 32 years in uniform I saw more than a few commands fail because of the same thing…..and many more succeed because of the personality of the commander, where the troops always “did more than they had to”.

      How’s life in Knoxville? Pretty exciting for the Vols, I’ll bet….just like in Gainesville. I’m just getting back in the groove so to speak, had a medical situation about 7 weeks ago that laid me up for a while…..feels good tho to be back reading all my old pals on this forum!

      • God bless you on your continued recovery and thank you. Ron Zook was the best example of what you said. The team seemed to take on his personality. Ron seemed like a guy, as Finebaum said, that is a walking Viagra pill. And the team always seemed to come out of the gates fired up and bouncing off the walls. But as the adrenaline seemed to die down and it came down to knowledge and technique, we often hit a wall. I remember blowing or almost blowing a lot of leads in the second half. Muschamp’s conservative nature was also reflected in the team–even to the point of the players’ repeating his mantras after the game.

        • Thanks, mkf…..I’m doing better than I should be so any deficits I have are not as bad as they could be, thank God. And I really mean that, it woke me up spiritually as well as physically!

          I remember the same thing about Zook’s players…..they really identified with him…..but when it came right down to it, there wasn’t any substance to it (just like him). I’m still trying to figure out Muschamp though,,,,,expect he’ll become a decent coach someday.

      • I have wondered this myself. At one point thought he was trying to praise them to glory, thinking that if he kept telling them they were great they would become great.

        I have since come to believe he may be insane (not joking). The delusional claim that he and players received death threats as well as him claiming in his bio on the Michigan website that his offenses at UF were “explosive” suggests to me someone who has suffered a psychotic break from reality.