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.
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.
What: Annual Orange & Blue Game
When: 3 p.m. April 14
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Tickets: Free admission
TV: SEC Network