By now, with a little more than 24 hours remaining until the Florida Gators open the 2019 college football season in Orlando against Miami, the positive and negative attributes of UF and the opposition have been well-documented.
For the Hurricanes, it remains to be seen how the team fares in Manny Diaz’s head coaching debut; it doesn’t help matters that Miami’s roster outside the front seven is wrought with inexperience, with redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams ticketed to lead the team’s revamped offense.
And for the Gators, who entered the season with a lofty top-10 designation in both major preseason Top-25 polls, the offensive line’s progression has been a focal point since the conclusion of the 2018 season. At the close of spring camp, Florida coach Dan Mullen made it clear the unit — especially the linemen behind the starting rotation — needed to progress in the offseason before the team reconvened in late July to begin the preseason’s installation.
“We’re trying to develop some really young offensive linemen right now. I’m not talking about the ones. I’m talking about the (second-string) guys,” Mullen said. “You guys have been out there, right now that’s huge for our o-line.”
Yet after 20 practices — not including a week of scouting the Hurricanes — UF’s offensive line has made strides across the board, according to those getting an up close and personal view of their progression.
“I think we have as much potential (as last season), if not more,” said offensive line coach John Hevesy. “The thing is, last year everyone was learning. Everyone was learning. Me, the offensive coaches. These guys know me now for the most part, besides the young kids. But everything last year was new. Everything out of my mouth these guys had to understand coverages, pressures, it was like, ‘What? What? What?’ Now it’s like half the room has it, half the room is saying, ‘What?’ So it cut it in half a little bit.”
Considering what’s at stake, there’s little point in a pessimistic mindset prior to kickoff. With Florida loaded with skill position talent and poised for a potent season from fourth-year quarterback Feleipe Franks, Hevesy knows the offense’s vigor rests on the shoulders of the offensive line.
“I have no choice but to (feel good),” Hevesy said. “All the confidence in the world. They’ve got to go play and they’ve got to go play hard.”
That’s likely the most enthusiastic endorsement Hevesy can give a unit with just 23 starts combined among them. Although game experience is nearly impossible to simulate, Florida’s protection believes it has come far in the months since the Orange and Blue debut game.
“I feel like we have come far. We are just clicking out front,” said redshirt junior left guard Brett Heggie. “It is just another game and we just have to be ready. We got to get prepared.”
Behind Heggie — who has started 10 games at Florida, with redshirt senior Nick Buchanan possessing the other 13 starts among the team’s offensive line — is a full slate of inexperienced underclassmen, including true freshmen Kingsley Eguakun, William Harrod, Ethan White and Michael Tarquin.
While it’s clear Florida would be enthralled with more experience and depth up front, the roster is set — even if the rotation behind the starting five remains to be seen.
All Florida’s offensive line can do now is continue progressing the way they have throughout 2019, to Saturday and beyond.
“We’re still getting better every day. I’d like to say we’re better today than we were the first day of camp and we’ll be better tomorrow than we were today. That’s our mindset — we come out here and we worry about the little things, the technique, the fundamentals, and we get better every single day,” Buchanan said. “We are never going to be comfortable with ourselves. We come out here every day and we strive to get better. When we get to gameday, we trust the work that we put in. We are not going to win the game on Saturday — we started winning this game way back in January when we started the offseason conditioning.”