Johnson’s versatility a strength on UF offensive line

Florida offensive lineman Fred Johnson
Florida offensive lineman Fred Johnson (74) runs a drill during a practice earlier this month. Johnson gives the Gators versatility on the line. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

To prepare for his move from right tackle to right guard during the offseason, Florida junior Fred Johnson spent extra time at the training table.

The 6-foot-6 Johnson bulked up to 330 pounds, from his playing weight last season at 315, in an effort to be strong enough to handle playing deeper in the trenches.

Ate the right things, took in protein, after workouts, and made sure I ate (every) three to four hours,” Johnson said. “Simple things.”

Johnson began 2016 as UF’s starting right tackle before moving to right guard after freshman Jawaan Taylor emerged at tackle during the course of the season. But Florida coach Jim McElwain said Johnson is continuing to work out at both the tackle and guard spots.

“He’s kind of starting to grow up and understand the importance of the daily preparation, and seeing how much he means to us being successful,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “He’s learning how to get his cleats in the ground and play with some pad level, and really the biggest thing is being held accountable through the communication piece.

“You know up front, he’s one of the guys that can, at times, create an eclipse. He’s a big son of a gun. He can blot out the sun. But we need him to play not with that every other play mentality, but that, let’s go finish it.”

Johnson was a late bloomer who didn’t make the varsity football team at Royal Palm Beach High School until his senior year. But he’s been able to make progress each offseason at UF and was able to transition from tackle to guard without much of a dropoff. Johnson played in all 12 of UF’s games last season, starting eight.

I just had to refocus on my technique, because being a guard you have to take more of the bulk of people,” Johnson said.

With all five starters back on UF’s offensive line from the end of last season, Johnson said he feels the unit is ready to take the next step and play with more consistency. Johnson said the linemen have bonded with new offensive line coach Brad Davis quickly and are buying into his message of playing with more physicality.

Expectations are we know the system, we’ve been used to it for two years,” Johnson said. “It’s just be aggressive and attack every day, prove people wrong, people (who) say we’re not like, a top unit for Florida. Coach Davis brought in a kind of aggression, go-get-it mentally when he came in and we’ve just adapted to that.”

A Family, Youth and Community Sciences major, Johnson said he would like to mentor at-risk youth in his native Palm Beach County when his football career ends. Born in Riviera Beach, Johnson and his family moved to inland West Palm Beach when he was eight years old.

For now, though, Johnson is focusing on his final two years at Florida,trying to lead the Gators to championships while improving his chances to get drafted by an NFL team.

“It doesn’t last long,” Johnson said. “That’s basically the one thing I didn’t think about in high school. Because, you know, in high school, I got a couple offers, I’m going to play. But now it’s either make do or die. You get one shot.”