Bigger, stronger, quicker: UF’s O-line transformed

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Florida offensive lineman Martez Ivey. (AP Photo/John Amis)

ATLANTA — For months leading up to last season, Jim McElwain hailed the offensive line as the strength of the Florida football team.

It didn’t take long for that claim to be disproved.

By the middle of the third quarter in the season opener against Michigan, it had become obvious that the UF offensive line wasn’t a strength but a liability.

The big guys were dominated, pushed all over the field by an aggressive — and obviously stronger — Michigan defensive front.

As the Gators found out that day, and in the days to come last season, that it’s hard to be a strength when you literally lack strength.

That was a big problem.

“You knew it when you were playing,” senior left tackle Martez Ivey said at SEC Media Days. “You could just tell people were stronger than you. It was kind of like, not intimidating, but why am I not as big?

“You’d see (recruits) come to games that you hosted on their official that turned out to be bigger than you. It’s something that blew my mind. The weight room wasn’t where it needed to be. I knew once we got a new staff in it was going to be different. We were going to change it around.”

That change has occurred. It is obvious, visible.

You can see it in the pictures players have been posting of themselves on Twitter.

You can see it standing next to Ivey, who has changed his body dramatically thanks to Nick Savage and the new strength and conditioning staff.

“I believe it’s going to help me tremendously,” Ivey said. “I’ve seen more change in the first three months than I did in the first three years I was here.

“I’m stronger. I’m faster. I’m bigger as well. That’s going to play a big part. As an offensive lineman, the weight room is key. That’s just going to up my game, our game, more.”

Ivey was the only UF lineman making the trip to Atlanta this week. But he said all of his offensive line brothers have gone through transformations similar to his.

They’re all bigger, stronger, quicker, in overall better shape.

“We’ve all benefited,” he said.

With all the physical changes, Ivey said UF’s experienced offensive line is ready to emerge as a legitimate team strength this season.

“I believe the offensive line will be the strength our team,” he said. “I expect us to be more physical up front. That’s for a fact.

“The O-line, D-line, I feel like we can take control of the game more now just by having more strength, more speed, more power.”

Add strength and power to the experience, and maybe the big guys up front have a chance to live up to the high expectations that they had no chance to last season.

The top six linemen — Ivey, Tyler Jordan, Fred Johnson, Jawaan Taylor, T.J. McCoy and Brett Heggie — have combined to start 106 games.

Ivey, Jordan and Johnson are all seniors who started games as true freshman.

“We have chemistry on the offensive line,” Ivey said. “I’ve been here four years, played four years. Tyler’s been here four years, played four years. Fred’s been here four years, played four years. Waany’s played three years. T.J. and Heggie have experience.

“Nick Buchanan has gotten reps with the first team at center. Jean DeLance works hard in the weight room and on the field. Stone Forsythe works hard. We’ve got backups pushing us.

“We’re all pushing each other to become better.”

The Gators know they have to be better up front if they’re going to turn things around offensively. Like every offense, Dan Mullen’s starts with the big guys on the line.

“To be successful you’ve got to be pretty solid up front,” Mullen said. “You’re not going to find a team that’s competing for a championship that does not have a solid offensive line. That’s going to be a huge part of our program, that line coming together, those guys getting used to playing with each other, the experience they have playing with each other. Their performance is going to be huge.”

There’s an obvious leader now on the offensive line. It’s the guy who showed up at SEC Media Days with a new, stronger body.

“Martez has done an amazing job since we’ve gotten there. He’s reshaped his body,” Mullen said. “When I talked to him, he’s healthy. He feels good about himself and where he’s at. And I’ve seen him work and improve.

“He might not be the most outspoken, vocal guy in the room, but he’s a guy that — when he made a decision to come back for his senior year, he’s a guy that has come in and bought in and done everything we’ve asked him to do from day one.”

 

48 COMMENTS

  1. I hope…. that what we’re reading these days about the improvements in the strength and conditioning program is real and not just youthful enthusiasm. It’s an interesting comment that Martez has regarding visiting recruits being bigger than the team. How sad is that and what an indictment of the previous regime.

    I am looking forward to Sept 1 to see just how much improvement this team has made… physically, mentally, and as a football team.

      • Considering how well the staff gets paid and how much money we put into the program, its ridiculous these kids came to the University of Florida and did not get top notch strength and conditioning training.

    • it is very sad when a 17 year old kid is coming and already bigger than 20 year old men, and it is, among the many revelations that have come forth since Yellow Teeth got the boot, one of the absolute worst. I am mystified at how these clowns could have gotten raises and extensions, but whatever.

      • Rog and Jog I dont think thats what he meant. He said they turned out to be bigger than”you”. I think he meant that players they hosted , later when they played against them “turned out” to be bigger than them. He wasnt saying as High schoolers they were bigger. He had 1st spoken of players they played against being bigger and stronger, then he made the comment about recruits.

  2. If this team goes 8-4 or better with an offense in the top 50, the previous regime will have secured their spots in the bowels of Gator Lore. Two SEC East titles be damned.

    Like SOS and Meyer, with Mullen I feel we got the right guy at the right time for us and him.

  3. The “strength and conditioning” program at Florida under McElwain is now just perplexing. What was McElwain thinking, or what was he not doing? And the guy came from Alabama where the S&C program is second to none. McElwain says he is looking forward to learning under Harbaugh. That is a good thing for him, as he certainly learned little under perhaps the greatest college football coach in history, Nick Saban.

      • WE went from Marotti under Meyer to Dillman under Muschamp, both excellent to Mike Kent that McElwain brought in. I recall the Admin. was upset with the strength and conditioning and pressed McElwain to fire him, they said it was disorganized and the players werent being adequately developed. No truer words were said, we just didnt realize how bad it had gotten. I believe this new coach Strong is head and shoulders above them all based on the feedback. I remember the feedback under Marotti was like it is now and how Tebow and company would compete in the weight room! Good Vibes!!

    • It really is perplexing. Mac had a decent background, he coached under Saban, he had a reputation as an offensive guru…and somehow we ended up with the last three years. It’s a real head scratcher. You know, I felt early on in year one after he finally settled on Will Grier, that the offense had something and was headed somewhere. The Ole Miss game just got me all excited about Gator football again. Then, after the Will Grier suspension it seemed like the wind just flew right out of the sails and never returned. Very puzzling.

      However, we’ve got Coach Mullen now and I couldn’t be any more excited!!!!

    • TampaG couldn’t have said it better..my only working theory on your observation is that The Shark wasn’t in charge of that when he was at UA and it wasn’t really all that important to achieve 10 wins at the YMCA (e.g. Mountain West). He was spoiled with exceptional defensive talent when he got here and I suppose he thought he could coast with the guys he had on O. I don’t know. I’ve hammered him a ton over the last 18 months, but at the end of the day, I think my largest criticism of him is simply that he wasn’t enough of a creative/visionary coach offensively, and that he didn’t try hard enough to put a team of talented and conditioned competitors together. I’ve often drawn parallels with him and Doug Dickey. Dickey was not an offensive genius by any stretch of the imagination, but what I give DD credit for is he got and conditioned exceptional talent to run the system he wanted to implement. It was just his coaching blunders that did him in. McElwain neither got the talent, nor knew what to do with the talent he had. He failed on both fronts.

      • but is it football strength? what about the inside of the mind – is the player fully engaged now, is the poor effort against south Carolina, Georgia and Missouri fixed, or are we still fragile? are we better suited for injuries now, or are we going to have 30 more medical issues or whatever?
        I don’t know, maybe its all great. we don’t know if its truly the level of a proper florida team until the score returns to being florida 35, south Carolina 2.

        • Good point. I think it is far more a mystery what happens in the mind, and we won’t know about the mental toughness until the players face live fire. I do know that Savage talks about training the mind, conditioning the guys to fight through adversity and push themselves and each other, so hopefully when things get tough, those lessons will hold.

      • Bender – a person can accomplish that in 8 weeks of basic training. But once you change your body you must continue on a path to get better every day and do it sensibly. These young men have been working out in high school and need to be shown how to work out in college. It is the desire from within that separates the average, good, and great players from one another. GO GATORS!!!

  4. Another indictment against Jim Mac. All he did was collect a 4 million dollar a year pay check, insulted his players and impugn dumped on the fan base with his lies. Never should have paid him the $$$$ when he was rightfully fired. And FYI, Muschamp should have been fired after the Georgia Southern loss.

      • Really. Given that the guy went 11-2 the next year and was one fumble in the UGA game from playing for a national championship? How close did we get to playing in an NC title game under the Shark? How many Gator games have you watched? 2? 3? You make Joe Alleva sound like Knute Rockne and Frank Broyles combined.

  5. It just keeps getting more insane. I am just picturing these 17-18 year old recruits coming in and seeing that they are already bigger than 20 year olds who have been working with Coach Kent, and then him coming out wearing a t-shirt that reads “Fat is the New Sexy” promising them “If you come to UF you can shed that useless muscle, put on a ton of fat and look just like these guys!! You have my personal guarantee!” Then he hands them bags of cheeseburgers and tells them to stop lifting.

    The recruits had to be dying not to laugh at the fool, and of course McElwain is standing right there with no socks, grinning with those gross yellow teeth while sand gnats bite his ankles, nodding and saying, ‘This is the kind of excellence you will be exposed to on a daily basis if you sign with me, the greatest coaching mind of this or any generation!!”

  6. It truly boggles the mind. Kirby Smart apparently learned plenty from Saban, maybe Jeremy Pruitt did, too, but Mac was an imposter. You can control the shape your players are in, and Mac didn’t, $4 mil a year wasn’t enough to put a product we could be proud of on the field.
    Of all the mind-boggling things regarding Mac, I thought it was the most disturbing when he touted the OL all offseason as our strength. He had been at Bama for 2 NC’s, so he knows what a good OL looks like, right? Then they get completely manhandled by a Michigan team that would be middle of the pack in the SEC.
    Thank God that’s over.

    • Well, we were proud of the defense the first two years of Mac, but it was Muschamp’s D. The offense was barely as good as Titusville H.S. Wait. I think Titusville won a state title in 2016. Mac never had an offense crack the top 100. His D was 5th nationally in 2016. But no reminiscing about the ‘good old days.’ In Div I college football and basketball, it’s all about winning championships. Between 1996 and 2008, Florida won 3 of 13 football championships (23 percent, better than any other Div I school) and 2 of 2 NCAA basketball titles from 2004-2007 (100 percent and, again, better than any other Div I school). This is the bar set for Florida. It’s very high. Can Mullen and White reach that bar in the next 2-3 years? The talent is there. Is the coaching and the HEART of the players to play as a TEAM? Only a national title will elevate Mullen and/or White to elite Gator coaches. It’s probably not fair, but that’s what it is at Florida now. Being second rate is no longer acceptable after the success from 1990 to 2008.

  7. I don’t know what’s different with me. On Mac’s first presser I got a sick feeling in my gut. I told my wife that this guy is a loser, he hasn’t a clue how to be a head coach, he learned nothing under Saban, and it will take millions to get rid of him in 3 or 4 years. BINGO. Way to go Jeremy.

  8. By God, oldman, I hope not either. My gut and my brain, what’s left of the latter anyway, tell me that if Dan Mullen tells you a flea can pull a buggy, then hitch his little ass up. So he’s confident, I take it. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the conversation once again turns to Mac and what a _________ (fill in the blank) he was, is, or is likely to remain for the rest of time.

    Which is it going to be? We all know how critical the OL is, we’ve seen it with our own eyes when it doesn’t work, and we know that these splendid running backs and receivers don’t stand a chance if it isn’t substantially better this year. GALVEZ GATOR put just right: I want to believe….show me.

      • Good one 65…..but I’m watching Shark Week right now to make sure of that. Or maybe it’s Shrek Week, my TV seems to be stuck to that channel since my grand-daughter was here yesterday. No matter, I’ve got 38 days and a wake up to fix it!

          • Could even do the Austin Powers and have sharks with laser beams. We’ll start a go fund me. Hey I hear some Asian carp is making a invasion of the rivers heading for the great lakes. There was a time they would do something like that introduce one species to get another. And if the MAC shark got caught up in it we got two for the price of one. OK this isn’t about football and I can’t wait for game 1. I don’t sleep well this time of year. Anticipation. There are a lot of sifi movies maybe we could make money at this.

  9. I wonder how a college football player can see the things he says he saw and not take action to improve. Sure your coach is important but if I am weaker than HS folks and defensive linemen I use the internet to fix that. Now I understand that we are going to use zone blocking so they need to be mentally in the game as well as physically.

    • I couldn’t agree more. It’s like the old Charles Atlas 90 pound weakling ads. When you get sand kicked in your face every game you should be bright enough to understand that some changes need to be made. Mainly get your rear in the weight room and get the same muscle as your opponent. I just don’t get this being pushed around and outplayed every Saturday and not doing anything about it.

  10. Steve said something a few comments ago that made me think about Mac a bit differently regarding his time with Coach Saban. Obviously Kirby has seemed to really “get” what Saban is doing and has taken it to UGA with him. But Mac, for whatever inexplicable reason did not pay attention to the “entire program” or “process” that Saban is known for. Maybe he was a good play caller…though the last three years would dispute even that, but he surely didn’t get the recruiting methodology, strength and conditioning philosophy, or assistant coach hiring practices….all things that Saban does so well.

    Was Mac just not paying attention while he was in Tuscaloosa????? He certainly wasn’t ready for prime time as a head ball coach and now I’m not sure he’d even make a good OC. Welcome home Dan!!!

  11. I am glad coach Mac is gone and I hope Mullen is a great coach. However, I think many folks forget that we had 10 players suspended last year including our best wide receiver and our best running back. I don’t care if is is Spurrier, Myer, or Mullen, if you lose 10 scholarship players (not due to injury) and two are stars on offense you will probably not have a very good year. So, my first Kudos for Mullen are that it has been a quiet summer. That may be his best achievement so far. Go Gators

  12. LB David Reese is a junior. DB David Reese is a true freshman. Don’t know if they are related. Robbie said LB Reese was a senior. Hope he is wrong. 2 years in a Gator uniform–and healthy-will see him playing on Sunday in a starting role.

  13. Our former 2 coaches severely suffered from the worst mental disease in coaching, Stubbornitis. They so strongly believed in their way of thinking that they ran themselves off. Their inability to adapt and learn while they were the head coach at Florida was symptomatic of the disease. Muschamp may be on the road to recovery. The jury is still out on Mac. Even AD’s suffer from Stubbornitis. However, Mullen seems to be already ahead of both former coaches in his stated willingness to adapt his system to the players. So far his actions and words have indicated he might be the coach to lead the Gators back to greatness. Of all his decisions so far I can only find one that may be an indication of one symptom of Stubbornitis, being too loyal to a assistant coach. He should have figured out a way to keep Seider on the staff. He could have asked his loyal assistant, Knox, to coach the tight ends instead of running backs for a while. Florida appears to lack an ace recruiter, especially for homegrown Florida kids. Seider is already taking former Florida recruits with him to Penn State.

  14. I agree that by all we’ve seen of CDMs short time here, he’s made some very positive changes in the right direction. Obviously the hiring of Savage and the resulting S&C program seems light years ahead of where we were. I also think Mullen can take good/top players and have them competing for titles. However, my biggest worry so far from his time here has been the lack of recruiting sucess. I was worried when we let go/lost some of our best recruiting assistants, namely Seider, that recruiting was going to take a big step back. Unfortunately this may be one of those few times I’m actually right about something.

    • I think it will take a couple of years for the recruiting to catch-up with the momentum that Mullen will impart to the program. An important, though often overlooked component of the recruiting program is the fan base. Recruits need to see and feel that the fans love their team, and that the team loves their fans. Top quality athletes do not want or need to play for a program that is characterized by vocally angry and disparaging fans. When the coaches and team adopt a “bunker mentality” bad thing happen. I think we all have a part to play, and I for one am hoping for the return of the amazing love and respect that we all once had for our program and our players – unconditionally and “in all kinds of weather”!

      • Excellent assessment, Trooper. Let’s take it to heart and stop all the second guessing and low expectations the last eight years has wrought, and get 100% behind these coaches and young men right now. Through thick or thin, in all kinds of weather. As far as recruiting, as Dan Mullen builds it, they will come. Hell, look around — a lot of them are already here!