This is the third in a series previewing the 2018 Florida football team.
A preview of the Florida offensive line entering head coach Dan Mullen’s first season:
This will be the most experienced offensive line the Gators have put on the field in quite a few years. The No. 1 line — Martez Ivey, Brett Heggie, T.J. McCoy, Fred Johnson and Jawaan Taylor — has combined to start 95 games.
The leaders are the seniors — Ivey, Johnson and Tyler Jordan. They have been starting games since their true freshman season in 2015 and all have shown a lot of versatility.
Ivey has started at tackle and guard. Johnson has started at tackle and guard. Jordan has started games and seen playing time at center, guard and tackle.
Ivey is a former five-star recruit who has yet to fully realize his potential. Injuries have been a factor, along with him being moved from his natural position (left tackle) at times over the past two seasons.
Ivey has gained strength in Nick Savage’s offseason strength and conditioning program and is coming off a strong spring in which he was dominant at times. He seems determined to end his career with a big senior season.
Another leader on the line is McCoy at center. He may be undersized, but he’s a battler whose relentlessness seems to be contagious.
This is a line that started building some much-needed chemistry over the course of last season and appears to be a tight, cohesive group.
Over the past two seasons, the line has underachieved.
It was supposed to be a team strength going into last season, but it only took one game (a physical loss to Michigan) to reveal that the line was not going to be as good as most anticipated.
Once again, the line seems to have the experience to be very good, but until the big guys do it consistently on the field, the line remains somewhat of a question mark heading into the season.
Depth is better, thanks to the addition of Texas transfer Jean DeLance, junior college transfer Noah Banks and three true freshmen, but the Gators have little playing experience behind the starters at virtually every position (except for the one Jordan occupies).
Young player to watch
Sophomore offensive tackle Stone Forsythe certainly has the look of a big-time offensive tackle with his great size (6-foot-7, 329 pounds). Now it’s time to start playing like one. He started the final two games last season and flashed some of his potential. He had a good spring and is looking to take another big step in his development this fall. If he does, he could provide a much-needed boost to the depth at tackle.
Don’t be surprised if …
The three true freshmen — tackle Richard Gouraige, guard Chris Bleich and center/guard Griffin McDowell — work their way into the playing rotation.
Overall depth on the line is better, but the backups at tackle and center have little experience, so the opportunity will be there.
Gouraige, a four-star prospect, played both ways in high school, and also played basketball. He is athletic for a guy his size (6-foot-4, 298 pounds).
McDowell is a tough, hard-nosed player who will compete for the backup role behind McCoy at center.
Bleich was an early enrollee who showed in the spring he can physically hold his own at this level. He’s gotten reps at guard and center, and provides depth at both positions.
“Tyler’s a senior, Fred’s a senior, Jawaan, it’s his junior year, everybody else has experience. But for me and Fred and Tyler it is our last chance. 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. We’ve got expectations. It’s not just win the 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. We’re the University of Florida, that’s the expectation. That’s what the fans expect, that’s what we should expect, too.” — OT Martez Ivey
Probable depth chart
Ranking the SEC offensive lines