UF notebook: A war at center

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Florida center T.J. McCoy . [Lauren Bacho/Staff photographer]

One of the most intense position battles is taking place at center, where former guard Nick Buchanan is trying to unseat two-year starter T.J. McCoy. The two have been sharing reps with the No. 1 offense.

Switching Buchanan to center was a good move, sophomore defensive tackle T.J. Slaton said.

“It’s a perfect fit for him,” Slaton said. “He’s big, strong. He’s much taller then T.J. I feel T.J. has the more aggressive side, but feel like Nick is smarter with it. He just fits the bill.

“It think it really fits him more, but T.J. is very aggressive and very competitive, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Pitts impresses

Being a true freshman, Kyle Pitts is starting out near the bottom of the depth chart at tight end. But, if you listen to his teammates, he has a chance to climb real fast with his size (6-foot-6, 239 pounds) and ability.

Pitts also has youth on his side. At 17, he’s one of the youngest players on the team.

“Kyle Pitts, actually when he first came in I didn’t know he was only 17,” senior tight end Moral Stephens said. “That shocked me. When he told me that I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I feel like Kyle Pitts, he’s going to be great. As of right now he’s just trying to get better, he’s only a freshman, but I do think he’s going to be pretty good.

“He’s going to be a beast.”

Reese likes his DTs

Junior middle linebacker David Reese is feeling a great sense of comfort when he looks at the guys playing in front of him, and protecting him, defensive tackles T.J. Slaton, Khairi Clark and Elijah Conliffe.

Not only are they big and strong, they also know what they’re doing, Reese said.

“T.J. Slaton, he’s a brickhouse,” Reese said. “All those guys know the plays, know the calls. Some of the times, they’re calling out the calls before I do, before I can say them all. It’s good to know that when your D-line knows what they’re doing it’s going to help the back end also.

“I have confidence in every one of our guys. Our inside guys are going to get a lot of sacks this year because we have so much talent on the edge. As long as they push the pocket, it’s going to be great for them.”

Slaton and Conliffe both saw significant playing time as true freshmen last season, earning the nickname “BamBam Kids.”

Both have gotten in better shape. Both have gotten to know their playbook well, especially Conliffe.

“He’s a big, strong guy,” defensive line coach Sal Sunseri said. “I’m pleased with Elijah. He’s a very, very smart football player. I love the way he studies and he knows it. Smart football players win football games, I’m just telling you that right now.”

Houston makes a move

Redshirt freshman James Houston was recently moved from outside to inside linebacker, the position he played in high school. He had a big hit on running back Adarius Lemons from his new spot in Saturday’s practice.

“It’s been going great, just moved back into the inside ’backer position,” Houston said. “I’ve been playing pretty well there.

“I love inside. I played it in high school, so it’s a little bit more natural for me. I just feel like I fly around the ball quicker and am just kind of faster on the field.”

Houston said he has a lot to learn about his new position and he’s leaning heavily on Reese, the veteran leader of the defense.

“We all get together and study the playbook probably every day,” Houston said. “David Reese knows everything. If you have any question you can go to him any time, he’ll give you an answer.”

Houston has a lofty goal this season.

“I hope to get on the field a lot,” he said. “My goal is to be a freshman All-American. If I have an opportunity to get on the field, I’m definitely going to be making some plays.”

17 COMMENTS

  1. To bad Brett Heggie got hurt. I would have loved to have seen him win the starting center job. But I admire Buchanan. He has been buried on the Florida roster for a long time now and he never quit or hung his head. Just was a good teammate and continued to work hard. It is paying off for him now with these new coaches giving him a chance. Glad to see him get this opportunity. McCoy was not a great communicator at center last year and then he got hurt. He is also too short for a starting center in the SEC.

  2. lets not write off TJ just yet! Buchanan has to beat him out fair and square, TJ has been through the wars already, so its going to be tough for Buchanan.
    I’m not totally sold on last years offensive line coach, I think that was a lot more of the problem than the talent etc. last year. we will know for sure soon.

  3. It seems like (I feel another bashing of the previous “coaches” coming on) a lot of forgotten about players are emerging with everyone getting a fresh start. It really makes you wonder about the ability of the previous clown posse’s ability to evaluate talent. We all know they couldn’t develope talent but it’s becoming more apparent they couldn’t evaluate it either.

    Or maybe these guys are simply growing up, maturing and finally putting all the pieces together…I prefer my initial assessment.

    • In fairness to the previous coaches and staff…..If I remember correctly, Muschamp didn’t leave enough bodies on the OL for the previous coaches to have a regular spring scrimmage. So the previous staff went about to recruit classes heavy on the OL to not only correct the deficiency but also to build depth. No doubt they took some marginal players, by UF standards, just to have the numbers. Then they had to make do and play many freshmen because that’s what they had. At the time, many expert analysts PREDICTED that the OL wouldn’t be very good for the first couple years because most linemen, unlike skill players, typically take a couple years to turn their baby fat bodies into college caliber muscle. It turned out their predictions were spot on. Now that these OL guys have matured into experienced and muscularly bulked up upper classmen, this new staff will reap the benefits. Let’s see what they can do with them. Some, if not most biased fans will disagree, but I understand completely how the narrative gets changed over time to fit our current fashionable views and opinions.

      • That last sentence is spot on to the trend, Sly — as is your overall explanation as to why this OL thing has been such a struggle for so long. Let’s hope that we’ve overcome it now, as the OL is really the only thing that still gives me pause — not even the QB situation does as much as that.

        • Thank you Doc! You are truly a gentleman and might I add, bold too.

          You have good reasons to give pause on this OL. Robbie ranked them the middle of the pack in the SEC. Early reports of fall practice suggests they are still giving up sacks.

      • Very good recounting of the story, but you left off the actual, M. Knight Shyamalan super twist ending to the narrative.

        Please recall that going into year three, LadyShark Lover began to clack his fish oil stained chompers at anyone who would listen that he and his crack staff of coaching superstars had at long last built the greatest offensive line the world had ever seen. He bragged constantly about how great they would be, how they would road grade every defensive line, driving them 10 yards off the ball and creating giant, gaping holes for our running backs. He chortled over how the QBs would have 2-3 minutes to make their reads as this epic wall of unyielding power would slap aside pass rushers like kittens. Defensive linemen would crawl from the field weeping tears of blood, begging their coaches, “Don’t make me go back in there! Please! That oline is so good! it proves Ladyshark lover is the greatest coach of all time!”

        Many fans believed his deranged ravings, and even the media reported his delusional claims as if they were facts. Then came the Michigan game, and TWIST! It turned out the online not only wasn’t good or even average, they were terrible. Fat and weak, they were gassed just running from the tunnel, clutching their hearts, begging for oxygen. Michigan’s players openly laughed right in their faces as they dominated them with ease. This was not their fault, nor the fault of their youth. It was the fault of lousy coaching, which everyone could plainly see. Many fans were angry not only because the coaching staff had failed these players, but they had set them up to be humiliated by drawing a lot of attention to them in the preseason with what turned out to be bald-faced lies.

        Meanwhile, Ladyshark lover stood in the sidelines, coo coo birds flying around his head, his eyes pinwheeling with insanity. “Dorsal fins and flaring gils! I created that offensive line, and it is everything I am or ever will be!” Of course, he also saw elves and fairies dancing on toadstools, but, of course, it was just the fans who had unreasonable expectations, right?

  4. The competition will make them both better, and whoever ends up #2 will still end up seeing the field and contributing. Sounds like one way or another, either through TJ getting pushed or Buchanan emerging, this position will be stronger!