Florida’s offensive line is aware of the elephant in the room: in Dan Mullen’s second year at the helm, the big men up front remain a significant work in progress.
Considering the Gators will look to replace all but starting center Nick Buchanan, it’s seemingly understandable for the offensive line to experience a considerable drop-off, and it’s an issue Florida’s coaching staff hasn’t shied away from in spring practice.
Offensive line coordinator John Hevesy spent nearly a half-hour addressing the unit at the conclusion of Thursday’s practice, which marked Florida’s 10th spring practice session, and multiple Gators admitted it was the longest post-practice huddle they’ve experienced in their playing careers.
According to those huddled around Hevesy, it was much needed.
“We just need to do better in practice, improve every day. We got a lot of young guys, and even the older guys, we got to make strides, and that’s what we’re working on now,” offensive lineman Brett Heggie said. “You always got to work on everything. That’s how I approach every day. Just to work on everything, but I’ve got a long way to go. And the older guys do. The younger guys have made big strides since they’ve been here cause they’re younger, but we got a lot of work to do. But we’ll do it. We’ll be all right.”
Buchanan, a redshirt senior who started at center last season for the Gators, concurred with his fellow lineman that expectations are high when it comes to their contributions this season.
“It’s up to me to make sure the young guys come and understand the sense of urgency that’s coming, that they have to step it up and play. It kind of reminds me of when I was a freshman, we signed like seven or eight offensive linemen, so now they bring a whole bunch,” Buchanan said. “So I know those guys are excited because they have an opportunity to play, but they have to understand the work, the time and the effort it takes to come out here and compete at a high level.”
As a result of the youth movement at hand, Florida’s offensive line has attempted to follow Hevesy’s lead in more ways than one as they develop, including embracing the youth instead of running from the reality.
“We respect it, we acknowledge it. Even on off days we come in, come in the film room or we just meet with each other. We just get like, 1, 2’s and 3’s, so like we just meet with each other, that group for the week and go over plays we need to work on,” said Heggie, who played in nine games in 2018. “We just have to grow together, it’s going to take time, it’s not going to come over one night. Everybody’s not just going to click on one day. We just got to grind every day, come after and just come together.”
As a redshirt junior, Heggie is one of the more established presences on UF’s inexperienced offensive line, yet that doesn’t mean the Mount Dora native comes with a significant amount of playing experience with which he can mentor Florida’s fresh faces.
For Heggie, who has suffered consecutive season-ending injuries after redshirting as a freshman, he must also focus on his health in order to contribute at the level Hevesy and Co. expect him to in 2019.
“I got a couple things going on, but I’ll be all right,” Heggie said of his health this spring. ”Like I said, I got a lot of work to do, but I’m just working hard.”
If Florida hopes to fill the void left by offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor, considered the top tackle in the upcoming NFL draft, in addition to the departures of Martez Ivey, Fred Johnson and Tyler Jordan, it’s become clear they’ll need Heggie and Buchanan to take it to the next level before taking the field against the Miami Hurricanes.
“I’ve been here for five years. There’s been questions about the offensive line every year I’ve been here. So I try not to listen to all that,” Buchanan said. “It’s fun, man. You get to come out here, learn with new guys, three or four new freshman coming in for this spring. You get to run with new guys, have fun with them. Just the journey, you’ve got to enjoy that.”