In the opening days of preseason training camp, I did a story on Florida’s veteran offensive line. The theme was that the only real concern was to make it to the start of the season with everyone healthy.
As we all know, that didn’t happen.
The two top left tackles — Matt Patchan and Xavier Nixon — were injured early in camp and forced Steve Addazio to shuffle his guys around to put the best five on the field. Then, starting guard Carl Johnson was suspended from the opener, leading to more realigning.
As a result, in the first game, center Mike Pouncey was the only guy in his regular position. Marcus Gilbert moved from right tackle to left, Maurice Hurt moved from right guard to right tackle, James Wilson moved from right guard to left guard, and Jon Halapio made his first college start at right guard.
Not surprisingly, the offense had some major problems in the opener.
Last week, things improved with the return of Johnson. Now, Nixon says he’s full go again and ready to start this week at Tennessee.
If Nixon returns to the starting lineup, Gilbert will go back to right tackle — and the Gators could have the starting line they envisioned early in camp if Wilson is good to go after having swelling in his knee last week.
This is a big deal for John Brantley and the offense. The offensive line has a chance to be the strength of this football team — and it can take a ton of pressure off Brantley and the passing game. We saw a little bit of that last Saturday, when the offensive front blew USF off the ball in the fourth quarter and took control of the game.
This is a big, strong and athletic group, and it has the potential the be one of the best offensive lines in school history. On Saturday in Knoxville, we may have a first chance to see these guys play together.
It could make a big difference in what this offense looks like, and what it can accomplish.