The thin blue line


Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard admitted earlier this week that he actually feels sorry for the outmanned offensive line, which has only seven scholarship players available this spring. “Definitely, definitely,” he said.

He may have sympathy for the offensive linemen, but he says he’s not going to take it easy on them. In fact, he plans on doing the opposite.

“It is (brutal that they have only seven linemen). But we’ve got to get better,” Bullard said. “I tell my guys and the D-line to go hard. My job is to toughen a few of them up. We’re going to need them. They’re going to be some young guys. But I feel like if they can stop me throughout the spring, then they can pretty much stop anybody else we play.”

The outmanned offensive line has become one of the focal points in the spring. If Jim McElwain’s offense is going to have any chance to operate at a high level in the fall, the offensive line is going to have to stay healthy and give the quarterback and playmakers a chance to make plays.

Many see the low numbers on the OL as a huge problem area.

The big guys are looking at the shortage a little differently. They see this as an opportunity to get more reps and get better this spring.

“It’s more of a developmental thing,” sophomore tackle Rod Johnson said. “Lot of guys are getting a lot more reps. A lot more is going at them, the tempo is a lot faster. They’ll grow and develop into it as time goes. If it’s tough for them now, I can understand. The coaches do want to challenge us. Us, as a group and individuals, we need to step up to the plate.”

The young linemen are getting what they need more than anything else this spring — rep after rep after rep.

“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of guys to get better and improve going into summer camp,” Johnson said. “Guys like (David) Sharpe that have to step up a little bit more. Him, (Cameron) Dillard, (Travaris) Dorsey. But, basically, our whole O-line that came back this year is getting a lot of reps.”

One returning scholarship player who is missing this spring is the injured Trip Thurman, who will be the starting center if his shoulder allows him to return this summer.

The other linemen consider him a vital piece to the puzzle up front.

“Trip is great,” Sharpe said. “He’s a floor facilitator. He definitely knows his Xs and Os, it’s great playing with him. It makes the game much easier.”

What also makes it easier for the lineman is the fact their coach, Mike Summers, is back working with them. He’s the lone holdover from the Will Muschamp staff. Given the situation on the offensive line, he’s the coach McElwain probably had to keep the most.

“He expects greatness in everything you do,” guard Antonio Riles said. “That’s the kind of coach you’ve got to have. You know especially me, (making the move from the defensive line a year ago). I don’t want that to be an excuse for me coming to this side. I think it’s good for me to be over here using my athletic ability and all I can to be over here. And now I just got to plug all the pieces together, and that’s what I’ve been working on, and Coach Summers has most definitely been helping me get that down.”