Having gained experience, Forsythe expects Gators o-line to take step forward in 2020

By Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida offensive lineman Stone Forsythe (72) block Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith (4) during last year's game at TIAA Bank Field.

Florida redshirt senior offensive lineman Stone Forsythe didn’t hesitate to acknowledge that last season’s offensive line lacked much-needed experience, which resulting in an offensive attack skewed in favor of the pass as the Gators struggled to get significant push at the line of scrimmage. 

But the bumps and bruises taken in 2019 have resulted in a more experienced and game-ready offensive line heading into the 2020 season, said Forsythe following Wednesday’s practice. 

“Last year we're all inexperienced, there were four of us and only one returning starter (former center Nick Buchanan). This year it's four returners basically, like even Stewart (Reese), he's played at Mississippi State but he's still (a) returner and he has those game reps like some of the younger guys,” Forsythe said. “So I think we'll do pretty well this year as an O-line collectively.” 

With four fresh faces alongside Buchanan last season, the Gators allowed on average 2.0 sacks per game –– good for 67th in Division I football –– yet it was in the run game where Florida’s inexperienced offensive line really struggled. 

The Gators finished the season No. 107 in rushing offense out of 130 Division I programs last season despite the presence of highly regarded senior running back La’Mical Perine in the backfield, leading many outside the program to place the blame on the shoulder pads of Florida’s front five. 

For Forsythe, 2019 was his first shot as a consistent starter after a reserve role in 2018, and he would make the most of it as the Winter Garden native appeared and started in all 13 games at left tackle for UF last season, although there were times when he, too, showed signs of inexperience despite his time in the program. 

While Forsythe and his counterparts are aware of the need to improve in the trenches, the Gators aren’t fixated solely on repairing the run game; rather, in true line coach John Hevesy fashion, the focus has been on building through technique. Plus, with the season opener still more than two weeks away, the Gators have opted for a slow build-up after more than nine months away from the field. 

“We really haven't put an emphasis on (run-blocking), we're still trying to stay balanced,” Forsythe said, “but we've just cleaned up stuff technique-wise with Hevesy, just spent more time on certain looks here and there on specific techniques.”

Although much of the line returns from last season, the Gators are continuing to work in bodies who bring various degrees of experience, namely sophomore Ethan White and the aforementioned Stewart Reese. White is expected to be one of five Gators in contention for Florida’s starting center role after playing in six games as a freshman, while the graduate transfer Reese gives UF a multi-tool of sorts as he brings experience at all five spots up front. 

"He's been doing great, he picked it up well,” Forsythe said of White manning the role of center. “It's a different thing for him, just different technique and stuff like that. But he came in well and picked it up, and learned quick. He's doing well during practice getting everyone on the same page."

And, considering more than half of UF’s 15 scholarship offensive linemen enter the season with in-game experience and it’s apparent as to why expectations for quarterback Kyle Trask’s protection are higher in 2020. But if the Gators happen to forget said standards, Hevesy Is there to make it clear. 

“Everyone knows what he expects,” Forsythe said of Hevesy’s coaching. “It's another year under our belt of the same offense, and just (learning) different schemes like that. So, I think it'll help greatly."