The 2012 season was a battle with inconsistency for the Florida Gators offensive line. On one hand the team finished third in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 188.1 yards per game, and often times ran all over their opponents with ease. On the other hand it surrendered 39 sacks, tied for seventh most in the country.
The offensive line got a much needed facelift for 2013. Gone is the turnstile that was starting left tackle Xavier Nixon, who somehow managed to get a shot in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. Also gone is starting left guard James Wilson, who spent his six years as a Gator battling multiple injuries.
Three starters remain from last year’s unit. Redshirt senior Jonotthan Harrison returns for his third season as the starting center. Fellow redshirt senior Jon Halapio also returns for his fourth season as the starting right guard. Sophomore tackle D.J. Humphries, a top recruit in the nation in 2012, will take over for Nixon at left tackle after gaining valuable experience as a true freshman last season.
So while the core of the line will return intact, the Gators will receive a big lift in the form of two transfers: guard Max Garcia and tackle Tyler Moore.
Garcia, who sat out the 2012 season after transferring from Maryland, is expected to step in and start at left guard. As a sophomore at Maryland he started 12 games at left tackle. The 6-foot-4, 307-pounder was perhaps the best offensive lineman on the field in spring practices for the Gators and will be an immediate upgrade over Wilson.
Moore spent a year at Nebraska before transferring to Florida last fall. While at Nebraska in 2011, he became just the tenth true freshman offensive lineman to see game action since 1973. Moore is currently battling incumbent Chaz Green for the starting job at right tackle. But regardless of whether he wins the job or not, the massive 6-foot-6, 312-pounder will provide much needed depth at either tackle position.
Two other players to look out for on the offensive line are junior college transfer Trenton Brown and true freshman Roderick Johnson. At 6-foot-8, 350 pounds, Brown is a mountain of a man who should definitely not be hard to spot when he’s on the field. As for Johnson, he might look small next to Brown, but at 6-foot-6, 316 pounds he is a giant in his own right as well. In a conference loaded with NFL-caliber defensive lineman, a team can’t have enough depth along the offensive line and Brown and Johnson will immediately help the Gators in that area.
With all the new faces in the fold, the offensive line could become a strength for the Gators in 2013, which will hopefully pay dividends for the entire offense.
Not all the struggles in the passing game last season can be put on the offensive line. Jeff Driskel was still developing as a quarterback, and the receivers lacked the ability to get open on a consistent basis.
The line should look improved this season for a multitude of reasons. Driskel should be more comfortable in the offense and the wide receiver group is loaded with potentially dynamic playmakers. And most importantly, the players along the line are significantly more talented than last year’s group.
This group could go from being one of Florida’s biggest weaknesses in 2012, to one of its biggest strengths in 2013.