With spring practices only a couple of weeks away, it’s time to start previewing what the 2020 Gators might look like position-by-position.
Next up is the offensive line. Here are three observations, two questions and one prediction about the group entering the spring.
1. The competition should be much better at the position this spring. The starting unit remained unchanged from the beginning of spring to the Georgia game last season despite horrendous showings on the field. Redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige and true freshman Ethan White were the only reserves entrusted to play major snaps. That should change this year. The other four true freshmen who redshirted last year should be ready to start competing for snaps this year, and the Gators welcome in a trio of talented freshmen. If the returning starters falter, offensive line coach John Hevesy will have some intriguing options to replace them with, something he didn’t have last year.
2. Early-enrollee freshman Josh Braun should be somebody to keep an eye on. He arrived at UF in time to participate in some of the team’s bowl practices, and he’s the most physically ready of the three early-enrollee linemen to play right away. If they decide to move some guys around this spring, Braun could put himself in position for significant playing time and even a starting job come fall. Unlike most of the other linemen who are vying for playing time, Braun is better as a run-blocker than as a pass-protector.
3. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of shape White is in this spring. After weighing nearly 400 pounds when he got to UF last spring, he slimmed down to around 330 pounds last fall, according to Hevesy. But, they’re still not done with him. While he may be at his target overall weight, they would probably like him to shed some more fat and add more muscle. He’s had two months to make that happen in the weight room. He’s already one of the best run-blockers on the team; now they need him to be a little lighter on his feet and become a three-down player.
1. How do they fill the vacant center job? The obvious choice is to move Brett Heggie over from guard, but then they’d just be creating another hole at guard. Kingsley Eguakun practiced at center during his redshirt year, so he figures to play a role in the competition. Other candidates include Riley Simonds and Griffin McDowell.
2. Do the Gators elect for continuity, or do they try moving some guys around to find the best combination? Usually, continuity is a huge deal on the offensive line. It often takes several years of working together for linemen to build chemistry with each other and operate like a well-oiled machine. UF returns four starters, so this option is there for them. Then again, the line was so bad last year that returning four starters might not be a good thing. If they choose to shake things up, don’t be surprised to see Gouraige move to left tackle and Stone Forsythe flip to the right side. This would get right tackle Jean Delance, often the weakest link on the unit a year ago, off the field and clear a path to playing time for Braun.
1. The line will look improved in the spring but not enough to inspire confidence in them entering the fall. Quite simply, they have way too much talent to get pushed around by Vanderbilt and Kentucky in back-to-back years. They have four returning starters, a talented crop of redshirt freshmen ready to push for playing time and three early-enrollees with high upsides. It’s almost impossible for them to not improve. Still, it’s hard to imagine them going from being one of the worst offensive lines in the SEC to one of the best in a year and blocking teammates is very different from a game-setting, so plenty of questions will still abound come fall.