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Florida Football

Offensive line ignoring naysayers despite daunting challenge

August 1, 2019
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Florida’s offensive line isn’t littered with All-Americans or All-SEC players. Instead, it’s a mixture of veterans and underclassmen with little to no experience to speak of, but as a unit they still have a confidence that looms large over fall camp.

“We’re always confident in ourselves,” center Nick Buchanan said. “That’s what Coach [Dan Mullen] always preaches. He wants practice to be hard, so when game day comes, it can be just like practice, really, because we’re just mentally and physically and we’re just there, really. That’s it, really.”

Questions linger about the offense mostly because of the offensive line that Florida will roll out in just three short weeks.

A line returning a mere 23 career starts is difficult to overshadow.

However, as Mullen has discussed multiple times this off-season the improvements quarterback Feleipe Franks made once he began to ignore the outside noise - the message is similar to the experience of the offensive line.

“You can’t listen to that kind of stuff, we just have to get better every day,” Griffin McDowell said on Thursday. “We don’t have to listen to what the media says or anything like that, we just have to get better every day and find different things to improve on, and hopefully be that stronger unit that will help this team.”

The challenge of replacing four starters along the most important unit on a football team is daunting. In a league designed with physical, aggressive and quick defensive units, the offensive line must work coherently as a group.

That begins with chemistry and trust. This is an area the offensive line continuously developed over the course of the Summer. Jean Delance mentioned how important it is to build these qualities along the line.

“Very big. It’s hard for you to lineup next to a guy that you don’t hang out with outside the facility,” Delance said. “You’ve got to have trust in him. ‘Oh man, I’m sliding into the C gap.’ I’ve got to know if this guy comes across my face in the B gap and he got me. It’s hard for you to have that connection if you don’t talk to that guy outside the facility.

“We hang out a lot, we see each other a lot. Someone could be walking to class and you could pick them up on the scooter. Have a two-minute conversation then drop them off somewhere. That’s just building a bond that you don’t have in the football facility. So, those connections go way farther than you think.”

Buchanan is the most vital piece to this group, as he returns with 12 of the 23 career starts in the group. He bolsters the most game-time experience and has the most knowledge in terms of what’s expected in year two under Mullen and John Hevesy.

“Nick Buchanan’s influence on all of us has been tremendous,” redshirt freshman Chris Bleich said. “He’s such a great leader. He’s someone we will look up to and follow in his footsteps.”

That leadership presence is uniting and strengthening the group, but there’s no avoiding the challenge that lies ahead for Florida’s offensive line.

“I see it as a challenge. Live up to the expectations,” Delance said. “You’ve got a great ceiling, you’ve got a great team, you’ve got a lot of different positions that got a lot of experience. So, I see it as a challenge. Every day, step up to the plate and get it done. Like, there is no ifs, ands or buts. We have to get it done.”

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John Hevesy Q&A Transcript

Practice today?

“We got after things and we’re getting better. We just have to keep working and getting better at what we’re doing. To me up front, it’s obvious we need to keep working on fundamentals and getting better with them.”

Have you been impressed with the overall attitude.

“Out here the attitude’s been great. It hasn’t been an issue. I think just fundamentally, the techniques, all of the things in the four days of installation and putting things in, I think it’s just constantly working on those and catching up on the installation with the young guys learning and everything and every day and all the parts that come with it.”

First day and a half in pads, how have they reacted?

“I think it’s fine. I don’t think pads are a big issue for us in terms of hitting and contact and all that. Whether you have pads or don’t have pads there are still fundamental things we need to work on every day.”

Do they get ramped up a bit?

“I don’t see the big difference. When you don’t have pads you still have the mentality that you have to go. Up front everything is full speed, there is nothing that is two-hand touch or touch and stop. We have to execute your fundamentals and execute your assignments and do what you’re supposed to do. Even without pads you still have to learn to finish. Every play you have to learn to finish whether you have pads or don’t. The physicality with the initial contact comes with the pads, but still the drive and finish on every play still has to be there.”

Improvement in guys that showed up in the spring?

“Obviously, they’re ahead of the guys that got here later. Just because they had a spring and a summer under their belts, they have at least knowledge of which way to go. Riley’s (Simonds) the one that came in the summer, Riley’s the one who is swimming a little bit. Everything’s new, every technique, fundamentals, stops. Everything is flying by fast.

How has Simonds looked otherwise?

“We see the athletic ability. We see exactly what we wanted to see, the fight the drive. Again, there is still a lot of thinking on his part on which way to go. You see the kids in the spring and they are going the right way and now it’s just constantly monitoring them adjusting to the physicality of the game and the size and they’re not the biggest guy out there anymore. It’s learning to bend and play in your legs. Bend the ankles, knees, and hips more. They have to constantly work the use of their hands.”

Key for the offensive line was going to be the extra work they put in? 

“It’s everything.”

Did they do that?

“Yeah, they did. You see they’re all there. Now it’s - again it’s for us, for me now it’s putting it together. It’s putting as much as you do in the offseason without pads and without the contact. With all these things, you see it’s there. Now you see in day one, you see it’s off a little bit from what they did all summer. Now there is someone hitting you in the face doing it. So, you have to just play a little lower, play a little more flexion and withstand that pop. I think what you see in day one, day two, day four, you see that getting better and now we just have to accelerate it a little more.”

How physical do you want it?

“It’s football. That’s what it’s supposed to be. To me, ultimately our goal, when we get to the game on Saturday or Saturday nights, the game should be easy for us. To me, everything I want to do in practice is make it as hard as possible. If I’m standing there and they get out there on Saturdays the game has slowed down and is easy for them. That’s conditioning wise, strength wise, whether it’s the physicality in it. To me, that’s what camp is for. Camp is to make Saturday easy.”

Is the trend moving away from physicality with a lot of programs?

“You still have a fall practice. The two-a-days and three-a-days, all of that stuff is gone. Today you have to do it in one practice. You gotta and in the walk-throughs and how they have changed over the years with the rules and not having two-a-days, really that’s the toughness part of it. The mental toughness, to fight, to fight, to fight when you’re exhausted. You have to get that at practice when we’re out here whenever we’re out here for two hours or an hour and 45 minutes. In that time we’ve got to work. You gotta work and you’re still gonna get your 40-45 plays in. That has to be up-tempo and fast and you have to execute. Its still gotta be executed very well that when you come back out here you have to take advantage of all those things you do outside of that assignment (inaudible?).”

How do you feel this team bought in?

“It’s hard for me to say after going and finishing the fifth practice. The first four days of installation for us and them. I think right now… if you told me this last year I would have told you we would be lucky to win four games and we won 11 (10). To me I guess I’m taking it day-by-day and not worrying where we’re going to be in two weeks. When I get through today, watch film today and say, ‘ok, this is where we got to get better tomorrow. My goal is to get better tomorrow. The day after that to get better. Then the day after that… we gotta climax on August 24.”

You can tell though if a team has worked hard

“They’ve worked hard. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. That’s done. Now for me, thinking about that, they’ve done that conditioning wise. So if you don’t see guys, which I’ve seen with bad teams. Half the team is laying around cramping, half the team (INAUDIBLE)…. hey, everyone’s gone, everyone is here. There’s no one cramping up and laying down. So to me that tells me we’re in shape. We’re ready to go. So we gotta keep getting the mental toughness part.”

Ethan White weight loss equivalent to losing a junior high school player

“I did, I told him he lost a little kid. He lost 57-58 pounds. I wish I could do it, though.”

How’s he doing?

“He’s doing well. Same thing, as well as the other guys. Like I said they’re all kinda the same thing. Towards the end of practice starts to get (INAUDIBLE) a little bit because they’re still getting used to that physicality, the length of it, the speed of it, in order to maintain that mental toughness throughout practice.”

Communication- are they getting it?

“I think the ones… There’s not any communication issues. There is still here and there and you see it. But it’s not just one person. I thought I saw this and felt great, a little bit of correcting. It’s not like you come back tomorrow and it’s opposite or anything. The expectation of responsibility for these players is (INAUDBILE). Make that mistake, correct it, and to me, that’s how you see it getting better. If you make the same mistakes over and over then we’re not working. So yeah, that’s where it becomes an issue. We haven’t seen that yet so it’s working almost like (INAUDIBLE). The expectation really with Kingsley with Tanner being at center. (INAUDBILE) things, it’s not always them and some tackles have communication issues. There’s obviously somebody that’s gonna correct it.”

Veterans with little game reps vs. young guys that can pick up on film quickly?

“Yeah, it’s more of when you start getting the obscure things. You know, base defense you see kinda the same thing as the obscure stuff. And really when you get to the third down stuff, the third down pressures, that’s when the young guys just, that’s where they get behind. You just get it corrected and the older guys have a little bit of knowledge from the experience of ‘I’ve seen all these things over time.’ This is the first time for all these kids, and the young kids (INAUDIBLE) spring and now seeing these things. So once again, they gotta process it fast.

Do you expect those guys to get up to speed quicker once they’re in the game?

“They’re here to play. I mean, so here to play, it’s there responsibility to learn and me do the coaching. “

Any leaders other than Buchanan

“The first five are always good leaders. I expect that out of them. I expect that out of all of them just because obviously they’re the front row. They’re in the front row, they’re in the first five, the expectation is that they set the bar and get everyone behind them and live up to it. You know, whether it’s penalty off sides or anything off the field or in the classroom, or even hydration. There’s a couple guys (INAUDIBLE) hydrating properly. It’s on you guys. You’re the older guys, you gotta teach them how to be hydrated properly. That parts on them as much as anybody else, especially the offensive line. You work as five, not as one.”

Too early to see if it’s (leadership) coming from anybody?

“It is, the first five are. You see that from them. But yeah, like I said earlier, they came in and Nick [Buchanan], Stone [Forsythe], and Brett [Heggie] have done a very good job with that. Um, to me they continue to do what they’re expected to do, so as camp goes on they gotta keep all those guys behind them. They’re responsible and accountable for what they gotta do.”

Offensive line ignoring naysayers despite daunting challenge

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