Florida football: Offensive line slowly adding depth, gelling at the right time

By Michael Phillips
September 27, 2019
Florida football: Offensive line slowly adding depth, gelling at the right time

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

The biggest question surrounding the No. 9 Florida Gators heading into the season was whether its offensive line could stand up to the toughest teams it faces? Through four games, it’s clear the line is not quite where the Gators need to be.

It’s tough replacing four starters, and to the group’s credit, pass protection has been solid. Still, its inability to open holes in the run game has been a massive issue at this early juncture. Florida is ranked 90th nationally in rushing offense (136.8 yards per game) with senior Lamical Perine averaging just 3.8 yards per carry (down from 6.2 last year and the 5.0 average for his first three seasons).

The starting five of redshirt junior Stone Forsythe (left tackle), redshirt junior Brett Heggie (left guard), redshirt senior Nick Buchanan (center), redshirt freshman Chris Bleich (right guard ) and redshirt junior Jean Delance (right ackle) has not changed and — for the most part — been manageable. In fact, Heggie was just named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. 

The starters were never the issue outside of the running game, though. The problem is the guys behind them were a significant drop-off when on the field. You cannot expect guys that big to not get tired throughout the game; they need breathers, meaning an offensive line’s depth is always a major point of emphasis. 

For the first time all season, Florida decided to mix some things up along the offensive front against Tennessee to try and work on its depth. Redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige saw a lot of snaps in that game at tackle and guard, and the move had immediate positive results.

“I was trying to create and make sure we have that depth on the offensive line, and there’s time we want to get guys in. You know John [Hevesy, the offensive line coach], we talk about not getting guys in enough,” head coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “Richard’s got flexibility, so Richard really, it gives you, you could put Richard on the field now right now and it actually gives you those six guys. You can create several different combinations.

Mullen and Hevesy have both spoken at length about the offensive line’s depth and how they ideally would love to have eight capable starters to rotate throughout a game. That’s obviously not the case now, and it won’t be this season. However, Gouraige’s positional flexibility is of huge value for the Gators at this time.

“Richard’s obviously done a really great job. Really talented young player for us that I think has a great future, and it’s something, I really wanted to get him going, get him out there on the field and get him playing for us,” Mullen said.

Moving forward, Florida’s schedule does not get any easier after Saturday’s game against Towson. Its next four opponents following the Tigers are No. 7 Auburn, at No. 4 LSU, at South Carolina and No. 3 Georgia. 

Having a stable offensive line is vital to winning those tough conference games. Mullen knows where the Gators stand and how vital it is they have a line that can compete. It is one of the top goals of the coaching staff to build the unit up to where it needs to be — sooner than later. 

“Right now there are six that we feel really good about and we’re still working on getting the younger guys developed and ready to go,” Mullen said. “We’ll see. Obviously you want that for depth and for purposes to get through the rest of the year. 

“Hopefully we will be able to stay healthy. Those guys are forced on the field are ready to go. There are a bunch of guys fighting for those spots to get out there.”

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