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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Gators have 935 pounds of leadership, toughness and girth to replace on the offensive line this year.

That's the combined weight of Phil Trautwein, Jaston Watkins and Jim Tartt, who had all been crucial to the line's success the last two years as they totaled 91 starts in their career. That's no easy task, and replacing those three begins at the Orange and Blue Game at 1 p.m. in The Swamp on Saturday.

So here's some good news for the Gators: Marcus Gilbert was praised as one of the most improved players on the roster last year, and he has already found a home at one of the tackle spots. Same for Carl Johnson, who filled in for Tartt as he struggled recovering from shoulder surgery.

Here's even better news for the defending national champions: Sam Robey and Matt Patchan are also being praised. Robey may even be starting at center after spending time on the scout team last year as he struggled with a left knee injury.

Now, there's bad news for UF: The coaches are thrilled with the improvement of Robey and Patchan, but they've found these gems because of all the injuries the line - not to mention the entire team - has endured this spring.

Starters Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, now the veterans of the line, have struggled with shoulder injuries, and Maurkice is out for three months after undergoing surgery. James Wilson, a potential starter at guard, has been hampered by a foot injury, and Jim Barrie is still recovering from a torn ACL.

"I'm never wanting any of my friends to get hurt, but it's giving a lot of guys an opportunity to get reps and to grow, especially guys like me who never really got a chance to play last year," said Robey, a redshirt freshman. "Everybody's getting a lot of experience because guys are out."

As it stands now, the opening-day offensive line would probably consist of the Pouncey brothers, Johnson, Gilbert and either Wilson or Robey. But that first matchup against Charleston Southern on Sept. 5 is a long way away, and a bunch of bruises and pains are going to have to heal first.

"Everyone says we got a patched-up line," Robey said. "Every day we just got to go out there and keep working. Since we got young guys, it's all about flying off the ball, good technique. Just be aggressive and finish."

Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said he was pleased with the versatility of the line.

"It's all about developing depth right," Addazio said. "We're taking a look at all these young guys. We know what these older guys can do."

One thing the older guys can do is provide leadership for their younger teammates. Even though they've been in and out of practice, the Pounceys have still made their voices heard from the sidelines.

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"I've grown up a lot more," Maurkice said. "Now I'm the older guy. … All the guys are looking up to me and my brother."

This group isn't lacking confidence either. Patchan admits there's much work to be done, but he does have a special list of adjectives he feels will be an accurate description of UF's offensive line in 2009.

"We're going to have a very ferocious, very athletic, talented, special, monstrous (group)," Patchan said. "These are all good words for us."

He also had one more expression to describe the group.

"We'll probably be using 'not very good looking,'" Patchan said.

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