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Monday, March 04, 2024

Offensive line’s development more important than QB controversy

In the wake of another disappointing, but all too familiar, John Brantley performance on Saturday — 4-of-14 passing, 45 yards, no touchdowns; the only thing missing was an interception — people are already looking to stir up a quarterback controversy in Gainesville.

I’m not here to tell you that’s the right or wrong move. In fact, just the opposite: I’m here to tell you it doesn’t really matter.

Look, the Gators don’t need a game-changer at quarterback in 2011. They need a game manager, a warm body who won’t throw interceptions, a competent player to hand off the ball who is also able to toss a few passes to Quinton Dunbar, Frankie Hammond Jr. and Jordan Reed — someone who won’t ultimately prove to be a game-loser.

That could be Brantley. It might be Tyler Murphy. It could be Jeff Driskel. At this point, it very well might even be Jacoby Brissett, who is currently somewhere between homecoming and prom at Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer High.

“We need to understand that no position is going to be given to anybody on this football team,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “We’ll have great competition in the fall for that position. Right now, John Brantley is the starter.”

The point is, we won’t know until the fall. And as much  as Muschamp stands behind Brantley with the if-the-season-began-today talk, we have every reason to believe he is telling the truth when he says the quarterback position will be up for grabs when the team reconvenes for fall camp.

It’s certainly the most interesting position battle on the team, and nobody can argue against that point. It’s where the glamour boys are made, legends are formed, bronze-statues-to-be get their start — and where the blame most often falls.

However, it’s not UF’s area of greatest concern heading into the summer.

Anyone who watched Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut can attest to that. Because the announced 53,000 people at The Swamp, plus everyone watching at home, saw that the Gators’ offensive line could be a disaster come fall 2011.

Sure, the O-line was absolutely ravaged by injuries. Yes, Florida could only use seven game-ready linemen. And yeah, three of them played for both the Orange and Blue teams.

But UF had only 12 linemen on its spring roster in the first place.

Some of them have rarely been able to stay on the field consistently due to injuries. Some are completely unproven.

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And the rest of the group, if we’re being completely honest, isn’t littered with first-round NFL Draft picks.

The current crop of linemen, who will be charged with opening up the running lanes for Rainey and Demps and keeping some poor quarterback upright, amassed a whopping 17 starts last season, 15 of which came from guard Jon Halapio and tackle Xavier Nixon.

Jonotthan Harrison, the player UF is entrusting with snapping the ball and making more protection calls, is a converted guard who said he hadn’t played center since his freshman year of high school.

To be fair, everyone says Harrison has instantly taken to his new job in practice, but what does the fact that he had to be moved from guard say about the line’s depth?

But you can’t help but be a little wary after seeing Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd, Ronald Powell and Co. manhandle anyone standing between them and the helpless quarterbacks Saturday.

Part of the formula for creating a reliable line, perhaps the most important yet undefinable aspect, is simply finding the right mix.

Florida could put together the right five guys, but they need to know how to work together to have any chance of performing well.

As Muschamp said Saturday, there are two position groups where chemistry is of the utmost importance: the secondary and the offensive line.

If your secondary can’t communicate, you’re going to get torched for touchdowns.

And if the Gators’ offensive line isn’t ready to go by Sept. 3, when Florida kicks off against Florida Atlantic, the only quarterback controversy will be whether or not he can stay on his feet.

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