One of the oldest maxims in football has to do with perhaps the most underappreciated players on the field: the offensive linemen.
By keeping the quarterback on his feet and creating holes for the running back, the offensive line can dictate the game – a sentiment echoed in the cliché “games are won and lost in the trenches.”
Unfortunately for Florida, only one out of the five starters from last season’s offensive line will be returning for the 2019 campaign.
Tackles Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor, along with guards Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson, have moved on to the NFL, putting redshirt senior center Nick Buchanan at the forefront of a young, inexperienced offensive line. Last year’s unit allowed just 18 sacks in 13 games, which ranked 20th in the nation and third among teams in the SEC.
Eight of the 15 offensive linemen on UF's roster are freshmen. The young players have looked to Buchanan as a leader.
“He’s the smartest one when it comes to the playbook,” redshirt freshman Christopher Bleich said Thursday in an interview with WRUF. “If we have a question, he just helps us out right there.”
Bleich was Dan Mullen’s first commit as head coach of the Gators and is projected to be a starter this season. He was a redshirt last year after appearing in just four games off the bench.
Redshirt juniors Brett Heggie, Stone Forsythe and Jean Delance are also projected to start on Florida’s offensive line in 2019.
Heggie is capable of playing both right and left guard, but has struggled to stay healthy throughout his time at UF. He has never played a full season for the Gators.
Forsythe has been more reliable than Heggie, playing in all 13 games in 2018 at both guard and tackle.
Delance transferred to UF from Texas in 2017, but sat out that year due to transfer rules. He made his Gators debut in last year’s season opener against Charleston Southern and appeared in three more games afterward.
Mullen says that he likes to rotate his offensive linemen to get them an equal amount of reps, which keeps every player ready in case one goes down with an injury. The mixing and matching also allows for the offensive front to become more familiar and cohesive.
An offense is nothing without a good offensive line, so it’s up to Buchanan and his teammates to provide quarterback Feleipe Franks with a clean pocket and give running backs Lamical Perine and Malik Davis a chance to reach their full potential.
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Center Nick Buchanan (66) is the sole returning starter on UF's offensive line, which gave up just 18 sacks in 13 games last year.