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Monday, June 17, 2024
<p>Offensive lineman Brett Heggie (61) lined up in front of quarterback Kyle Trask at Florida's game against Tennessee last year. During quarantine, Heggie said he practiced all three interior positions in preparation for this season.</p>

Offensive lineman Brett Heggie (61) lined up in front of quarterback Kyle Trask at Florida's game against Tennessee last year. During quarantine, Heggie said he practiced all three interior positions in preparation for this season.

The Gators’ offensive line had to improve as a unit without flashing signs of growing pains. 

When it came to run blocking in 2019, Florida’s front five ranked 93rd nationally. On passing plays, they gave up 116 pressures with 40 combined sacks and hits. So, what else is there to do for a unit that ranked 92nd by Pro Football Focus?

Offensive line coach John Hevesy and head coach Dan Mullen utilized the offseason to boost the offensive line. He and Mullen hoped the work put in over the offseason, experience gained, and the injection of new talent, notably by the addition of graduate transfer Stewart Reese, would help alleviate the line’s issues in 2019. 

Before the season started, SEC Network’s Cole Cubric ranked Florida’s line fifth in the Southeastern Conference. The Gators averaged 6.8 yards per rush against Mississippis’ defensive front and only allowed one sack Saturday. 

“They have pretty high standards,” Mullen said about the offensive line. 

In normal seasons, an injury or two can cripple an offensive line. In a season with the never-ending threat of COVID-19 looming over a locker room, positive tests could become catastrophic.

Making up for these losses isn’t as simple as shuffling positions around. Though their jobs revolve around the same principle, positions on an offensive line aren’t as interchangeable as Lego pieces. During his time as a Miami Dolphin, Josh Sitton said changing positions is like “trying to wipe your ass with the other hand.

On Saturday, Brett Heggie found himself filling in for sophomore Ethan White, who is recovering from knee surgery. Heggie’s performance earned him the title of  Offensive Lineman of the Week.

In 12 games last season, Heggie split time as right guard and tackle. While battling injuries in 2018, he found himself playing both guard spots. 

“I didn’t know where I was going to be, so throughout quarantine, I prepared for all three interior positions,” Heggie said. 

Heggie said his experience navigating the offensive line allowed him to fit into different roles without a hitch. But there are challenges associated with the task if a player isn’t comfortable with a system. 

“The biggest thing is just knowing what you’re doing out there and being able to see different things so that you can pick up blocks,” Heggie said. 

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Only seven of the 17 offensive linemen on the Gators’ roster spent more than two years playing at the collegiate level. Changing from position to position requires relentless work to acclimate to new requirements while knowing each detail of the team’s offense. 

While the pandemic makes plural position play a distinct possibility, it’d be difficult to expect all Florida’s offensive linemen to pick up new tasks with such ease.

Contact Christian Ortega at cortega@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @unofficialchris.

Offensive lineman Brett Heggie (61) lined up in front of quarterback Kyle Trask at Florida's game against Tennessee last year. During quarantine, Heggie said he practiced all three interior positions in preparation for this season.

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