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The Gators' O-line got some much-needed help this spring with Chaz Green, D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore returning.

Friday April 11, 2014Gators' Offensive Line Getting Much-Needed Boost from Returning Veterans

The Gators' O-line got some much-needed help this spring with Chaz Green, D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore returning.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Both D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green recall the plays as routine practice reps.

“It was just a regular outside zone play,” said Humphries, the junior from Union, N.C., who suffered a season-ending knee injury last October. “One of the D-tackles got tossed and he just happened to fall right into my leg. One of those football things.”

Green’s was another one of those things, too.

“We were doing pass-rushing drills, two-on-two, working against twisting line games and I took a shot to the shoulder,” said Green, a senior from Tampa, who tore a pectoral muscle in the one of the final practices of the preseason and was done for the year. “The line stunt happened quicker than I expected and I was in a bad position. Just a technique thing, but also a hit I’d taken a million times in my career. Bad luck. Wrong place, wrong time.”

No one needs to be reminded about the injury epidemic that plagued the Florida football team last year, but to think the Gators lost both their starting offensive tackles during practice drills is pretty confounding. And let’s not forget about Tyler Moore, who moved from guard to tackle after Humphries went down, only to break his arm in a motor scooter accident for a third season-ending offensive line hit that did not occur in a game.

Bad luck.

Wrong place, wrong time. 

The training room in the south end zone of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was like a crowded bus station by midseason, but that hasn’t been the case during the spring campaign. Heading into Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut, the Gators offensive front has been basically injury-free throughout their 14 practices, with the first unit set to line up intact in “The Swamp” when quarterback Jeff Driskel breaks the huddle Saturday.

“We’re building confidence and we’re building chemistry, and that’s a huge deal on the offensive line. Just seeing all the guys back and healthy is really encouraging,” said fifth-year senior Max Garcia, who bounced back and forth between left tackle and left guard last season, but has moved to center for 2014. “When you’re constantly dealing with injuries, it’s hard to have any continuity. You become stagnant and it’s like you’re out there just trying to do your best. But now we can do our best, continue to improve and hopefully be at our best when it comes time to play.”

And like the rest of the UF offense -- not to mention Gators fans -- the linemen are anxious to get into a game situation and put new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s up-tempo, spread scheme to work for an audience on Saturday.

In the three weeks of drills, they’ve gotten a sense of how Roper's faster pace will translate come the fall; though nothing will seem real until the Gators roll everything out for the season opener Aug. 30 against Idaho. For now, practice among themselves is all the Gators can base anything on. 

Thus far, there have been some growing pains. The move to center for Garcia is a significant transition and requires precision shotgun snaps that will take time and repetitions over the next few months. Tempo works two ways. Yes, it can wear down a defense, yet Coach Will Muschamp said earlier this week the offensive line showed some fatigue during last week’s scrimmage, an element UF’s strength and conditioning coaches will deal with over the summer.

But UF’s O-line -- which is shaping up as Humphries at left tackle, junior Trip Thurman or senior Trenton Brown at left guard, Garcia at center, Moore at right guard, Green at right tackle -- likes what it's doing thus far. And really, really likes the concept of playing faster. 

“Love it! I love playing fast and loving seeing the defensive linemen in front of you getting tired. It makes you think, ‘Yeah, let’s go harder now,’ ” said Green, who goes 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, but prides himself on his athleticism and is embracing the opportunity to use it more. “Just talking to the guys on defense, they can feel it too.”

The Gators are confident an offense that finished last in the Southeastern Conference in 2013 at just 316.7 yards per game -- as well as 13th in rushing (145.8 ypg) and 12th in passing (170.9 ypg) -- can make a jump in production both on the ground and through the air.

Regarding the former, Roper’s system uses more zone-blocking concepts, which affords running backs a chance to read plays and make cuts.

“Once you get about seven or eight plays into a drive, those interior [defensive] guys starting getting tired and -- Bam! -- that’s when you hit ‘em with that power. It works perfect for what we’re trying to do on offense,” Humphries said. “I can’t wait to get it going at Florida and do it against some other guys and see how it works.”

That’ll have to wait, oh, 141 days or so.

For now, the spring game will do.

“We want to be ready to go when the defense is not ready to go, and at the tempo we’re going, they’re not going to be able to do that,” Garcia said. “That’s going to give us an edge and it’s something we’re going to pride ourselves on this year.”

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