A critical aspect of Florida's growth as an offense next season falls upon the development of the Gators' offensive line. A tradition unlike any other.
Florida is tasked with finding the heirs to left tackle Stone Forsythe and center Brett Heggie before week one comes around, as both have entered the 2021 NFL Draft. The unit could also look to take a step forward with its run blocking as well after a rough two-year stretch in that department.
In order to complete the latter and yield a more efficient running back, communication will be key. Although Florida is only five practices into its spring program, senior running back Dameon Pierce likes what he sees.
"Everybody is taking strides on the O-line," Pierce said on Tuesday. "It’s becoming a more cohesive unit. Everybody is working together. They’re working their tail off to make sure we’re good to run behind them."
In 2020, Florida's offensive line served its purpose for the most part, providing Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Kyle Trask ample time to scan the field and throw the ball. However, the unit failed to create much wiggle room for push defensive linemen down the field and out of gaps to get the running game going.
Florida's rushing attack could put together moments of efficiency at times, seen by its season-long 4.3 yards per carry, but ultimately could not be relied upon consistently. That made UF's offense, dynamic as it was, one-dimensional at times when it needed to be multi-faceted.
Pierce is confident that, as far as spring practice is concerned, the offensive line is developing at a fine pace and establishing itself as a trustworthy unit, off to the right start in preparation for the 2021 season.
“They’re showing up. They’re making calls quicker. The tempo is faster. Not a lot of guys are thinking. They’re reacting off the defense and making the right calls," Pierce described of the front five. "We’re not missing much, but it’s practice. We’re just creasing out everything and just trying to get everything fine tuned for the first game.”
In 2021, Florida's offensive line will be blocking for a plethora of unique running backs and a new, mobile quarterback in Emory Jones. Following a couple of down-years generating movement against opposing defensive lines, the last thing the Gators can afford in the near-future is subpar production in creating rushing lanes.
Pierce believes that should change for the better with this unit, which would make UF's offense more balanced, moving forward as the line builds trust throughout spring camp and beyond.
"It’s all a trust thing between everybody," said Pierce. "It goes [offensive] line, quarterback, us. We make sure that our communication is there and everything is good to be successful.”