For the second time in Dan Mullen’s tenure as Gators head coach, the Florida offensive line is undergoing major reconstruction.
Following their first retooling upfront with the loss of four seniors after the 2018 season, the Gators found an effective lineup to remain sturdy in pass protection, producing a high-octane air attack in the past two seasons.
However, shifting back to an even split with the rushing game being an equal player in 2021, offensive line coach John Hevesy and company will look to overcome the stagnancy on the ground after an explosive first year.
As a result, the Gators staff has emphasized the importance of building depth across the lineup while structuring it to become a stout group for the season's longevity. A beneficiary of the constant rotation has been former reserve center Kingsley Eguakun, as he has recently been granted the opportunity to compete for the starting center job, a spot Mullen believes Eguakun has been preparing for since he stepped foot on Florida’s campus.
“The other positions you've gotta block, but there's an extra skill involved with the snap at that position so you want to create depth," Mullen said. "He's a guy that really kind of jumped and embraced that role. He's a guy that, 'I'm not here getting reps, I'm not here preparing.'
"Really, to me, his approach since last spring is, 'I'm here to be the starting center.' I mean, he's really approached it with that kind of attitude and mindset and it shows. With the mental aspect that goes with it, the leadership, he's embraced everything that comes with being the center and wanting to go be the starter."
Arriving at Florida in 2019 from Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville (Fla.), Equakun has played in 14 total games as a reserve and special teams contributor throughout his Gators career, including all 12 last year. However, Eguakun has presumably taken the necessary strides to take over the job many believed Stewart Reese or Ethan White would hold in 2021.
Working to assume that role since the beginning of his Gators career, the former three-star prospect has embodied the Gator Standard for the three years he’s been at Florida, making it easier to reward his dedication to the program and himself.
"I just think you look at guys, find guys that are going to fit that mold in the future. He's extremely intelligent. He has a very high care factor, really loves being a Florida Gator, and represents the program well.”
Allowing Eguakun to operate at center, the Gators patch several holes on the front five, including familiarity, positional flexibility and overall depth of the unit.
From a familiarity standpoint, the chemistry between a quarterback and center is an underrated factor in the sustainability of an offense. While Reese has only lined up at center sparingly, Eguakun has sat as a reserve since he suited up in orange and blue, providing him time to grow into a starting-caliber player at the position.
During those second and third-team reps in previous years, now starting quarterback Emory Jones has been the recipient of a vast majority of the snaps from Eguakun, strengthening the two's relationship on the field for this moment.
Possibly playing a factor in his rise to the top, Jones’ comfortability under Eguakun at center presents the Gators with one less stressor for the newly anointed signal-caller in Mullen’s offense, allowing for a seamless transition in terms of snap exchange.
As a result of this switch, the battle for starters will likely come down to who works best at the right tackle spot, currently occupied by fifth-year senior Jean Delance.
With Reese presumably sliding over to challenge him at there — plus a number of other mix-and-match options being in play as well — Eguakun’s flashes at center likely results in a veteran lineman starting the year on the Gators second team, increasing the team’s depth in case of injury or poor play.
While Reese and Delance are currently viewed to be the two fighting to trot out after the opening kickoff week one, the Gators are no strangers to throwing curveballs for the lineup the offensive line assumes.
As a result, let’s take a brief look at three ways — of many — the starting five could shake out come Sep. 4.
3 Possible Starting Lineups for the Gators OL:
*Assuming continuity of the left side of the line*
1. Richard Gouriage - Ethan White - Kingsley Eguakun - Josh Braun - Stewart Reese
The most simple fix to the Florida offensive line issues would be Reese moving back to a tackle position he assumed at Mississippi State. Despite struggles on the inside of the line last season, Reese has shown he can succeed at the SEC level when working as a tackle. While he seems to be the better option between him and Delance, Reese is still not a surefire pick for RT with slower feet presenting potential concerns against quicker rushers off the edge.
2. Gouriage - White - Eguakun - Braun - Delance
Florida enters the year sticking with Delance at right tackle. Despite his struggles throughout his career, Delance’s experience at the position gives the Gators a reason to stick with him as they move pieces around. However, this time it’s different. While Delance gets the nod as a starter early in the season, Reese sits on his heels as the second option in case of any missteps from the fifth-year senior.
3. Gouriage - White - Eguakun - Reese - Braun
Probably the move that maximizes the Gators' talent on the offensive line would be to allow Reese to reassume his right guard roles of last season while kicking sophomore Joshua Braun out to the tackle spot.
This creates a way for Florida to allow the pair of 6-foot-6, 340-plus pounders to operate alongside each other on the right side while exploiting Braun’s incredibly light feet for someone of his stature. As a result, unlike Reese, Braun would be sufficient in halting speed edge rushers. It’s the unlikeliest of scenarios but one that I favor with Eguakun in the middle.
Stay tuned to AllGators for continuous coverage of Florida Gators football, basketball and recruiting. Follow along on social media at @SI_AllGators on Twitter and Florida Gators on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.