Photo: Richard Gouraige; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
Two years back, Gators offensive line coach John Hevesy welcomed the challenge of replacing four of Florida's five starting offensive linemen entering a new season. Whether it was through the draft or undrafted free agency, each of those four linemen ascended to the NFL level for at least a tryout, and three remain on active rosters to this day.
It was safe to assume that Hevesy's test would be no easy feat to accomplish.
The results weren't perfect across the board, but Hevesy managed to pull the task off. Two of the next linemen up following the 2018 season, Stone Forsythe and Brett Heggie, hit their stride so well that they, too, have gone on to find homes in the NFL.
That leaves Hevesy with a similar problem to the one he had heading into 2019: Florida's offensive line is once again in a state of shuffling, in an attempt to replace Forsythe and Heggie as well as improve the unit as a whole.
Redshirt sophomore Kingsley Eguakun has emerged as a candidate for Heggie's former post, with junior Ethan White - UF's current left guard - as a backup option. As for Forsythe's spot, redshirt junior Richard Gouraige is ready to take over as Florida's starting left tackle.
Speaking to his adjustment to the position on a full-time basis, Hevesy shared on Thursday that Gouraige's transition has been going "very well," thanks to his experience at the position. Although he's started at left guard over the past season and a half for the Gators, Gouraige would occasionally flex to tackle in 2019-20 as the line rotated some players due to underwhelming play and injuries.
"Last year, [Gouraige] played a bunch in rotation just to get him out there, but also the preparation for him this year coming up," Hevesy said. "Even though he's a returning starter, to go play that position for the first time coming out this year would have been harder on him.
"So as you saw toward the end of the season, just rotating him in there, getting him in there to play really helped him through spring practice and fall camp."
Gouraige has manned the left tackle spot on 229 snaps over the past two seasons, lending credence to the idea that he is as equipped as anyone to handle the role in 2021.
Now is a more important time than ever, though, for Gouraige to learn and understand the intricacies of left tackle, as he'll serve as the blind-side protector for new starting quarterback Emory Jones. The 6-foot-5, 312-pound lineman realizes that necessity, and devoted his offseason to perfecting his craft at the new position.
Gouraige has studied tape of two elite NFL left tackles on a daily basis to incorporate their technique into his game: Four-time All-Pro Tyron Smith of the Dallas Cowboys, and Joe Thomas, who retired in 2018 after 11 years and eight All-Pro honors with the Cleveland Browns. He's also one of the last players to leave the field after practice, taking extra time to enhance his skill-set.
"I just take a lot of accountability after practice and stuff like that. When I'm tired of doing extra kicks and stuff like that," Gouraige spoke to his work ethic. "Coach [has] been telling me that I’ve been really increasing my game ... kicking-wise and stuff like that. Every day I’ve been working on my ladder drills and stuff like that, working on my different angles. It has really been showing during practice."
Replacing Martez Ivey, Forsythe surpassed expectations as Florida's starting left tackle and developed into one of the best pass-protectors in the nation last year. Gouraige is determined to make a similar impact on the Gators' offensive line while the unit undergoes significant change once again.
“Richard, he kind of takes pride in being able to do everything well," White said, describing the lineman he plays next to. "I mean he can run block obviously because he played guard so he’s physical. But now that he’s back out at tackle I think he’s really worked hard at pass protection and kind of just taken the next step.”
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