Stone Forsythe 'Locking It Down' In Pass Protection for Florida Gators

Stone Forsythe has emerged as Florida's best pass protector, serving a crucial role in Florida's offense and on Kyle Trask's quest for the Heisman Trophy.

Naturally, quarterback Kyle Trask steals the headlines while onlookers marvel at the Florida Gators offense. Without a much-improved offensive line in front of him, however, perhaps Trask wouldn't be posting the unreal numbers that he is this year.

As the unit has taken big steps forward from a year ago, the Gators have given up just six sacks on the year - an average of one per game, down from 1.9 in 2019 - while paving the way for Florida to record 4.3 yards per carry in its complementary run game. 

The biggest beneficiary has been Trask, who is playing at a Heisman-caliber level with a clean pocket to operate within.

"Everything’s really clicking for them right now," Trask shared of the OL on Monday. "They’re a very tight-knit group and they do a great job of talking to each other and giving each other feedback throughout the game, and also giving me feedback of what the [defensive line] is looking and what kind of checks I can make to slide the protection correctly."

Arguably Florida's best, and most improved, lineman has been left tackle Stone Forsythe. A 6-foot-9, 312-pound redshirt senior, Forsythe is in his second year as a start on UF's line and has developed into one of the nation's top pass-protecting tackles in the nation since late last year.

On the season, Forsythe has given up just four quarterback pressures in six games, per Pro Football Focus, compared to 20 in 13 contests a year ago. UF's best starting pass blocker on the line, Forsythe is giving up pressure on only 1.66% of his pass-protection snaps (PFF), the next being center Brett Heggie (2.04%). Right tackle Jean Delance is UF's lowest-graded starting pass-protector, giving up pressure on 9.92% of his pass-blocking snaps, for reference.

PFF ranks Forsythe as the country's No. 6 tackle in pass protection, with an 89.1 grade.

"I think Stone has done a very good job this year and hasn't gotten a whole lot of credit for the way he's playing this season. And I think he really should because he's pretty much been locking it down there on the left side this whole season," said Trask. "He's got a lot of games under his belt, and he's understanding the 'why' behind what we're doing things, too. So, he knows why we're running certain plays or calling certain protections."

It seems Florida's offensive line coach, John Hevesy, might have seen this coming. 

Speaking with media in September prior to Florida's season kicking off, Hevesy shared his impressions of Forsythe's development while away from the team as the coronavirus began seeding across the country, and the world - effectively canceling team activities until late May amid the pandemic.

Hevesy credited Forsythe for emerging as a leader of the group when the team returned to work, with very high football intelligence. Physically, Forsythe was able to advance his game substantially over the offseason.

"The one thing you've seen is just obviously using his hands, and just playing with quicker and harder hands, and a little harder, quicker feet," Hevesy said. "That was the big thing we were going into the offseason working on, and obviously it got cut a little bit. Him doing it on his own, which I think he's done a great job of through this camp and through this part of the season so far."

UF offensive coordinator Brian Johnson acknowledged the importance of a dominant left tackle in Florida's pass-savvy offense on Tuesday.

"Especially in this league because you have so many dynamic pass rushers, and when you have a guy that you’re not concerned about leaving one on one on the line for as much as we throw the football, it’s definitely a huge positive," Johnson said.

Florida can credit the offensive line as a whole for keeping Trask clean throughout the year, and looking far better than it did a season ago. However, it is Forsythe who has been a legitimate anchor for the unit, protecting the blindside of the frontrunner for college football's most prestigious award.