Photo credit: University of Florida athletic association
With two starters from a year ago now pursuing a shot at the pros, Florida is left looking for the next men up on the offensive line at left tackle and center.
As things currently project, the Gators will see an infusion of youth across the line in order to replace Stone Forsythe and Brett Heggie. It might not be as easy as pegging new players in Forsythe and Heggie's spots directly, instead some shuffling may be required, but rising junior Ethan White and sophomore Josh Braun are expected to fill in in some capacity.
Three weeks into spring practice and the duo of emerging contributors are impressing UF's most seasoned veteran up front, right guard Stewart Reese.
“Ethan White and Josh Braun are the two people that stand out to me the most," Reese said in response to a question about younger players that have impressed him in spring practice.
"Last year, as you all know, I got hurt in the Georgia game and Josh stepped up and played behind me, and there was no difference in the level of play," Reese continued. "Ethan has played before, but this will be his first chance to get a real chance to start. They’ve been doing good at practice. They’re getting better every day."
Braun, who stands at an imposing 6-foot-6, 352 pounds, saw 147 offensive snaps during his true freshman and impressed head coach Dan Mullen, fellow players, and outside onlookers. Appearing in six games on the offensive line, Pro Football Focus credits Braun with allowing only one quarterback pressure on 75 pass-blocking snaps and giving up zero sacks.
All of Braun's playing time came at right guard during the 2020 season, where he has remained to be seen throughout footage of the Gators' 2021 spring camp. Reese, in turn, has earned reps at center from what could be observed, a position that he has not played — at least during games — throughout his five-year college career.
White has, however, making him a candidate to end up in the middle at some point if need be. The 6-foot-5, 346-pound interior lineman was on track to start, most likely at center, as a sophomore before a fall camp knee injury derailed his second season at UF.
Enrolling early and shedding nearly 60 pounds during his freshman year, White earned playing time in 2018 at left and right guard and impressed as a pass blocker at that time as well, allowing only three pressures and zero on 119 passing plays (PFF).
Now, White and Braun will have to prove they can handle full-time roles as Florida retools its offensive line. The two of them have the confidence and trust of Reese, who projects to occupy an interior position with the younger linemen this fall.
"Those are the two people that stand out to me on the offensive line," said Reese. "A lot of our other younger guys are still fighting to get a job. But those two guys, considering all of the things that they’ve been through to get to this point, they’re doing a real good job to me."
Recently, running back Dameon Pierce mentioned that UF's offensive line is taking steps forward from a year ago, even as younger players are being inserted into the lineup. Florida will need its line to be the "more cohesive unit" that Pierce suggests it is evolving into as it transitions from Kyle Trask to Emory Jones at quarterback moving forward.