GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s hard to take away much from a Florida spring game.
The coaches match up the starters against the second-team units, so success on one side of the ball and struggles for the other are to be expected.
However, when a first-team unit has some trouble against backup players, it’s concerning. UF coach Jim McElwain raised those concerns with his starting offensive line at halftime of the Orange & Blue Debut.
“I thought they did OK,” McElwain said of his O-line. “Disappointed with a couple guys that didn’t compete. We kind of got after them at halftime a little bit about competing. Sure enough, they came out in that second half and did a much better job.”
Florida’s starters didn’t play poorly in the first half, but they failed to dominate the second-team defensive line and that should have happened.
For what it’s worth, left tackle Martez Ivey was not worried about the effort.
“I would definitely not call it an issue,” he said. “As an O-line group, I believe and you can see it on film that we come off the ball, we’re physical, we give competition to our defense.
“He just wants us to compete every day, that’s all. We want to run the ball. We want them yards. So, he’s challenging us, he wants us to do better.”
McElwain called out his offensive line after the bowl game, saying they had to become more physical up front this offseason. He entrusted new offensive line coach Brad Davis with that task.
“What Coach Davis wanted us doing was to improve our physicality and come off the ball and be more locked in on our assignments,” right guard Fred Johnson said. “So I feel like we really improved, but we’re not nearly where we can be at yet.”
Florida’s linemen had their moments last season, playing well against LSU, Missouri and South Carolina. They struggled, however, at Arkansas, Florida State and Vanderbilt.
Davis has been giving daily reminders to his unit about playing with aggressiveness, energy and physicality on a consistent basis.
“They’ve been called out. They get it,” Davis said. “They’re smart people. They understand the obligation they have to this team in controlling the line of scrimmage and moving people, protecting the quarterback and things of that nature.
“They’re aware, and I’ve got great kids. They want that. They want to be held accountable. They want to be challenged. They don’t shy away from it. For me, this transition has been smooth.”
Florida’s 2017 offensive line has been described as a veteran group, but three starters are still underclassmen. However, redshirt freshman left guard Brett Heggie is be the only player without any experience.
“Everybody that we have right now except Brett Heggie has played,” Ivey said. “We all expect big things. We want to dominate, we want to be physical and we’re trying to set a standard. So we’re going to keep ourselves to a higher standard and we want the best.”
With the season opener against Michigan, Ivey knows his unit can’t play with same effort it had in the spring game.
“It’s a different approach. We have to have intensity, we have to have an urgency,” Ivey said. “That time is coming real fast. It’s going to be here before we know it, so we have to take advantage of all these opportunities we have.”