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July 12, 2010

2010 football overview: offensive line

This week, InsidetheGators.net examines the 2010 Florida Gators football team group by group. Today, we take an in-depth look at the offensive line.

Overview: How good is this group?

Well even though it lost a first-round NFL draft pick (Maurkice Pouncey), the line might be better this fall than it was in 2009. And it was exceptional at times last year.

A bold statement?

Not really.

Looking objectively at the unit, one isn't likely to find any glaring weaknesses.

It can run block. It can pass protect. It has players with NFL ability. It has leadership. It has depth (not a ton, but enough). And it has one of the country's most well-respected line coaches in Steve Addazio.

The main man up front is the man in the middle, senior Mike Pouncey, Maurkice's twin brother. Pouncey has 28 straight starts. But, it should be noted, they came at guard.

This fall, he'll slide into his brother's old spot at center.

Nobody expects the transition to be a difficult one. In fact, many publications project Pouncey will be an All-SEC performer, just as he was in 2009.

Guard Carl Johnson, also a senior, starts at guard and is another big-time performer with big-time talent. At 6-foot-5, 360 pounds, he's Florida's largest linemen, and he's also one of its best. Johnson started all 14 games last season. Although he's a guard, he has played tackle in spots, which is a nice luxury for the Gators to have.

Tackles Xavier Nixon and Marcus Gilbert and guard James Wilson are the players we project to round out the starting five. Nixon is a bona fide star in the making and Gilbert is a returning starter. Wilson's career started slowly, but he now appears ready to make his presence known.

There is more good news for Florida: The Gators have more than a few capable backups.

If fully recovered from a serious knee injury, Matt Patchan could see significant playing time at tackle and might also get a look at tight end in short-yardage situations. Senior Maurice Hurt is capable of giving Wilson a run for his money in August. And younger players such as Nick Alajajian, Jon Halapio, David Young and Sam Robey showed this spring they have the talent to survive and thrive if called upon.

Top Player: Mike Pouncey. Pouncey isn't just the best lineman on the team, according to Addazio he is the best in the country. A stretch? Maybe not. Even though he's moving over from guard, Pouncey has been named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which goes to college football's finest center. His brother won the award last season.

Rising Star Xavier Nixon. Nixon started five games as a true freshman, and is penciled in as the No. 1 guy at left tackle. As solid as he was last season, Nixon was even better in the spring. He's big and strong, yet agile and smooth on his feet, which is precisely what you need from a guy at this position. Prediction: All-SEC second team this year. Next year, he'll be a first-teamer and maybe an All-American.

Needs to step up: James Wilson. Once a touted five-star prospect, Wilson has played in 24 games but has only four starts. Heading into fall practice, he has an excellent chance to land one of the Gators' two starting guard positions. First, he needs to secure that spot. Then, he needs to take the next step and become a force up front.

Sudden impact: David Young. Florida has a veteran group of starters, so unless injuries occur the younger guys aren't likely to see much playing time except in blowouts. That said, Young showed this spring he has the strength, toughness and footwork to contribute if called upon.

Group Rating: 9.5. The Florida line is the undisputed strength of the team, and very well might be among the four or five best in college football.


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