While the running back position is clearly a strength, the rest of the Florida Gators offense is littered with question marks prior to the start of the 2013 season.
Will Jeff Driskel become a dependable quarterback? Will another receiver step up to complement Quinton Dunbar? Can any tight end come close to replicating Jordan Reed's offensive production?
They're all valid inquiries at the skill positions. However, they should not be the main focus for the Gators during fall camp.
That honor belongs to the offensive line.
Why? Well, for a number of reasons.
First, it's still plagued by the injury bug. Starting guard Jon Halapio is battling a torn pectoral muscle, and his return date is undetermined. Transfer guard Max Garcia is on the shelf with back issues. In addition, reserve Trip Thurman is still recovering from a shoulder injury.
Sounds awfully similar to spring practice, does it not?
Second, the Gators need as much offensive line depth as possible because of the style they employ. The emphasis is on the ground game and, for the most part, pocket passing. The only way the offense will be able to run on all cylinders is if the line can remain fresh throughout an entire game and win the battle up front.
Once the line does get healthy, it will serve two important purposes.
The first task will be to protect Driskel. As mobile and athletic as the junior quarterback showed he can be last season, he can't do everything by himself. Driskel took a lot of sacks in 2012, and many were his own fault. However, many were also due to poor blocking.
Now that he has started for a full season, Driskel should be able to make better reads in the pocket. However, it won't mean anything if his line doesn't allow him any time to throw the football.
For the sake of the passing attack and Driskel's health, the line needs to produce.
It also needs to produce for the talented Gator backfield.
Gone are the days when speedsters like Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps could simply outrun opponents in open space. Now, hard-nosed runs through well-placed gaps in the line are the preferred option.
That's not to say that Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor aren't fast. They just need the help of the line to get going. The same goes for Trey Burton in the Wildcat. Burton needs enough time to read the coverage and make the appropriate decision with the football.
When it all boils down, the Gators' ground game will only go as far as the offensive line can take it.
Fans like to focus on the talent of their skill players. However, those skill players are reliant on the offensive line in front of them.
Think about it. If Driskel has time to throw the football, he will find a receiver somewhere. Thus, the Gators' apparent lack of talent at wide receiver won't be an issue anymore. Plus, Driskel will be able to find a rhythm and gain confidence.
That will open up the possibility of a viable triple-threat attack. With opposing defenses having to plan for both a strong passing and ground attack in addition to special formations such as the Wildcat, the possibilities to score points will significantly increase.
Thus, the Gators will have a feared offense once again.
Obviously, this is the optimistic way of looking at the team's offensive woes. However, the Gators offensive line is talented enough to make such improvements a reality.
Only time will tell if Florida can get some of its firepower back. If so, the offensive line will deserve much of the credit.
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