Florida's offensive line transformed into a more aggressive, high-energy unit this spring.

UF offensive linemen buy in on new assistant coach's approach

By Robbie Andreu Staff writer
Tuesday, April 18, 2017 2:47 PM

On the occasions Florida coach Jim McElwain has talked about some of his players resembling dead fish — playing with blank stares and lifeless effort — he has never identified any individuals or groups.

But everyone knows who he was talking about — the big guys up front on the offensive line.

They certainly know.

“The kids are aware,” new offensive line coach Brad Davis said. “They've been called out. They get it. 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. These kids, I can't say enough great things about them. I'm very lucky to be their coach. Very lucky."

McElwain called out the Big Nasties at the end of last season, when he said the offensive line needed to be tougher, more physical and play with greater effort and energy.

A few weeks later, that challenge was handed over to the effervescent Davis, who was hired to replace the rather stoic Mike Summers, who left to become the offensive line coach at Louisville.

From the very first offseason workouts after Davis' arrival, it was evident there was a new, energetic and aggressive coach in charge and there would be a different attitude and approach on an offensive line that has been passive in the past.

"Since Coach Davis has came in, we've had that high-effort, high-energy and high-aggression kind of mentality we're trying to build with our offensive line,” junior guard Tyler Jordan said. “And you can see that every day. We're coming off the ball hard, we're fighting, we're playing hard, trying to win.

“He brings a whole new mentality to the offensive line — more hard-nosed, more aggressive. He came in and said, 'Hey, we're going to kick anybody's tail in that steps in The Swamp, or wherever we go.

“He gave us a new mindset. We're a lot more physical up front. We've got that kind of kick-ass mentality. We want to go out there and move the ball, protect the quarterback at all costs, and get yards in the rushing game.”

The dead fish seemed to come to life this spring, dropping their passive persona and taking on some of the characteristics of their intense, emotional and high-energy new coach.

“Energy, energy,” junior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said of Davis. “Everything he has is just energy. I feed off that. Somebody has energy, it gives me energy and makes me want to do my best. When I'm out there having energy, that person next to me is going to have energy, too. That feeds across our line.”

Transforming the offensive line from passive to aggressive has not been a hard sell, mainly because the old way wasn't working.

The Gators gave up 28 sacks last season and averaged only 128.2 yards on the ground and a mere 344.0 yards of total offense per game.

The few times the offensive line did play with obvious passion and aggression, the results were favorable, especially in the win at LSU, where the line dominated in the decisive second half.

It's given Davis something to build on.

“I think these guys will do whatever you ask of them as long as they understand the why,” he said. “That's kind of the generation of kids we have now. It's not anymore just do what we say because we say it, they want to understand the why.

“So, there's a reason why we ask these guys to practice hard and they understand and have seen results this spring. I think once they saw some of the results, being a little more physical at the point of attack, being able to run the ball a little bit, it was easy to buy in.”

There was some tough love on the practice field between Davis and his linemen this spring.

“He's very relentless,” sophomore center T.J. McCoy said. “He's always in your grill, always in your face. The one thing he always teaches us is that it's all about love. He says, 'I'm not doing this because I don't like you. I'm doing it because I know what you can be.' He wants all of us to be the best we can be.”

Based on their physical and energetic response this spring, the linemen seem to trust Davis and where he plans to take them. In turn, it has given Davis faith that together they can reach their destination.

“I've got a great room, unbelievable kids,” Davis said. “I can't say enough great things about them. The spirit that's in that room, the character of those men.

“They love football, they love this university, they have high expectations of themselves. They want to be held accountable for their actions and they understand that we have a long way to go to take this team to where everybody expects it to be.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.




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