GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Gators’ situation at offensive line this spring is deserving of a good one-liner.
Both head coach Jim McElwain and offensive line coach Mike Summers made offerings after Friday’s practice.
"I did try to get free agency put in, and we weren’t able to get that handled," McElwain quipped.
A few minutes later, Summers took a turn.
"Every time there’s a pile, I turn and look the other way and then look at the huddle," the 35-year coaching veteran said.
As the Gators get acclimated to their new head coach this spring, there are fewer of them than normal along the offensive line. For those who prefer the cold hard facts, the Gators have seven scholarship offensive linemen healthy this spring.
They have just eight on the roster, but the most experienced of the group, fifth-year senior Trip Thurman, is not participating in contact drills to give his ailing shoulder a chance to heal in hopes of being able to play in the fall.
So, for the time being, the significant seven and a batch of walk-ons are holding the unit together until reinforcements arrive over the summer. UF signed six offensive linemen in February, highlighted by Apopka (Fla.) High tackle Martez Ivey, ranked one of the best prospects in the country by recruiting analysts.
For now, opportunities are abundant as Florida heads into its first scrimmage of spring camp on Saturday.
"A lot of guys are getting reps. No one can complain about that," sophomore David Sharpe said. "We can see the best of the best and who is performing well."
Sharpe played as a reserve a season ago but is working as a starter during spring camp. Roderick Johnson, Andrew Mike, Cam Dillard, Antonio Riles, Kavaris Harkless and Travaris Dorsey are the other scholarship offensive linemen.
The group owns two career starts between them, both by Johnson last season.
"We’re going to grow together," said Dillard, who is working at center. "I think that will help us excel when it comes to fall camp. Everyone has reps; everyone has a chance to improve and get better each day."
Improvement is the key goal.
With the departure of five regular starters after last season, when McElwain took over he knew the offensive line was going to be thin. The Gators are shuffling players around to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and relying on walk-ons such as Nick Davis to take significant reps.
Davis, the son of former UF offensive line coach Tim Davis, is working behind Dillard as the second-team center.
No one is standing around.
"I tell you what, they’re trying their tails off for the lack of numbers," McElwain said. "It’s one of those things. You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt. And right now, quite honestly, the hand we were dealt is really insufficient at some of the areas. So we’re going to make the best of it.
"We’ll do what we have to do, and you know, find out what those guys can do and let’s do it best."
The Gators lost starters Max Garcia, Chaz Green, D.J. Humphries, Trenton Brown and part-time starter Tyler Moore from last season’s line. That attrition would impact any team the following spring, but various defections during the Will Muschamp era has really made the roster thin at the position.
Recent signees Tommy Jordan (shoulder), Octavius Jackson (shoulder), Nolan Kelleher (back) and Drew Sarvary (head) ended their careers due to health concerns, and Jessamen Dunker and Trevon Young transferred.
Instead of focusing on what he doesn’t have, Summers is pushing what he does have to make the most of their opportunities this spring.
"All the guys out there are getting plenty of reps, plenty of turns, and I’m getting plenty of opportunities to coach and we’re all having a really good time," said Summers, the only assistant who was with the Gators last season. "The guys have really locked arms and realized that every man out there has to be part of what we’re doing and they’re fighting their way through it and doing a really good job.
"They fight their way through tough times, and that’s how you build the foundation of a football team. That’s really what we’re doing right now at all positions."
Redshirt sophomore Antonio Riles signed with the Gators as a defensive lineman but moved to offense last season. He didn’t play, but the experience of working with last season’s veteran group paid dividends.
Riles (6-foot-4, 312 pounds) is taking reps at tackle and guard to establish his spot in the rotation.
"I like the direction everybody is going," he said. "I think we are taking a step in the right direction. That’s a good thing knowing you are going to get some quality reps. Last year I just had to sit back and watch those guys."
No one is watching this spring. The Gators don’t have that kind of luxury.
"To try to even create kind of two groups is hard, so these guys, we’re giving them spells," McElwain said. "Just kind of the way we practice, we had to kind of totally change how we will normally practice here in the future. And yet, that’s no excuse. It’s what we have, and those guys are battling their tails off and learning and giving us an opportunity to execute some offense."