Left side of Gators OL gets overhaul

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Though it had improved considerably from the year before, Florida’s offensive line still struggled last season.

The 2013 line ought to be an altogether different story, especially on the left side, thanks to bulked-up tackle D.J. Humphries and Maryland transfer Max Garcia.

"Well, we'll wait until we get into the season to make those judgments,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “But I'm excited about both players.”

Especially Humphries, a five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle in 2012. He enrolled early and got on the field as an extra tight end in the jumbo package and in spot duty at left tackle despite weighing about 270 pounds. The 6-foot-5 Humphries now weighs more than 280 pounds and has seamlessly taken over for the graduated Xavier Nixon.

Humphries is an upgrade from Nixon, who started five games as a freshman but had an inconsistent career and was benched last season because of his effort. Humphries might have replaced Nixon last season had he been bigger and stronger, but those physical tools kept him from being able to handle some of the SEC’s bigger defensive ends and tackles.

He’s ready now, Muschamp said.

“He's just a really good athlete,” Muschamp said. “He can bend his lower body. He can set the edge against a speed rush. Sometimes, at times, he had a hard time anchoring against the bigger players, some of the bull rushes, but he's a guy now that's building that anchor, building that core.”

Humphries also is much quicker and more agile than Nixon, who struggled with his footwork and pad level, and should be better in protecting quarterback Jeff Driskel’s blind side.

The 6-5, 307-pound Garcia sat out last season after transferring from Maryland, but he practiced every day and was one of the recipients of the Most Valuable Scout Team Award on offense.

Garcia earned a reputation as a gritty player with a bit of a nasty attitude, which is something that has been missing from the line since Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Pouncey left Gainesville.

“Max Garcia has been a real good addition, a tough, physical inside player,” Muschamp said. “Great kid, does everything you ask. He’s a guy I’m excited about.”

Garcia is replacing sixth-year senior James Wilson, who finally managed to put together a full season after a career full of knee and foot injuries. Wilson played solidly in 2012, but Garcia -- who was a tackle at Maryland -- is much more mobile and is an upgrade in pass protection.

UF gave up 39 sacks last season, and while all of those aren’t because of breakdowns on the offensive line, the unit certainly needs to do a better job protecting Driskel. UF’s passing offense ranked 114th nationally, and inconsistent pass protection was one of the main reasons.

“We need to play better around Jeff,” Muschamp said. “It wasn't all just one guy's fault in the throwing game. We need to get better at receiver. We need to improve in protection. Our backs didn't protect as well as maybe we thought at times. It wasn't always on the offensive line. Sometimes we held onto the ball too long. All of those things are being addressed.”

But it starts with the offensive line and a left side that now seems to have been greatly improved.