With the current shape of Florida's offensive line, it might not matter who becomes the starting quarterback this fall. Who knows if there will be enough quality bodies up front to protect him?
There is a major offensive line crisis in Gainesville, and it's not something new coach Jim McElwain can fix overnight or in one season. The unfortunate state of the Gators' line started with misses, injuries and transfers that began to pile up, starting the 2011 recruiting class. The icing on this bitter cake came when Florida lost a combined 47 starts from five players along last year's offensive line, leaving it with just eight scholarship offensive linemen to start the spring.
(Really, that number should be up to 10, but D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore surprised many by jetting off to the NFL early.)
Spring practice came and went with walk-ons rotating in and out up front and the devastating loss of sophomore Roderick Johnson, who coaches were extremely exited about. Johnson's football career was cut short by rare spine injury
When fall practice begins in August, the Gators hope to have 13 scholarship offensive linemen to work with -- 12 of them being underclassmen with zero starts to their names. But even that number is in jeopardy, as redshirt senior Trip Thurman, who started 10 games last year, missed all of spring because of a chronic shoulder injury and it sounds like there's no guarantee that he'll be healthy enough to play this fall.
So that makes 12 unproven linemen suiting up for the Gators with zero collegiate starts and the task of immediately adapting in the treacherous trenches of the SEC.
Yeah, good luck future Florida quarterback.
How did all of this happen? How did Florida get this thin at one of the most important positions in football?
Well, it was really a snowball that caught traction years before McElwain was even a blip on Jeremy Foley's radar.
It started with a 2011 class that has just one (Thurman) of its two offensive line members still on the team. Classmate Tommy Jordan saw his career cut short by chronic shoulder issues.
The next year, Florida brought in three more offensive linemen, but all three are gone, including Humphries, the No. 1 OT prospect, and ESPN 300 guard Jessamen Dunker, who was later dismissed from the team. 2013's class had six linemen and a converted defensive end -- Antonio Riles. Riles and redshirt sophomore Cameron Dillard are the only two who remain.
Finally, the 2014 class had six more signees, with four guys still holding it together on campus.
Florida has lost nine offensive linemen to either career-ending injuries, early entry into the NFL draft, transfers or dismissals since that 2011 class signed.
Here's a quick glance at Florida's depressing luck with offensive linemen:
Tommy Jordan -- Injury
Trip Thurman -- 10 starts, status unknown for 2015 (shoulder)
Jessamen Dunker -- Dismissed from team
D.J Humphries -- Three-year player (19 starts), left early for NFL
Octavius Jackson -- Injury
Roderick Johnson -- Injury
Tyler Moore -- 14 starts, left early for NFL
Trevon Young -- Transferred
Drew Sarvary -- Injury
Nolan Kelleher -- Injury
That brings us to the 2015 recruiting class, which houses hope, but also six high school kids. Yes, Martez Ivey was the nation's No. 1 offensive lineman, but he's never played in an SEC game, yet he'll be expected to start at one of the tackle spots opposite sophomore David Sharpe, who played in six games last season. Maybe even 6-foot-7, 303-pound Fredrick Johnson will get pushed into the rotation at tackle. Tyler Jordan, an ESPN 300 member, should compete for time at center as well.
But this is a lot to ask of freshmen at a position that usually takes time for true development at the college level. Basically, McElwain and his future starting quarterback will have their hands full with a very young and very inexperienced offensive line suffering from years of decay.