Florida's hopes of winning an SEC title in coach Urban Meyer's second season were dealt a blow Monday when redshirt freshman Ronnie Wilson, the projected starter at right guard, was lost for at least the team's first three games, including the always anticipated Sept. 16 road game at Tennessee.
Wilson fractured his left ankle in Saturday's practice and underwent surgery later that night at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla., Florida assistant athletics director Steve McClain confirmed.
Wilson is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks.
The Gators, ranked No. 8 in the preseason USA Today coaches' poll, are trying to replace four departed starters from last season's offensive line. Wilson, 6 feet 4 and 309 pounds, is one of the team's most promising young lineman after a stellar career at Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Florida's offensive line was already its biggest concern heading into the season. The Gators shuffled the starting unit after losing four senior starters, including All-SEC center Mike Degory, from last season.
Senior Steve Rissler, who started at right guard in 2005, has moved to center. Junior Drew Miller, who also played right guard last season, was projected to start at right tackle. Miller might move back to right guard until Wilson returns, and junior Carlton Medder was playing right tackle in practice Monday.
Left guard Jim Tartt, a sophomore who started two games last year before having season-ending shoulder surgery, is the projected starter at left guard. Senior Phil Trautwein, who played blocking tight end in 2005, is working as the first-team left tackle.
Pass protection was a sore spot last season, when Meyer was trying to install the spread offense he used to lead Utah to an undefeated record and No. 4 national ranking in 2004. The Gators allowed 35 sacks in 12 games last season, fourth-most in the SEC.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.