- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With a strong desire for early playing time, new Florida offensive tackle commit David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School) couldn't help but see plenty of opportunity with the Gators.
Florida's offensive line has been a sore spot for the past two seasons. It's been beaten up by marauding defensive linemen, battered by injuries and called soft by head coach Will Muschamp. The O-line became an easy scapegoat on an offense that has struggled not only to throw forward passes but to keep quarterbacks healthy and clean.
Getting a commitment from the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle prospect comes at just the right time for a UF program desperate to discover an offensive identity.
Muschamp is fond of calling the SEC a line-of-scrimmage league, but his Gators have missed on a few high-profile offensive linemen in recent years.
Last year it was Laremy Tunsil, the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the nation, who lived 45 miles up the road from Gainesville in Lake City. He had significant interest in Florida during his junior year of high school, but it waned throughout his senior year before he signed with Ole Miss. Tunsil lived up to his billing this fall, starting all but four games at left tackle for the Rebels as a freshman.
The Class of 2012 was a strong year for offensive linemen in the state of Florida. But Jacksonville's John Theus signed with Georgia and Palm Beach Gardens' Avery Young chose Auburn. Both are solid starters in the SEC.
UF wound up signing just one of the 2012 Floridian offensive linemen in Jessamen Dunker, who redshirted and was expected to compete for a starting job last spring. But he was arrested, suspended and transferred not long after his first year was complete.
Dunker's departure reduced Florida's already-tiny 2012 OL class to just D.J. Humphries, who started seven games at left tackle this season before a knee injury sidelined him for the final five games.
To bolster depth and stabilize the line, the Gators dipped into the transfer pool. They signed former Maryland left tackle Max Garcia, who stared all 12 games this past season; former Nebraska tackle Tyler Moore, who made eight starts before breaking his elbow; and juco transfer Trenton Brown (five starts).
The roster numbers are dwindling. UF loses three seniors in Jon Halapio, Jonotthan Harrison and Kyle Koehne. The school also announced Thursday that junior guard Ian Silberman is departing, and freshmen Quinteze Williams and Trevon Young will transfer.
That means the Gators will have just two seniors next season in Garcia and Brown among nine returning offensive linemen. Starting right tackle Chaz Green would have been a part of that senior class, but he was injured in preseason camp and missed the 2013 season. With a medical hardship waiver, he can return as a fifth-year junior.
Another key to balancing the classes will be the progress of Florida's redshirt freshmen. While the Gators missed on some touted high school prospects, they instead stocked up on projects and players with projectable frames in their Class of 2013.
Florida was able to redshirt the three true freshman offensive linemen it signed. Guard Octavius Jackson drew the most praise in practice and came the closest to playing. Cam Dillard is being groomed to be UF's center of the future. Roderick Johnson has the size (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) to compete for playing time in the spring.
Of course, they'll all have to contend with Sharpe, who plans to see the field in 2014 as well.