Florida Gators: Trip Thurman
We're getting you ready for the Gators' spring practice with a look at five key position battles to watch when practice gets started on March 19.
Our weeklong series moves to the offensive line, a group of players who are critically important to Florida's plans for a rebirth on that side of the ball.
Departures: Florida lost three seniors in center Jonotthan Harrison (12 starts), right guard Jon Halapio (10 starts) and guard/tackle Kyle Koehne (six starts). They were the heart and core leadership of the line. The Gators also saw key reserve Ian Silberman, who started the final four games at guard last year, transfer to Boston College after graduating in December. Two other transfers, Quinteze Williams and Trevon Young, never saw action for Florida.
Returning reserves: Rising junior Trip Thurman played in all 12 games as a backup. While he's not expected to unseat any of Florida's incumbent starters, Thurman will have an important role as the Gators' only returning reserve. The former three-star prospect has good size at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds and can play guard or tackle.
Newcomers: Last season, Florida redshirted tackle Roderick Johnson, center Cameron Dillard and guard Octavius Jackson, whose playing career is over because of a chronic shoulder injury. The Gators have three midseason enrollees who will participate in spring practice -- juco transfer Drew Sarvary and true freshmen Nolan Kelleher and Kavaris Harkless. This summer will see the arrival of three more linemen from UF's Class of 2014 -- tackles David Sharpe and Andrew Mike and guard Travaris Dorsey.
What to watch: No unit could use a clean slate more than Florida's offensive line. It struggled with injuries in 2013, but that wasn't the only major problem. The Gators have had trouble with pass protection for several years now, and it's proven to be one of the most crippling issues for an offense that hasn't been able to get out of its own way. Improving the pass blocking and developing depth are the two most important tasks this spring, and Florida will look to new line coach Mike Summers to lead the way. Summers comes to UF with 34 years of experience and a reputation as a fine teacher. Those skills will be put to the test, as the Gators have just five linemen with starting experience and only two others who have ever played in a college game. It's not necessary to settle on five starters this spring, but Summers needs to quickly figure out his players' strengths and best positions. Finding a replacement for Harrison, a three-year starter at center, is key. It's expected that a veteran like Moore or Garcia will make the shift to center, but Florida must continue to develop Dillard as a quality reserve who can eventually push for the starting job. Last year, Florida was unable to play a true spring game because of injuries to its offensive linemen, so staying healthy is another modest goal this spring. There are holes all over the two-deep roster and plenty of opportunities to win jobs. Fresh faces like Sarvary, Johnson and Kelleher will have their chances to carve out roles and perhaps even make it a competition with one of the five veterans. With a new OL coach and that much-needed clean slate, anything is possible.
The O-line was expected to key a resurgent offense last season. It was experienced, talented and deep. But like a lot of positions on that woeful 2013 offense, a few injuries led to wholesale collapse.
To make matters worse, three senior starters departed and a key reserve was among three transfers. When the dust settled, Florida had just nine offensive linemen on scholarship.
"We're getting our numbers back on the offensive line," Muschamp said. "We're right at 15. You'd like to have 15 to 17 offensive linemen on scholarship. That's a developmental game, but that's a huge developmental position, and that's where you've got to have guys in your program. So it's good to see that."
The offensive line continues our week-long series of the Gators' top positions with room to improve.
Battling for No. 1: It's not hard to project UF's starting offensive line because only five linemen on the roster have ever started a game. Only seven have ever played in a collegiate game, so there is a strong likelihood that those five veterans will be the Gators' starters. D.J. Humphries will look to reassert himself at left tackle after an injury-plagued sophomore season. Max Garcia should slide back to the left guard spot he played last season before injuries forced him to shuffle. Chaz Green, who started 19 games in two seasons, returns after missing last season due to injury. He mostly played right tackle but lacks bulk and could move inside. That would allow Florida to stick with 6-foot-8, 361-pound Trenton Brown on the outside. Then there's 6-5, 320-pound Tyler Moore, who played mostly at tackle last season before breaking his elbow. He could be a prime candidate to take over at center.
Strength in numbers: Florida hasn't developed much depth in recent years, and several offensive linemen have left the program. Trip Thurman, who will be a fourth-year junior this fall, has all of 15 career games as a backup under his belt. But that might make him the Gators' top reserve. Much was expected of Octavius Jackson, who came the closest to burning his redshirt last fall as a standout on the scout team. But his hometown newspaper recently reported that a shoulder injury has ended his playing career. Florida's other two linemen who redshirted last season will be counted on as key reserves in 2014. Roderick Johnson is well-built at 6-5, 316 pounds and could play tackle or guard. And Cameron Dillard was recruited as UF's center of the future. He'll need time to develop, however, because center is such an important position that it's doubtful the Gators would throw an untested freshman into the fire.
New on the scene: Of Florida's six new O-linemen, juco transfer Drew Sarvary might have the best chance of securing a role on the two-deep roster because he started 10 of 11 games for Florida A&M as a freshman before heading to junior college. The next most likely is guard Nolan Kelleher, who enrolled early and has the size (6-6, 305) to play right away. Another early enrollee, tackle Kavaris Harkless, will need time to bulk up. That and raw technique are common issues with true freshman offensive lineman, so it will take a special effort for any of the three freshmen who arrive this summer -- David Sharpe, Travaris Dorsey and Andrew Mike -- to earn significant playing time in the fall. Sharpe, the No. 2 OT prospect in the Class of 2014, has the athleticism to shine. Dorsey (6-3, 314) and Mike (6-6, 278) have the size to surprise.
And it's true. The Gators had terrible luck, enough injuries to fill an entire season of "Grey's Anatomy" and a team that couldn't wait for all of it to be over.
But can they really bounce all the way back to the Top 25?
Right after the season ended Monday night, Florida made Mark Schlabach's always fun Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.
The case for
Speaking of Driskel, he and most of last season's wounded should be healthy in 2014. That alone gives coach Will Muschamp reason for optimism. By the final game of last season, he was dumbstruck by just how many players were out: "There were a bunch of [talented] guys that didn’t play for us today. They were all on the sidelines in street clothes. We have good football players and we have a good staff. We just got to get back healthy and continue to move forward.
"We’re going to be fine. We’re going to have a good football team next year, I can assure you of that. Sitting in that locker room with those guys, we’re going to be fine. And that’s what’s encouraging for me. It’s damn encouraging."
The case against
The injury bugaboo is still lurking. If Driskel misses time, as he has in each of his three seasons, the Gators will be forced to turn to true freshman Will Grier or sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg. The transfer of Tyler Murphy cost Florida a reliable backup at the most important position.
The offensive line is paper thin as well. Beyond D.J. Humphries, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Chaz Green and Trenton Brown, there are only a handful of scholarship linemen on the roster. Just one -- rising junior Trip Thurman -- has even taken a college snap. That's a whole lot of inexperience ticketed for UF's line in 2014.
There are plenty of other reasons for pessimism, such as a lack of proven playmakers at receiver and tight end, some shuffling needed in the secondary after losing three upperclassmen at cornerback and a dearth of pass-rushers off the edge. Then there's the always-difficult schedule.
But with a sizable recruiting class ranked in the top 10 and some fresh ideas from three new coaches, it's a lot more fun to imagine a Gators turnaround next fall.
It’s the reason Tyler Moore and Max Garcia left their respective schools a year ago and transferred to Florida. The addition of those two versatile players gives the Gators their toughest, most physical and best offensive line in coach Will Muschamp’s three seasons.
Now everybody’s happy.
"Oh, man, it’s the greatest decision of my life," Garcia said.
Garcia was one of several Maryland players who transferred after the 2011 season, which was coach Randy Edsall’s first in College Park. Though he started all 12 games at left tackle as a sophomore, Garcia said he had personal, academic and athletic issues during his freshman season.
When it was over, he decided he needed a change.
"I think you come to college just to be happy personally and athletically and academically, just find the right fit for you," Garcia said. "It’s all about being happy. As a player you don’t really get much more than being happy."
"I met Coach Muschamp and [offensive line] Coach [Tim] Davis and I met the offensive line here and I just felt at home coming down here to Florida," said Garcia, who is a 6-foot-4, 307-pound redshirt junior. "Aside from football, this is where I found Christ. He came into my life here so since I’ve been here last August my life has just changed forever and it’s for the better."
Moore’s situation was a bit different. He started the first four games and played in nine as a freshman tackle at Nebraska in 2011, but he was unhappy with the amount of playing time he got and he also believed he wasn’t being treated fairly.
He was so disgruntled that when he left school just before practice began in August 2012 he thought he was done with football.
"Little things that I had to deal with at Nebraska made me slowly hate the game after so much time being there," said Moore, whose father, great uncle and cousin played at Nebraska. "Of course everyone wants more playing time, but I believe I should have gotten more playing time throughout the year. I was busting my butt all year practicing and trying to get some playing time and still only got a few plays here and there. It’s just what the coaches want to do."
The 6-5, 315-pound Moore returned to St. Petersburg, Fla., and spent the 2012 academic year at St. Petersburg College. But as time passed, he realized he missed playing football and he considered Florida State before choosing UF.
They took different paths, but Moore and Garcia have one thing in common: Both can play multiple spots on the line. That makes them among the Gators’ most valued players.
Moore, a redshirt sophomore, was expected to battle with redshirt senior Chaz Green for the starting right tackle spot but instead has spent the entire camp working at right guard in place of injured starter Jon Halapio (torn pec). He can play all five positions, although he hasn’t snapped at UF yet.
"He’s very intelligent. He gets it," Muschamp said. "We’ve been able to plug him in across the board. He could play center if he had to. You can’t ever not emphasize enough the intelligence, and [he’s] a guy that can go in and play different spots, different angles, different assignments and different techniques from playing inside as opposed to playing outside.
"He can do a lot of things for us. He’s going to be a huge member of our football team."
Garcia is the starter at left guard and pairs with left tackle D.J. Humphries to instantly upgrade the left side. The staff moved him to left tackle for a practice and Muschamp said he performed well despite not having taken a snap there since he arrived in Gainesville.
"We got rave reviews from some of the assistant coaches there at Maryland about the type young man he was," Muschamp said. "So he was highly endorsed as a football player but more than anything as a person."
Moore and Garcia aren’t the only offensive linemen who can play multiple spots on the roster. Redshirt senior Kyle Koehne, Green and redshirt sophomore Trip Thurman can as well, and Muschamp said that will be a staple of his linemen going forward.
"We always try to recruit guys who can play multiple positions," Muschamp said. "That means they’re smart and they can do some different things for us. You’d like to be two-deep at every position and two guys that can rotate other than that. You better have a bunch [of versatile offensive linemen] and you’ve got to prepare for injuries."
The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Patton doesn’t really fit into coach Will Muschamp’s philosophy that bigger is better. Not just on the line of scrimmage, either. Big receivers. Big defensive backs. Big linebackers.
"This is a big man’s league," he said. "When you go pay to watch a boxing match, you don’t go watch the featherweights fight. You go watch heavyweights fight. This is a heavyweight league.
"So we need have a big, physical team. You can still be really fast, but you better be big and physical if you want to win in this league right now."
Muschamp is in his third season and working on his fourth signing class, and he has certainly made the Gators a bigger, more physical team in that short period of time. To see the difference, look at UF’s roster from 2009. The Gators had five starters or key contributors who were 5-9 or shorter: Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, Markihe Anderson and Brandon James.
This year’s team has only one starter that small: 5-9 safety Cody Riggs. Patton is a role player (he’s the jet sweep guy) and the shortest player on scholarship is 5-7 freshman running back Adam Lane -- who weighs 222 pounds.
Muschamp’s philosophy goes further than just the size of the players. He wants the bulk of his 85-man roster to be comprised of what he calls big-skill positions: offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends. He wants 50. Right now he has 42 (see breakdown below).
Muschamp wants 15-17 offensive linemen, and the Gators are close to that number. They have five scholarship tight ends, too. The defensive line is where the problem is. The Gators are short on ends, especially speed rushers. There are eight scholarship defensive tackles, but only three have played in a game (Dominique Easley, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs), and just two bucks (hybrid defensive end/linebacker).
It’ll take at least a couple more signing classes for the Gators to be as stocked along the defensive line as Muschamp would like. Muschamp believes long-term success at Florida -- and therefore the SEC -- depends on beefing up those defensive numbers.
And not just to compete with Alabama and Nick Saban, either.
"When big guys run out of gas, they’re done," Muschamp said. "We don’t ever want our big guys up front to play more than six or eight snaps in a row and have the intensity you’ve got to play with to be successful in this league. So you can’t ever have enough defensive linemen or pass rushers, especially the way the game’s going.
"You look in our league at Missouri and Kentucky and Tennessee, a lot of schools are going to a little bit of a Big 12 model, like Texas A&M, where they’re spreading the field, and you can’t ever have enough guys that can play in space and rush the passer. The most exerting thing in football is rushing the passer. Those guys are battling against a 315-pound guy and trying to push the pocket, so you can’t ever have enough of those guys."
Here’s the breakdown of what Muschamp calls the big-skill players:
Ideal number: 15-17
Number on the roster: 14. Tyler Moore, Quinteze Williams, Rod Johnson, Octavius Jackson, Cameron Dillard, Trip Thurman, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries, Jonotthan Harrison, Chaz Green, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown, Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne.
Comment: The Gators will lose four players to graduation but have four offensive line commits for 2014, three of whom weigh more than 300 pounds. The line has gotten bigger, stronger and more physical since Muschamp called them soft at the end of his first season.
Ideal number: 8-10
Number on the roster: 8. Damien Jacobs, Joey Ivie, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley, Antonio Riles, Dominique Easley.
Comment: Not a lot of experience here, but the four freshmen (Ivie, Bostwick, Brantley and Riles) will gain valuable experience as part of the rotation this season.
Ideal number: 6-8
Number on roster: 4. Alex McCalister, Jonathan Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Bryan Cox.
Comment: Easley also can play end. This is perhaps the most flexible position, with several players having the ability to play inside on passing downs to get the best pass rushers on the field.
Ideal number: 4-6
Number on roster: 2. Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell.
Comment: This position also needs to be beefed up quickly, with Powell likely leaving after this year if he has a good season. Some flexibility here, too, because Cox and McCalister could spend time here.
Ideal number: 9-12
Number on roster: 9. Michael Taylor, Matt Rolin, Jeremi Powell, Jarrad Davis, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Antonio Morrison.
Comment: UF has one bona fide stud (Morrison) and a mix of veteran role players and freshmen. McMillian is a player to watch. He could become a starter by midseason. This is an important position group because it produces a lot of special teams players.
Ideal number: 3-5
Number on roster: 5. Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson, Trevon Young.
Comment: A lot of players, but little production so far. Burton, Westbrook and Thompson are mainly blockers, but there’s optimism that Thompson can develop into someone who can work the middle of the field.
Starting left guard Max Garcia (back) and reserve offensive lineman Trip Thurman (shoulder) returned to practice on Monday, but the Gators lost two more players and are still waiting on word on two others.
Fullback Hunter Joyer suffered a hamstring pull on Sunday, and UF coach Will Muschamp said Joyer will be out at least 10 days. Cornerback/safety Jaylen Watkins suffered a sprained foot on Sunday and will miss the rest of the week. Muschamp said he should return next week.
In addition, starting right guard Jon Halapio is still out with a torn pectoral muscle. Halapio has been participating in individual drills but won’t be cleared for contact for another seven to 10 days, Muschamp said.
Running back Matt Jones has begun cardio workouts in his return from a viral infection, but Muschamp said the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones is still out indefinitely.
"At some point, whether it’s the first week or the second week or as you head into the open week, he’s going to play for us this year," Muschamp said of Jones. "We’re a little bit in uncharted waters coming into having the type of infection he had, and then you’re talking about the heat we’re in and that sort of thing. I think we need to be really careful right now that we don’t have a relapse of the situation."
No. 79 Quinteze Williams
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
No. 77 Ian Silberman
Redshirt junior offensive lineman
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
No. 67 Jon Halapio
Redshirt senior offensive lineman
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
No. 63 Trip Thurman
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Here’s the breakdown:
LT: D.J. Humphries (6-5, 285, So.)/Trenton Brown (6-8, 363, Jr.)
LG: Max Garcia (6-4, 307, RJr.)/Ian Silberman (6-5, 290, RJr.)
C: Jonotthan Harrison (6-3, 303, RSr.) /Kyle Koehne (6-5, 314, RSr.)
RG: Jon Halapio (6-3, 317, RSr.)/Trip Thurman (6-5, 313, RSo.)
RT: Tyler Moore (6-5, 315, RSo.) OR Chaz Green (6-5, 305, RJr.)
TE: Clay Burton (6-4, 247, Jr.)/Tevin Westbrook (6-5, 258, Jr.) OR Colin Thompson (6-4, 250, RFr.) OR Kent Taylor (6-5, 223, So.)
RB: Matt Jones (6-2, 228, So.)/Mack Brown (5-11, 215, RJr.)
On the football front, the Gators got some bad news early in the week when reserve offensive lineman Trip Thurman suffered a shoulder injury that UF coach Will Muschamp said appeared to be severe. Thurman’s injury left the Gators with only five healthy scholarship offensive linemen, and that is forcing them to alter their plans for the spring game.
Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy finished his time at receiver and moved back to defense. The decision to try him out on offense was made because of the lack of production from the position since the 2009 season. And with freshman early enrollee Demarcus Robinson sidelined for a week with a sprained ankle, it doesn’t appear likely the Gators will get any answers at the position this spring.
SEC blogger Chris Low took a look back at some of the most memorable upsets in SEC play over the past 35 years. Ole Miss’ victory over Florida in 2008 -- which spawned Tim Tebow’s promise and was the catalyst to the Gators’ national championship run -- made the list.
On the recruiting trail ...
On the recruiting front, Derek Tyson put together his weekly mailbag, which included information about offensive tackle David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence), ESPN Watch List safety Quincy Wilson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South) and ESPN Watch List linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County).
Reserve offensive lineman Trip Thurman has suffered what Florida coach Will Muschamp said appears to be a serious shoulder injury, and now the Gators have only five healthy scholarship offensive linemen available. The other five are either limited, out for spring because of previous injuries, or suspended.
“Just tough right now on those guys and now it’s even harder to get scrimmage snaps because of the lack of numbers at those positions,” Muschamp said. “We’re adjusting as we go as far as this coming Saturday [in a scrimmage]. Even with the spring game, it may be more of a practice-like atmosphere for what we’re going to do.
“ ... We’ll have scrimmage snaps. I think if we’re incorporating within the scrimmage some 7-on-7, some special teams periods where we just concentrate and let those guys get a break. Last spring, we’d go 120-130 snaps in a scrimmage. You can’t do that with five offensive linemen. That won’t be good.”
Muschamp said he did not know the extent of Thurman’s injury and was waiting for team physician Mike Moser to view the results of an MRI, but that things didn’t look good. The 6-foot-5, 313-pound Thurman wasn’t going to be a starter in 2013, but he was the No. 2 left tackle behind sophomore D.J. Humphries.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
The offense was productive and quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel were solid. "We had 11 explosive plays, which is great for the offense and not so good for the defense," Muschamp said. "Pleased to see that. Both quarterbacks were pretty even through those explosive plays and how they played. They're both completing, throughout camp, right at between 63 and 65 percent of their passes. They're both about dead on statistically in terms of attempts, completions, everything. I thought they managed our football team really well."
The quarterbacks, however, did throw three interceptions, although one was a tipped ball. "Disappointed with ball security," Muschamp said. "We had the ball on the ground four times. We can't afford that to happen. Three interceptions. One was a tipped ball, one was a busted route. But still those are turnovers."
Muschamp liked what he’s seen out of the pass rush, specifically inside. "We've improved our four-man pass rush with Lerentee [McCray], Neiron [Ball] and Sharrif [Floyd] and Dominique [Easley] doing some nice things inside," Muschamp said.
More notes from scrimmage:
The Early Offer: March 12
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35