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Florida has the incredibly difficult task of replacing two starters on an offensive line that struggled quite a bit last season. Though it was fairly solid in pass protection, its run blocking was practically non-existent. And now, with the departures of the two most consistent players in the group, left tackle Stone Forsythe and center Brett Heggie, offensive line coach John Hevesy certainly has his hands full.
Luckily, the player taking Forsythe’s place protecting Emory Jones‘ blindside is very experienced. Redshirt junior Richard Gouraige has been a starter at left guard the last two seasons, but he also has seen quite a bit of rotational reps at left tackle during that time.
According to AllGators’ Zach Goodall, Hevesy said that Gouraige’s experience has made the transition easier.
“Last year, [Gouraige] played a bunch in rotation just to get him out there, but also the preparation for him this year coming up,” Hevesy said. “Even though he’s a returning starter, to go play that position for the first time coming out this year would have been harder on him.
“So as you saw toward the end of the season, just rotating him in there, getting him in there to play really helped him through spring practice and fall camp.”
Per Goodall, Gouraige has seen 229 snaps at left tackle over the last few years, quite a bit of action for a guy who has never started at that spot. But becoming a full-time starter will be an entirely different beast.
Gouraige said that he has been watching film from star NFL offensive tackles Tyron Smith and Joe Thomas to help improve his understanding of the position.
“I just take a lot of accountability after practice and stuff like that. When I’m tired of doing extra kicks and stuff like that,” Gouraige said. “Coach [has] been telling me that I’ve been really increasing my game … kicking-wise and stuff like that. Every day I’ve been working on my ladder drills and stuff like that, working on my different angles. It has really been showing during practice.”
Given his experience as a guard, Gouraige has so far been stronger in run blocking than pass blocking to this point in his career. That could be a good thing for the Gators, who will likely rely much more on the run game with a mobile quarterback in Jones. But with that being said, he’ll need to improve in pass protection to be a capable starter. Still, Ethan White (who could be taking Gouraige’s left guard spot) says he has gotten much better in that regard this offseason.
“Richard, he kind of takes pride in being able to do everything well,” White said. “I mean he can run block obviously because he played guard so he’s physical. But now that he’s back out at tackle I think he’s really worked hard at pass protection and kind of just taken the next step.”
Offensive line could very well be the limiting factor on offense, and the offense will only be as successful as that group’s play allows it to be. Hearing these positive comments about Gouraige’s development should certainly be a good sign.
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