University of Florida

Gators offensive line improving through cheese fries

Florida center TJ McCoy stretches during practice Fri., Aug. 4, 2017.
Florida center TJ McCoy stretches during practice Fri., Aug. 4, 2017.

On a recent trip to Outback Steakhouse with the rest of Florida’s offensive linemen, center T.J. McCoy was feeling generous.

“Look,” he told the group of 14, “we’re going to go to Outback and I’m going to order everyone cheese fries.”

At $9.99 each, those three plates of fries, cheese, bacon and ranch dressing cost him $30. But they provided something McCoy, his teammates and coach Jim McElwain claim is invaluable: Chemistry. And it doesn’t stop with cheese fries and wings at Outback Steakhouse.

McCoy said the group also went fishing for catfish recently, with tackle Jawaan Taylor and guard Tyler Jordan reeling in the day’s biggest catches before the group fried them up together. There was also a trip to Yamato, a Gainesville hibachi restaurant, where they enjoyed servings of rice, noodles, steak and chicken together. With the average weight of a UF offensive lineman on scholarship being 312 pounds, the bills from these outings can be high.

“We told [offensive line] Coach [Brad] Davis, ‘We ain’t guy money like that,’” McCoy said of the trip to Yamato. “‘You might help us out with that.’”

Whether he helps them or not, Davis and the other coaches are happy about the group’s cohesion. McElwain said Wednesday he believes their bonding will lead to better play on the field through better communication.

“I... see a group of guys,” McElwain said, “who now have been together enough, have understood the communication piece, and you know what, understand that they're a little bit tired of being that group, if you understand what I mean.”

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Florida center TJ McCoy, left, goes through drills during practice Fri., Aug. 4, 2017. Ethan Bauer

“That” group is a group that ranked 71st in nation with 28 sacks allowed last season, which was an improvement over 2015, when it ranked last in the NCAA with 45. And that criticism has been heard by the players.

“Most people was bashing us for the last two years since I’ve been here,” left tackle Martez Ivey said. “Now they think we’re the strong point of the offense and we’re supposed to carry the load. We’re not going to shock ourselves. We know what we’ve got to do.”

Aside from the group’s familiarity, McElwain also said it has improved thanks to better competition. With a battle between Tyler Jordan, Fred Johnson and Brett Heggie for two starting guard spots, there’s plenty of motivation for all of them. But thanks to what they do away from practice, McCoy said there aren’t concerns about competition getting out of hand.

“I talk to [right tackle] Jawaan [Taylor] about his parents, his family, where he comes from,” McCoy said. “It’s all about getting to know each other and then saying, you know what? This guy cares about me. Not just the football, but he cares about my life.

“You get to know this person on an intellectual level and not just football, but a personal level. And that makes the bond tighter.”

▪ Luke Del Rio took reps with the first-team offense in Friday’s open portion of practice, but again, McElwain said not to read much into it this early in preseason camp.

▪ Freshman wideout James Robinson, who McElwain said Wednesday UF was “waiting on some things to clear up” before he could enroll, was at practice for the first time on Friday. Robinson was a rated four-star receiver in Florida’s 2017 class.