Rob Sale’s optimistic outlook for the Florida Gators offensive line

by | Mar 20, 2024 | 0 comments

Florida Gators co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Rob Sale met with the media to share his thoughts on the offensive line’s potential and the development of its players. He discusses various aspects, from the optimism for the line’s future, the depth of the tackle position, to the progress of individual players. He also touches on the benefits of the new strength and conditioning program for the players.


On the optimism of the offensive line:

“I agree they are a hungry group, they are a group that wants to come to work every day. There’s no egos in there. They are a pleasure to coach. It really is, it’s a new year, a new group, these young two groups that we recruited, two classes are now older and bigger and stronger. I think we hit on all those guys, they have the intangibles we’re looking for they are big guys that can bend and move and I do like the two guys we got in the portal, Devon [Manuel] and Brandon [Crenshaw-Dickson] they got really character they are really good people and they are really good players, too.”

More on Crenshaw-Dickson:

“Long and athletic, he can slide his feet. He’s played both at San Diego State, played left and right, We have him at right right now, he had some length and athleticism at that position, so, we’re able to move Damieon in at guard, that’s what he’s more suited for.”

Damieon George Jr.’s move from tackle to guard:

“Good, he’s done a really good job taking care of his body, he’s lost some weight. He’s doing really good. Had two practices in, had spring break, came back today, but, moving around well in there, he has power. That’s where he’s suited. So we’re really excited about him at that position.”

More on Damieon George:

“Uh, yeah, he’s just a bigger guy has a lot of mass, I think right now he’s 350, 354 something like that. But, he can knock a three-technique back right, can slide his feet and he can run, so when it comes to outside zone, doing the things we like to do. But he’s more suited there.”

On the left guard spot opposite George:

“Right now we’ve got Knijeah [Harris] playing left guard, Knijeah Harris is doing a really good job, you know he played a lot of snaps last year, and then we’ve got Christian Williams backing him up as well.”

The competition created at tackle with Austin Barber being limited:

“I mean even if Austin was back, we have tackle depth now which we haven’t had in the past. Which is, it gives you so many more variables to get a starting lineup, who is the best five. Like last year, we had so many different lineups, it was what is was, you know. So right now we got six, seven tackles that we can count on to go play winning football. ****Caden Jones is a young guy that’s going to be a really good player, Bryce Lovett can play tackle, it’s just hard to play as freshmen, it really is, a small handful can do it but we’ve got more tackle depth, you’ve got Devon, you’ve got Kam Waites who has done a good job losing weight right now he’s at left tackle, Brandon is at right so, we have tackle depth.”

Having Jake Slaughter back at center:

“He’s just a great leader, does everything the right way. Communicates. He has presence in there, takes a lot of Graham’s [Mertz] plate, calm up front, giving the MIKE ID. Obviously Graham has the trump card to check the play however we want but Jake just does a really good job, makes everyone around him better, and communication from inside and out, and Rod [Kearney] is doing a really good job pushing him.”

On how things are going with new Florida co-offensive line coach Jonathan Decoster:

“It’s going good. He’s only been here a week I guess, I think you know but getting on the same page, communication, going through all of the, some of the Browns stuff, some of the individuals, stealing some ideas, what can we do to tweak what we’re doing a little bit, might be a word key. I mean drills or drills, what fits your system, what do like, but it’s really good. It’s given us another set of eyes and ears and perspective on the position.”

Roderick Kearney pushing Slaughter and his improvement at center:

“Rod, last year he knew he was probably going to come in and redshirt. He led those guys over there, you ask the defense, ‘Who is the guy that brought it every single day?’ It was Rod Kearney. A leader leads, I don’t care if you are a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, and that’s what he does. And now it’s just a transition where it’s time to go compete and get a starting job.”

More on Slaughter’s game-to-game improvement in 2023:

“You know we had all the trust and confidence in Jake, and you know, he just, like you said, he got better and better. He really didn’t have much experience before that, and Kingsley [Eguakun] battled coming back, he was in and out of the lineup type deal. Jake really got better every single time. You know what you are going to get with Jake, that’s what I like, but the ceiling is really high for Jake.”

On the potential of Florida’s run game in 2024:

“You know when you’ve got more length, you’ve got more tackles, more depth I mean. When you got more bullets in the gun, you know, you’ve just got options. Who are the best five? We got a long time between now and the first game to figure that out but you’ve got more depth. I mean right now you’ve got five or six tackles that can play and you’ve got some inside guys that can play as well. I mean, there’s options if we need to move a tackle, whatever it may be, to get the best five. Last year it was what it was, we had injuries, had to move guys around. We hung on the best we could but now it’s depth. We signed two really good classes that have good intangibles, they’re big, they’re long, they’re powerful and now they just keep growing up. Now we have layers in that room of old guys, guys that are in the middle and then young guys. So, I really do like this group.”

The frustration from last season and the optimism going into this year:

“Last year was last year, you know. I just don’t like to … it was what it was, you know? And look, we just, we had depth issues, right? It comes with it. When you take over a job, trying to recruit some guys and then there’s the new dynamics that we’re in college football. But I really do like the guys that we signed. They’re good kids, they got good character, but they’re also really, really good players that we’ve hit on. It’s a fresh breath of air in there, it really is. And you ask the guys, we’ve got guys that have each other’s back, the togetherness, the five equals one that we talk about that we’re trying to instill in these guys. I’m really excited about this group, really am.”

Sale’s first impressions of the freshmen linemen:

“Let’s see, who we all got. Fletcher [Westphal]. Noel [Portnjagin], Mike Williams. That’s the three we got on campus right now. Marcus [Mascoll] is still in high school. They’re really going to be good players. You know, Fletcher’s long. I mean, the guy’s like 325. I don’t know if y’all see him out there. I mean, he looks 285, you know what I mean? And his muscle mass can go up, you know. He can put on more weight and carry it, but he can bend. He’s flexible. He’s really smart. Noel, you know, we hit on him. He’s a really good football player. He’s an inside guy that’s going to play a lot of ball around here, and Mike Williams is a guy that is long and athletic, so we’re excited about all of them.”

Noel Portnjagin reminding the staff of O’Cyrus Torrence:

“I mean, listen sometimes we might not win the first impression of the body, but the guy’s lower half, when you watched him, I was like, ‘Damn, that’s O’Cyrus.’ And one thing that we’ve done is evaluate offensive lineman and take the guys that we want and develop them. O-line is a developmental position. We’ve had success in doing that. Just got two guys paid $160 million, so we’re doing something right in the evaluation and the development of offensive linemen. So we’re excited about it.”

Torrence’s rookie season with the Buffalo Bills:

“Not surprised. Not surprised. Not to toot the horn, but I said he’s going to start day one, he’s going to play a long time in the National Football League. I’ve been in this league, I know what they look like and not surprised, you know. I’m not surprised what the left tackle and the quarterback at Buffalo said about him. He’s a great teammate. He wins the team over wherever he’s gonna go. He works hard, puts his head down, yes sir, no sir. He’s what you look for as a player and the character that you wanna coach.”

Portnjagin’s path to Florida from Germany:

“There were kids that were younger than him and then there were guys that were 27, 28 years old. It’s just a little bit different, you know, putting the pads on with some grown men out there running around. But the game is going to slow down to him. I say knowledge is power in the offensive line room. Until you fully know what to do, then you can’t think about the technique. You’ve got to know what to do so you can concentrate on the technique to fully get an evaluation of the offensive line. Because you got guys moving, line, slam, linebackers plugging, firing, whatever it may be, but it’s gonna slow down to him. But when he came to camp, you know, he passed the evaluation. There’s things that we do when it comes to players and what we look for in them and he checked all those boxes and he’s going to be really, really good player.”

Portnjagin’s background:

“Freak athlete. His mom’s a choreographic dancer, you know, so he has a breakdancing background. To do that, you gotta bend and flexible and things like that. So I’ve never seen a 320-pound offensive lineman able to put his hands over his back and flip up. To do that, it’s pretty impressive. You gotta have some explosive power and be able to bend to do that. I would hurt a lot of things if I tried something like that.”

Regarding co-offensive coordinator Russ Callaway’s rise in the coaching ranks:

“I’ve worked with Russ at another school and the Giants as well. He’s a ball coach. You get around him, he has passion, energy. Players love him, respect him. He’s a ball coach. He really is. I’m proud of him.”

The development of offensive lineman, Knijeah Harris:

“He did. Part of depth issue sometimes yout get guys moving around and can’t get them locked at one spot because of where you’re currently at at that time. Kingsley was out, right, and Rod was redshirting and wasn’t ready for the show at that time. So Knijeah was the first guard in. You gotta practice guard reps, but hey, he’s the next center in for game two when Kingsley’s down, you know what I mean? So, where are you working at in practice? But he’s a guy that came from IMG, he’s very smart, he can handle any inside three. He can go to the left guard, go to right guard within a game, go in practice and get some center reps. But his development kind of hit a wall a little bit there because of what we had at that position at that time. We just didn’t have enough centers but now we’ve gotten guys developed to where we’re ready.”

The jump Harris could make  in 2024:

“It’s going to be the same for him. He’s just a smart guy. He has instincts. He understands defensive patterns. He knows where his eyes are supposed to go. He communicates with the tackle. So if a tackle maybe might not be on the same page, he could tell him what to do. That might have been a bad example, but he just does a good job of all being on the same page. And just the way he comes in, he’s a really good kid and he’s a good Gator for us. We need more guys just like him.”

How the offensive line benefited from the new strength and conditioning program:

“Our players liked it. You know, the feedback from them, they really enjoyed it. I think they got better, they got leaner. Our guys are in a good spot. They like it. I like it.”

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