GAINESVILLE — A difficult preseason left the University of Florida without a handful of its top players when the season started, but the Gators are just about back to full strength with the return this week of Jon Halapio, their most experienced offensive lineman.
“It feels good to be out there with everybody else, actually doing team stuff and doing live combo drills and stuff like that, live drills. So it feels real good to be back out there with those guys,’’ said the senior, who has started 33 games in his career at guard. “It’s always tough to watch from the sidelines, not playing first and foremost. And it’s always tough watching on the sidelines when we’re struggling like (the 21-16 loss at Miami) offensively. But that’s something that we’ve been working on in the bye week, collectively as a group offensively, and it should be a good one this weekend.’’
Halapio and the UF veteran line will face a depleted Tennessee defensive front that could depend on a pair of freshmen at tackle. The Gators will be trying for their ninth straight win in the series at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Halapio tore his pectoral muscle in the offseason lifting weights. He’ll wear a brace for the game. He’s been told there’s a chance he could tear the muscle again.
LINE TEST: Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and head coach Will Muschamp both call Tennessee’s offensive line the best they’ll face this year.
“They’re big, they’re physical, they move well, they’re athletic,’’ Durkin said. “For the most part, it’s four out of the five guys we faced last year and we felt that way coming out of the game last year. So not only off tape do we feel that way, but after playing them we feel that way. And our guys know that. It’s a big challenge for them. And I think they’re excited for it.’’