GAINESVILLE — The past month was supposed to be Matt Patchan's opportunity to prove he could be relied upon as a vital part of the Florida offensive line. After playing 11 games at defensive tackle last season, he was moving back to the offensive line.
Instead, it turned into another struggle with an injury. Only this time, it might turn out to be the best thing to happen to the former Armwood High standout.
Since he arrived in Gainesville in January 2008, Patchan has been shot in the shoulder at a Tampa-area park, tore a pectoral muscle during summer workouts, missed the final three games of last season with a knee injury and missed the majority of this year's spring practices with a leg injury from a scooter accident.
Watching from the sideline while other young offensive linemen impressed coaches led Patchan to re-examine his life.
"Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff that has happened to me is because of me," the sophomore said. "I need to start paying more attention to what I'm doing and watch out for myself. There's a lot of stuff I need to avoid and be careful about. I go at things a little too aggressively sometimes, and I need to back off and watch myself a little bit more so I can avoid these things and be on the field more."
So when the Gators take the field today for their spring game, it will be Patchan's last chance before everyone — including incoming freshmen — convenes in the fall to prove the Gators can count on him in 2009.
"It's my first time really playing tackle here," he said. "Coach (Steve) Addazio is one of the main reasons I came here. The way he coaches, his style, I know he's going to make my technique really good. And he's going to get me rolling on all cylinders and stuff. I want to get out and show them I can really compete."
Addazio is counting on that.
"He's got great athleticism, great speed, great blocking ability," said Addazio, UF's offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. "He has the ability to play tackle or multiple positions. Of course, we want him to get bigger and stronger, but he's a very explosive guy … and he goes real hard. I'm real encouraged.
"We have great expectations for him, and you can see that."
Today's game will be a challenge for Addazio and the rest of the staff. The Gators have about 20 players who have missed all or part of spring practice with injuries, including six offensive linemen, a starting cornerback and two starting defensive linemen.
But coach Urban Meyer believes although his players might not produce a polished game, there's a silver lining.
"Development of depth," Meyer said when asked what he considers a successful spring. "That's a positive out of the situation."