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Gators OL in tatters for SEC championship

While the Florida veterans were relaxing and watching the newcomers give a glimpse of the future against Western Carolina two weeks ago, it was business as usual for the offensive line.

Right tackle Carlton Medder played nearly the entire game. Several other linemen saw extensive action.

As the Gators prepare to face Arkansas in Saturday's SEC championship game, no group is more battered than the offensive line. The injuries and lack of depth are a serious concern.

"It's killing us," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "You know the best motivating factor you have if you aren't playing very well is the guy behind you (waiting to take your job), but we don't have that. Marcus Gilbert we just found out is going to have surgery on his elbow. It looks like he is not going to play. Maurice Hurt still is not right either and those are two true freshmen. The depth is not there."

Florida is getting ready for the Razorbacks with two linemen practicing sparingly. Right guard Drew Miller is in a protective boot and left guard Jim Tartt also has a sprained ankle.

"They are a little banged up here and there, but you've got to forget about pain when you're playing for championships," offensive line coach John Hevesy said. "It says they're tough kids. It's not like we're the only ones that's beat up. ... It's a matter of the strong survives."

The Gators have one senior on the line, center Steve Rissler, and only two fourth-year players (Rissler and Medder). At this point, the Gators are down to their starting five: Tartt, left tackle Phil Trautwein, Rissler, Miller and Medder. Florida has used that lineup in every game except Vanderbilt, which Tartt missed due to an ankle injury.

With the injuries, including two freshmen the staff had considered trying to use this season, the line is thinner than ever.

"We have four or five and they all travel with us, but if something happens, I don't even know what's going to happen," Trautwein said.

"Me and Medder are going to play the whole game, so we don't have to worry about it."

Florida has just one true reserve guard, Ronnie Wilson, and one reserve tackle, Jason Watkins, who's primarily a tight end. Wilson had surgery Aug. 12 to repair a broken left ankle and returned for the LSU game. A set of pads and a jersey are always on the sideline for Watkins in case Medder or Trautwein get hurt.

Fatigue, the players reluctantly admit, is a factor.

"We get tired, but we just have to play through it," Trautwein said. "But that's one of the things with the offensive line, we're really good in the beginning and then for some reason we just start to go downhill."

Going into the season, the 17 combined starts of the line were the fewest since 1980, Still, the linemen have allowed only 20 sacks and last week surrendered just one against Florida State.

Yet Meyer said it was possibly the unit's worst game.

"Drew Miller hasn't been 100 percent the last couple of games," Meyer said. "We need to get him back fast. From what I understand, our coaches have told me they (Arkansas) are dynamic on defense.

"Our offensive line did not play very well against FSU and for us to have a chance to go win an SEC championship, they have got to get back to playing and having their best game."