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July 21, 2011

Wenger stepping in, filling a void

Entering spring practice, head coach Will Muschamp noted that one of his team's greatest deficiencies was depth among the offensive and defensive lines. As practice went on and linemen were added to the steadily growing injury report, it became even more of a concern.

The Florida Gators played the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut with a limited squad featuring just six healthy offensive linemen that Muschamp, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci rotated throughout the course of the exhibition.

So when it became a possibility that Florida could receive a transfer not only from an experienced center but also a player who was recruited by Weis and Verducci at Notre Dame, the Gators undoubtedly jumped at the opportunity.

In steps Dan Wenger, a redshirt senior transfer who has decided to spend his final year of college eligibility donning the Orange & Blue rather than the green and gold. Standing 6'4" and weighing in at nearly 300 lbs., Wenger suffered two concussions early in 2010 and never returned to the team.

Notre Dame doctors would not clear him to play in 2011, so head coach Brian Kelly gave him an unconditional release, allowing him to pursue an opportunity elsewhere.

Though UF has yet to officially announce Wenger's transfer, Muschamp confirmed during SEC Media Days on Wednesday that the "hard-nosed, tough kid" has joined the team and that having "him for a year is a bonus for us."

"Yeah, he's working out with our football team and has been a guy that was in Charlie's system there at Notre Dame and played for George [Smith] down at St. Thomas [Aquinas] and a guy that brings some toughness, wants to be a coach, wants to be a strength coach," he added.

Wenger is undoubtedly doing plenty of coaching. Though he is Florida's newest player, he steps in as the most experienced person in the locker room when it comes to Weis's playbook and Verducci's blocking assignments.

"Dan came in and he's been teaching the guys [the offense]," redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson said. "That was a big help. We needed that."

Though Wenger has had plenty of time to study the playbook while on the bench or injured on the sideline, he actually started 13 games at center for Notre Dame in 2008.

With redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison moving over to the position in the spring and redshirt junior Sam Robey trying to win the starting job outright, Wenger will have plenty of competition for playing time. That being said, his tenacious work ethic and system knowledge could bump Wenger up the depth chart quickly.

"He fits in really good," redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley said when asked about the transfer's contributions. "He's almost like a player-coach because he knows the offense better than anyone else and he's taken that role on."

Whether or not Wenger gets major playing time for the Gators in 2011, his presence on the practice field, in the film room and in the locker room will be a welcome addition for a young offensive line that lost nearly all of its starters one year ago.


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