I spent the bulk of my time watching the lines in the spring game, knowing that this team will go as far as the offensive line will take it. The ‘Noles are loaded with talent everywhere else, and if the offensive line can get back to the level of play seen in the 2009-10 seasons, this team could contend for the whole enchilada.
Here are my thoughts on what I saw:
Cameron Erving is every bit as talented as coach Jimbo Fisher suggested at left tackle. He's a natural out there. Left tackle is the easiest line position to evaluate in this sort of split-roster situation because so much of it is one-on-one in space, and he held his own with All-American defensive end Brandon Jenkins. He did a few things out there that I didn't see any tackles do against Jenkins all last year.
A couple plays were especially impressive, as Jenkins was able to beat him initially but Erving was athletic enough to recover and keep the quarterback clean. Erving is still a bit raw technically, especially when working as part of a double team and in some run-block situations -- he overran a block here and there on the back side. His hand placement still needs work, but it's better than I expected.
It's hard to believe given his limited experience, but he's already an upgrade at left tackle over Zebrie Sanders from last year.
Overall, I'm more pleased with the offensive line's progress than I expected. The split rosters made it harder to evaluate, but I was watching individuals more than the sum total for each line.
Aside from Erving, I thought the offensive line picture shook out like this:
Austin Barron: He looks significantly stronger than last year and was solid inside. He also did well getting in front of a few screen passes downfield and continued to show good feet and instincts.
Tre' Jackson: Big, very good feet and blocked reliably against both the run and pass. He's a natural knee bender and keeps good leverage and balance. He's an ideal zone-scheme guard.
Josue Matias: Huge. Just a mauler. He's a little stiffer than Jackson and got pretty badly beat by Demonte McAllister once in pass protection and gave up some penetration a few other times, but he had a solid game overall. McAllister is probably as good a penetrating D-tackle as FSU is likely to see this year, and Matias showed he can compete at that level. Matias looks a little better run blocking than pass blocking at this point. With Jackson and Matias at guard, there's also reason to expect a much better showing in short yardage this year. Watching the Gold offensive line get two yards of interior push in short yardage a few times was eye-opening.
Bryan Stork: I'm not 100-percent sold on him at right tackle. I'd still like to see junior-college transfer Menelik Watson come in and take that spot, but Stork is solid across the board and at the very worst gives FSU a guy that can sub at four separate positions. He was strong and showed better balance than I expected. He eventually moved to left guard, and the Garnet team really took off after that. Stork neutralized the Gold defensive tackles.
Daniel Glauser: I wasn't sure what to expect here, but he held his own. While it's hardly fair to compare him to Erving, he did a pretty good job on E.J. Manuel's blind side. The pressure on Manuel came from the right side -- and Cornellius Carradine -- most of the game. His hand placement could be better, though, as a couple holds would have been called were the infamous Ron Cherry officiating.
Sterling Lovelady: He's not too far behind Barron and was a pleasant surprise. I thought overall he did quite well and teamed up with the big maulers at guard to get a good push on short yardage a few times.
Ruben Carter: He's not as big as the other youngsters at guard, but he did a great job getting out in front of a few screen passes and was generally solid through the game. He's another natural bender and should provide good depth next year.
Dan Hicks: I'm throwing Hicks in here because he's going to be the primary blocking tight end. Early returns are very encouraging. He's already the best blocking tight end FSU has had since Caz Piurowski, who made a huge difference in the running game in 2009 -- you may recall the ground attack struggling after Piurowski's injury that year. Hicks is big, bends at the hips and can set the edge and seal. His presence in the running game will be a huge help this year. Similar to Piurowski, it's like having a bonus lineman on the field. I'd expect him to provide an extra yard per carry for the running backs when he's in the formation, which is huge.
Bobby Hart: Against Carradine, the 17-year-old was just physically outclassed by a grown man. I'd really like to see Hart redshirt this year, as the sky is the limit for the kid. But he's so young and just needs to catch up physically. He sometimes gets caught off balance and can fall victim to pull-push rushes by big defensive ends with long arms.
The UglyTrey Pettis: He is overweight and doesn't move well enough at this point. He struggled mightily with Nile Lawrence-Stample and the other Gold defensive tackles in the first half and ultimately was replaced by Stork in the second half. He's got a long way to go.
FSU finished the spring with eight healthy, reliable offensive linemen and a reliable starting quintet. I'd have liked to see how the starters looked as a whole, but individually I saw significant improvement across the board compared to what the Seminoles put out there last year. Add Jacob Fahrenkrug, Henry Orelus and Watson -- should he pan out, he could contend for the right tackle position -- to the mix as backups, and Florida State has a pretty strong two-deep for the first time since offensive line coach Rick Trickett has been in Tallahassee.
It has taken longer than anyone wanted, but the offensive line is finally on the right track. I see no reason this unit can't be better than the 2010 line, which was one of the strengths of that team.
Given the skill-position talent on offense and the potential for a dominating defense, that should be enough to win a lot of games this fall.
Jason Staples was a walk-on wide receiver at Florida State in the early 2000s and is now a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Spring Analysis: Offensive Line
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