Ask anyone what the Achilles heel of the 2005 Florida State football team was, and, nine times out ten, the answer will be the offensive line. Injuries, lack of experience and the implementation of a new blocking scheme all contributed to a sub par year for a unit that is traditionally strong for the Seminole program.
Now in the second spring practice session under the direction of coach Mark McHale, who was hired during last year's offseason, the offensive line appears to be showing signs of much needed improvement.
Arguably, the player who is leading that charge is senior Mario Henderson. Despite a continued shift of players by McHale to find the best functioning pairing of athletes, Henderson has been a staple at left tackle since spring practice began in mid-March.
"Spring is going real good for me. It's nice to be back in the flow of things," Henderson said. "I am working real hard and really just trying to help out my team any way that I can."
After struggling to find his place on the depth chart through the early part of his career, the Lehigh Acres native saw all that change last December. Despite poor showings by the offensive line in the three final regular season games, Henderson helped pace an inspiring performance in the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game.
His stellar showing in the upset victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies in Jacksonville has since carried over to the spring where, according to McHale, Henderson has graded out the highest among all offensive linemen.
"That was a big game for me and I have been determined to keep that up," Henderson said of the championship contest in which he found himself in the starting lineup due to an injury to then-starting tackle Cory Niblock. "I've just got to not let myself fall back down. I am trying to not let that happen because that would let my teammates down."
With the spring practice session drawing closer and closer to its end, Henderson and his fellow offensive line mates are hoping to keep improving. Already this spring, a significant change has already been prevalent as there have been far fewer mental lapses by the unit and increased protection for quarterback Drew Weatherford.
"Coach has been stressing to us that we can be great," he said. "He believes in us and that means a lot to us. Another thing that has helped is all the experience that we have. We are missing guys like (David) Castillo and (Matt) Meinrod but at some point, (John) Frady and Dumaka (Atkins) have started. Jacky (Claude) is a good player for us with starting experience too."
"As for me," Henderson added, "it's real important that I gain the confidence of my coaches and keep that. I am a leader on this team now and I have to play like that."
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