Florida State Seminoles Spring Football Preview: Offensive Line

This is the fourth in a series.  Wide Receivers (Unofficial), Quarterbacks, and the Backfield.

By almost any measure, FSU had one of the worst offensive lines in major college football from 2004-2007, relative to their supposed talent level.  Enter highly regarded offensive line coach Rick Trickett in early 2007.  Trickett has now restocked the offensive line with quality depth and despite the predictions of some experts that they would be the worst offensive line in the ACC in 2008, the group exceeded expectations.

I do not buy into the idea that this group was "very good" or "great" in 2008.  They were simply above average.  Considering that the starting five was the youngest in America, that's pretty impressive.  Consider also that they were one of the smallest in major college football.  Still, I saw this line get manhandled during the Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Florida games, four of which ended in losses. 

Perhaps the best thing that Jimbo Fisher did in 2008 was protect his young offensive line.  Huh?  How do you protect an offensive line?  Those bubble screens weren't really a way of offense, but a way to make sure that the defense played us honestly.  That is, they could not commit extra men to stop the running game for fear of getting outflanked by a bubble screen to the speedy Bert Reed (NCST Game), or if they did attempt to load the box while accounting for the bubble, to face a one-on-one jump situation downfield against Greg Carr or Corey Surrency.  Jimbo's bubbletology, along with running Ponder and thus using the guy he would have handed the ball off to as a blocker, gave the offensive line the edge they needed to do a passable job. 

Unfortunately, when teams could stop the run without loading the box, they could account for both the bubble game and the downfield stuff, as Wake, BC, and UF did.  Worse yet, those teams were also able to generate an, often allowing an unacceptable amount of pressure from a simple four man pass rush (not a blitz).  ...pass protections usually start out with the understanding that if the defense rushes five guys, you can pick them up, but your blockers will have to be able to block at least one defender (more likely 2) one-on-one. No pass protection scheme can count on double teaming all possible rushers. If you can’t handle anyone man-for-man, then a five man rush effectively becomes like a seven or eight man blitz, but also with sound coverage behind it.  _Smartfootball.blogspot

This year, we will not be able to protect the offensive line.  Instead, the offensive line must become the protector for the rest of the offense.

Let's discuss the questions facing the line as they head into spring.

FSU returns their entire two-deep from 2008.  The only loss is offensive tackle Joe Tonga, who played sparingly and is not considered an important loss. 

If this group is going to achieve what Jimbo Fisher calls "dominant status", they need to get stronger.  I have reason to believe that will happen.  Remember that most of these guys can't even buy a beer.  They should continue to mature.

For the Spring, I am interested in

  • seeing whether Left Tackle Andrew Datko has put on weight. Already an excellent technician, Datko must gain strength to be able to withstand the bull rush.  Last year, he was much too short in his drop step, because he feared the bull rush from the stronger player.  This left him open to getting burnt on the edge rush, even though he was fairly quick.  If he gains some more mass, he can retain his quickness and take a deeper setup, while still guarding against the bull rush/ inside move.
  • how Center Ryan McMahon looks after a very average 2008 season.  We learned that he had a foot injury, suffered early in the Virginia Tech game.  Long time readers will remember that we ripped his play in that game and he didn't really ever recover, having a poor bowl game as well. 
  • Who will play right tackle?  Both Zebrie Sanders and Antwane Greenlee have a lot of talent.  Both played at times last year.  If they maintain their current path, I'd expect Sanders to start.  If Greenlee can return to the promise he showed coming out of high school (before he had his spinal injury), then he could be the guy.
  • Will Rodney Hudson make the jump from being  avery good college player to a serious NFL prospect?  That is, will he gain the strength and retain his quickness, allowing him to dominate the opposition?
  • Will Rodney Hudson get any work at center?  McMahon's peak is probably as an above average college player.  If Hudson at Center allows us to get our five best offensive linemen on the field at once, then we need to do that even if it means relegating McMahon to the veteran leader on the bench.
  • Since David Spurlock is out for spring with a minor shoulder procedure, his backup will get the reps.  That raises the question:  Will Furlong... how big is he?  I've heard he is tiny.  Some have speculated that he has some sort of blood problem that prevents him from gaining weight and keeping it on.  We cannot afford to play a 275lb guard.  I'm no Hematologist, but if he does have this problem, it needs to be addressed.  If it cannot be corrected, he needs to be medically disqualified (NCAA rule that allows player to keep his scholarship even though he doesn't count against the scholarship limits).  To be quite blunt, FSU has no use for a 275lb Junior at the Guard position.  

I'm sorry that this isn't that in-depth.  College football is a game dominated by skill position players (as opposed to the NFL, which is definitely a scheme and blocking league).  That's not to say, however, that the offensive line doesn't matter.  It's still extremely important. 

I expect the offensive line to be a strength this year.  If I'm wrong, we'll again see teams re-establish the line of scrimmage three or four yards behind the original line, as BC did in this picture.

3_step_drop_destroyed_by_raji_medium

I think the Spring will go a long way to showing what this line will be (minus Furlong, obviously).  The defensive line should be really poor this spring, and the offensive line should dominate them on a daily basis.  If they do not, be prepared for a long year.

For more on our zone blocking scheme, see this article.

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