Florida State Spring Football Position Preview: Offensive Line

This is the fourth in a multi-part series covering the position groups as Florida State begins Spring practice.  Florida State only lost 1 starter from its record-setting 2009 offense.  That lone starter was WR Rod Owens.  The 'Noles also lost only 2 backups in WR Richard Goodman and Guard Brandon Davis.  Remarkably, FSU returns 11 of 12 starters and 10 of 12 reserves.  With that returning depth, you might think that the Spring will be boring for the offense.  Some off-season surgeries, however, will make things interesting and give the younger players a chance to step up and show their talent.  So far we've looked at Quarterbacks, Running Backs, and Wide Receivers.   Today we'll be looking at the offensive line.  These guys are led by Rick Trickett, one of if not the finest offensive line coach in the country.  In 2008 he took the youngest line in the nation (3 freshmen and 2 sophomores) and turned them into one of the better lines in the conference.  Last season, he took that same group and made them one of the best units in the country.  The 'Noles prevented sacks on 97% of passing plays.  

If you weren't around these parts over the summer, you need to read Understanding Florida State's Offensive Line & Zone Run Game.  Perhaps the most important takeaway is that the goal isn't always to move defenders back as it is to move them.  That includes lateral movement which creates seams, a huge part of FSU's run game. 

Inside, we'll take a look at what the line needs to do this Spring. 

Also of note, Trickett coached the running backs after the Boston College game last season, as FSU effectively fired Dexter Carter mid-season.  As profiled in the running back preview, the backs' yards went way up after the change.  Here's three photos of interest:

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This season, FSU returns all 5 starters and 6 reserves.  The only loss was Senior Brandon Davis, who elected to graduate and pursue employment.  The only way this unit can get any better is to become the best offensive line in the country.  For Spring then, what questions are facing this unit?  Surprisingly, there are a few. 

Most of these questions concern players who will not be participating in Spring ball due to injury.  Junior Right Tackle Zebrie Sanders had a hip procedure done and will miss Spring ball.  Backup OT is Garrett Faircloth is out after undergoing hip surgery as well. 

Backup Redshirt Sophomore Tackle Antwane Greenlee is still recovering from his devastating knee injury suffered last August, but will participated on a limited basis.  Backup lineman Rhonne Sanderson had some work done in early January on his ankle and will also be limited.  Starting OG David Spurlock will fully participate after having a minor knee procedure and backup Center A.J. Ganguzzais also cleared for full participation after having an elbow cleanout. 

To put these off-season procedures in perspective, let's step back to 2009.  FSU had three starting offensive linemen go under the knife!  Left Tackle Andrew Datko had arm surgery.  Doctors cut on Right Guard David Spurlock.  Center Ryan McMahon had a procedure on his ankle/ lower leg.  Big guys get surgery.  It happens really often.  Trickett's mentor Alex Gibbs addressed this in a clinic talk, saying something to the effect of 

"almost all my guys get an off-season procedure.  I don't want players who get hurt.  I want tough players.  Not saying I will play a guy who is legitimately hurt, but I don't want guys who stay hurt.  My guys get their work done in the off-season."

No need to panic about any of these guys missing time. Most of the above procedures were routine and minimal. After end of any season, it's not uncommon for several players to undergo some routine maintenance. Especially those who play either on the offensive or defensive line.  So let's discuss who will be playing Spring ball.

The Starters

It starts with All-American left guard Rodney Hudson.  While Hudson won't win any body building contests, he is one of the best in the country.  At 6'2" 290 lbs, Hudson has amazing feet.  His incredible balance allows him to make sure he squares up the man he is about to block.  Hudson does not whiff.  He gets his hands on the inside of his opponents and keeps his feet moving.  He could play tackle or center if asked and do so fairly well because of his great leverage and quickness.  He should have his jersey retired after this season and will likely be a first round pick.  Hudson is probably at the head of a nice class of guards including Ohio State's Justin Boren, and Michigan's Stephen Schilling.  Watch how Hudson blows this Miami defensive tackle off the ball in 2008 (3:58).  What quickness.  Hudson needs to make sure he continues to practice at a championship level this Spring and be a good example for the younger linemen. 

Next up is 6'6" 285 lb starting left tackle Andrew Datko.  Datko was a 3* recruit out of Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.  Due to various injuries (shoulder and arm), Datko didn't put on much weight as FSU would have liked him to.  But he has started almost every game at left tackle over the last two years- the most difficult position on the line.  Not only has he started, but he has performed at or near an all-conference level.  And he's done it with athleticism and tremendous technique, which bodes well for him going into this season as he is finally healthy and should be able to add more strength. 

Last year, he protected Christian Ponder from the likes of Miami's Marcus Robinson (1), BYU's Jan Jorgensen (0), USF's George Selvie (1), Boston College's Jim Ramella (0), Georgia Tech's Anthony Egbuniwe (0), North Carolina's Robert Quinn (0), North Carolina State's Willie Young Jr (0), Clemson's Ricky Sapp (0), Wake Forest (0) and Maryland (0), Florida's Carlos Dunlap (1), and West Virginia.  That's three sacks allowed by Datko against multiple NFL players including three first round locks over 440 drop backs.  That's 99.4% pass protection!  Put another way, Datko allowed a sack every 147 pass plays.  He's a prime example of a guy who doesn't physically look like an elite player, but when judged by performance (how one should be judged), he's a stud.  And FSU has him for two more years.

Datko is a likely lock for 1st team ALL-ACC and the only other tackle on his level is Anthony Costanzo of Boston College.  Nationally he could be on the level with guys like Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin, Clint Bolling of Georgia, and Alabama's James Carpenter.  And luckily for FSU fans, Datko is probably a lock to stay for two more seasons due to his need to continue to add functional size. When he does that, watch out, because I haven't seen a better technician than Datko.

The man in the middle for Florida State is Ryan McMahon.  The 6'2" 285 lb Center has started every game for Florida State over the last two seasons and at this point, you know what you are going to get with McMahon.  He will be good, but not great.  And he is very consistent.  If McMahon gets beat it is because the opposing player made a great play or is a great player.  McMahon rarely makes mental mistakes or misses assignments.  And he makes all the line calls for Florida State (audibles and the like).  He'll probably make All-Conference based on name recognition even if his play doesn't justify the selection.  Unfortunately, the media won't want to name three FSU linemen to the all-conference team, so his inclusion might push Datko down to 2nd team.   

For Spring, McMahon needs to continue to add strength.  And he really needs to become better at shotgun snaps.  Too often they are high, causing the play to not go as smoothly as it could.  And his work schooling the young guys will also be important, as the 'Noles will have some younger kids playing this Spring (but not in the Fall).  How much he can improve is up for debate, but I don't know many who would argue with the idea that he is a good college center.

On the right side is the nasty guy of the bunch.  Right Guard David Spurlock stands in at 6'5" 290 lbs.  He's a true Junior and has started 20 games in his career, taking over for an injured Will Furlong in the 2008 NC State game.  Spurlock is a strong kid and when he locks on to his target, he usually wins.  He is the definition of a mauler.  Spurlock will eventually play at 300+ lbs, perhaps as early as this season. 

Even though he is already a good player, Spurlock has some things to work on this Spring.  Technique and playing within the scheme are chief among his to-do list.  Spurlock is so aggressive and so eager to hit someone, anyone, that he occasionally forgets to execute his assignment.  As a result, he hangs someone else out to dry (usually McMahon or Sanders).  Two of Christian Ponder's fumbles this year were a direct result of Spurlock's overaggressiveness.  If Spurlock can harness that aggression and apply it while blocking the correct man on a more consistent basis, he has a chance to be really good.  In particular, when Spurlock has a check responsibility (that is, when he has to wait and see if a blitzer will come), he often doesn't wait long enough before blocking someone else or helping with another blocker's assignment.  He's been adding functional size at a good pace and just needs to stay healthy and continue to improve his chemistry with his linemates.

The Reserves

Up first is 6'6" 305 tackle Antwane Greenlee.  Greenlee is either a double redshirt Sophomore, or redshirt Junior.  But he has three years left to play at Florida State due to his injury.  The question becomes whether he has officially been rewarded his medical redshirt or whether he is simply a shoe-in to receive the 6th year when he applies for it as a senior.  Greenlee had a bunch of talent before his neck injury and has been hampered by the subsequent knee injury.  Greenlee was a 4* recruit coming out of high school and some still think he has considerable ability.  I don't have much opinion here because I haven't seen him play to make an evaluation.  The ideal case is that he pushes Sanders for the next two years and then excels as a 6th year senior starter in 2012.  Greenlee will be limited this Spring as he is still recovering from the aforementioned ACL tear so I don't have any expectations for him, only the hope that he stays healthy and can be a valuable member of the team.

Rhonne Sanderson is already a pretty good player.  The 6'4" 290 lb redshirt sophomore can play guard or tackle, and despite being worked pretty hard against USF, can do both well.  He has ankle surgery this Spring and like Greenlee, is expected to be limited.  Sanderson has all the makings of a multi-year starter.  He's a hard working kid and he does not get into trouble.  Personally, I think he ends up at Guard next year when Rodney Hudson departs for the NFL.  I can't make a Spring prediction for him because of the injury, but when he's healthy he is probably the best non-starter on the team.

At 6'2" 295 lbs, Henry Orelus is a really promising interior lineman.  The 3* from Glades Central (by Pahokee) redshirted last year and has shown a great work ethic to work himself into better shape.  Here's some high school film of Orelus.  Give Rick Trickett a lot of credit for recognizing the athletic big man inside a high school player who frankly wasn't in great shape.  There is some thought that Orelus can play center.  That would be great, but if he cannot, he would make an excellent guard.  Orelus projects as a likely three year starter in 2011-2013.  I'd be happy to see him at a fit 300 lbs, continuing to improve both as an individual and within the context of the scheme, providing FSU with quality depth.   

Bryan Stork came to FSU as a 6'6" 240 lb athlete who looked like a tight end.  He had had a rough Senior year (his dad passed away), but Trickett liked what we saw.  Stork is an excellent athlete with a wide frame and he should continue to add weight.  Judging by recent photos, I would say he is about 275 lbs.  I think Stork redshirted last year (or he might have played in the first few games then took a medical redshirt, in which case he would be a Sophomore with 4 more years to play (would have to apply and would get his extra year)).  Stork is a tenacious blocker and a very high effort guy.  You see it in his high school clips.  Stork absolutely has the frame to play at over 300 lbs and will likely be a multiple-year starter for the 'Noles.  There was some thought that Stork would be a center for the 'Noles, but this doesn't seem likely to me.  Stork looks like an offensive tackle.  6'6" and eventually 305ish with long arms is not a Center.  It should be noted that some of the best offensive tackles started out as tight ends.  The 2008 draft had Joe Thomas, who was a 235 lb tight end coming out of high school.  Last year we saw Baylor's Jason Smith, a former tight end as well.  Both are $50 Million men because they retained their tight end athleticism while their bodies kept growing.  Stork broke a bone in his hand (or his wrist) towards the end of last season, but appears to be healthy now.  With Sanders out for Spring and Greenlee limited, Stork has a nice opportunity to see a decent amount of time with the first team. 

A.J. Ganguzza at 6'2" 275 lbs is not a physically imposing lineman.  But he's apparently a serviceable backup to Ryan McMahon at center.  He'll be a redshirt Junior this season, and not much is expected of him other than providing quality depth in case McMahon were to go down.  In truth, I would expect Hudson to shift to center and for Sanderson or Orelus to take McMahon's vacated spot should McMahon go down, but that is purely speculation on my part.  Ganguzza got a few snaps against BYU last year, and looked decent enough.  He's most likely set up to start at center next year in his senior season, but will be pushed.  He seems to have the #2 center spot locked up and should only continue to improve this Spring.  He needs to make sure the 2nd team guys work together as a unit and keep the intensity level high so that the defense gets the best possible look.

Blake Snider is a 6'4" 285 interior offensive lineman.  Snider did get to play a bit last season, but he's likely going to get his medical redshirt for an injury that is yet to be determined (sarcasm).  Snider is the son of a football coach and has good size.  He's in the mix for a backup guard spot and he may be able to play center.

As a final note, the offensive line really subscribes to the "work hard, play hard" idea.  They could probably cut down on some of the play hard business, particularly during the season.  This is already one of the better groups in the country.  But they have the potential to get a whole lot better.  To do so they'll need to cut down on the drinking and continue to get bigger and stronger.

Also, for those of you who have been on the message boards for a long time, you've undoubtedly run across 3Noles3.  His young son is in the hospital and if we could all keep him in our prayers that would be great.

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