This is fifth in a multi-part preview series covering the position groups as Florida State starts the 2010 season. FSU returns 19 of the 22 players from its record-setting 2009 offense and the attack again figures to be one of the best in the country. Today we'll be looking at the offensive line.
The offensive line is 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 better units in the country. The 'Noles prevented sacks on 97% of passing plays. They were also quite effective running the ball, earning the #1 run efficiency in the country.
I recommend reading 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 out of the way. That includes lateral movement which creates seams, a huge part of FSU's run game.
Also of note, Trickett coached the running backs after the Boston College game last season, as FSU effectively phased-out Dexter Carter mid-season. As profiled in the running back preview, the backs' yards went way up after the change.
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 opponent 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 is an early round draft choice (potentially a first rounder). 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). He'll continue to be one of the best FSU has had in a long time.
Bonus: enjoy this review of Hudson against North Carolina (the most talented defense in the country).
Next up is 6'6" 305 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), he 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 will contend for 1st team ALL-ACC honors and the only other tackle on his level is Anthony Costanzo of Boston College. Nationally he could eventually be on the level with guys like Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin, Clint Bolling of Georgia, and Alabama's James Carpenter. Datko added about 12 lbs this off-season and is noticeably bigger. This could help with his drive blocking. His left shoulder will likely always be a concern, however, and is something to monitor.
The man in the middle for Florida State is Ryan McMahon. The 6'2" 290 lb red-shirt senior 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.
McMahon added strength this off-season and is now rumored to be about 290 lbs. He is noticeably larger and that could help him anchor a bit better. One thing 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. 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. There are few guys in the college game you'd rather have than McMahon. McMahon has the potential to be drafted in the very late rounds.
On the right side is the nasty guy of the bunch. Right Guard David Spurlock stands in at 6'4" 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 to show improvement in some areas. 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 (on sacks) last 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 sometimes 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. Spurlock missed most of fall camp for precautionary medical reasons but he is expected to be ready to go on opening day.
At right tackle is Zebrie Sanders. Sanders was a highly-recruited player out of Ohio. The 6'6" 305 lb Sanders is a very nice athlete with very little body fat. He is arguably more talented than Andrew Datko. Sanders missed the Spring after undergoing hip surgery, but he had a very nice off-season, adding 14 lbs to his frame and putting in a lot of good work. Coach Trickett had a lot of praise for Sanders' work this off-season. As a true Junior, he has started 24 games in his career and is a nice college tackle. Sanders is the player expected to make the largest leap this season. Sanders is a better run blocker than Datko but not as adept at pass protection. His feet can sometimes get lazy and he was vulnerable to the speed rush at times last season. It will be interesting to see how he plays following the hip procedure, but I've heard no negative reports to date. With the added strength, he could become more of a force at the right tackle position.
This group is one of the best in the country. It is certainly up there with Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio State, or Oregon. The line rarely makes mistakes, routinely opens holes, and is quite adept at keeping Christian Ponder clean.
Inside, we'll profile the reserves.
Rhonne Sanderson is a decent player. The 6'3" 290 lb red-shirt 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 was limited. Sanderson looks to be in line to eventually start down the road. He's a hard working kid and he does not get into trouble. A quality reserve who adds depth and versatility to the lineup. Could start for many BCS conference teams.
At 6'2" 300 lbs, Henry Orelus is a really promising 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. Orelus projects as a likely multi-year starter in 2011-2013. Orelus is a powerful run blocker who will continue to work on his pass blocking. He is considered the primary backup at right tackle and played there in the Spring when Sanders missed time due to the hip injury. Long-term he may project as either a guard or a tackle.
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 functional weight. Judging by recent photos, I would say he is about 295 lbs. Stork red-shirted last season. He 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. He broke a bone in his hand (or his wrist) towards the end of last season, but is healthy now. Stork is one of the top candidates to fill in at guard should Hudson or Spurlock miss time.
Garrett Faircloth is a 2008 recruit who delayed his enrollment after having a knee issue. He redshirted last year while adding good weight. Quite raw when he came to FSU having played defensive line in high school, he is a Rick Trickett scouting special. Faircloth improved his body last year but he had a hip procedure for Spring. After a good off-season, he's worked himself up to more than 290 lbs at 6'6". Faircloth will probably start at least one year for Florida State and right now he's likely the best reserve pass blocker at the tackle position behind Andrew Datko. If Datko were to go down, however, I do believe Zebrie Sanders would rotate over to the left tackle position and either Orelus, Sanderson, or Faircloth would play right tackle.
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, Stork, or Orelus to take Hudson'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 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.
Up first is 6'6" 305 tackle Antwane Greenlee. Greenlee is a redshirt Junior. But he has three years left to play at Florida State due to his injury (could probably get a medical redshirt). Greenlee had a bunch of talent before his neck injury and has been hampered by the subsequent knee injury. He 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. Greenlee's recovery from the knee injury has not gone well and he will need to show something to remain a Seminole in 2011 or 2012.
Blake Snider is a 6'4" 292 interior offensive lineman. Snider is the son of a football coach and has good size. He was in the mix for a backup guard spot and he may be able to play center, but recently broke his ankle (or lower tibia) and is likely to miss the season. He is expected to red shirt.
Dan Foose was recruited by Rick Trickett after reviewing his senior film. The 6'6" 285 lb tackle from New Jersey Foose is a tall, powerful kid. He's smart and has good athleticism for his size. A bit of a late bloomer. Has the work ethic. Foose appears to be in great shape and will likely redshirt this season while improving his technique and understanding of the scheme. He'll continue to add bulk as well. A potential mauler at right tackle in the coming years who could also play guard.
This is one of the better groups in college football, as evidenced by last year's play. FSU had good functional depth as well, with all 5 backups being at least second year players. This is one of the best groups Florida State has fielded in a long time. It's talented, hard-working, and cohesive. It rarely makes mistakes. And with an impressive haul coming in this recruiting cycle (FSU is taking 5 offensive linemen and all are quite good), coach Trickett's work and patience has clearly paid off. Recruits are noticing that FSU is again producing quality offensive lines. I'm excited to see what these guys do with the new and improved strength and conditioning program. And perhaps more importantly, I am excited to see the running game become more consistent as FSU now has a legit running back coach.