This is the fourth in a multi-part series covering Florida State Spring football practice. Previously, we looked at quarterback and receiver, and running back. For the second year in a row, FSU had an excellent offensive line that powered one of the best offenses in the country. That line is schooled by Rick Trickett, considered one of the finest offensive line coaches in the country. But that line wasn't very good to open the year as multiple starters missed time with injury. Early in the year FSU allowed a sack once every 13 pass plays. By the end of the year 'Noles improved it to one every 20, an excellent rate of sack prevention.
This Spring Florida State must replace two key pieces in Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon. Both were four-year starters. A four-year starter on the offensive line is extremely rare. Replacing two in the same year will not be an easy task.
And FSU will have limited personnel with which to address the problem. Many of FSU's guys put off in-season surgery, instead electing to go under the knife in the off-season. This isn't a new phenomena and isn't anything about which to worry. Last year I wrote:
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.
One rock on Florida State's line is Andrew Datko. The left tackle is one of the premier pass protectors in all of college football. Last year on Datko I wrote:
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.
Datko had an injury-plagued season and his shoulders continue to trouble him as he missed time with the injuries. His run blocking will never be elite because he has been unable to lift properly to develop the upper-body strength, due to the injuries. But his footwork is exceptional and because of that, his pass protection is great. His availability for this Spring is questionable after shoulder surgery. He elected to rehab the other shoulder, also troublesome.
Moving from guard to center is senior David Spurlock. Spurlock suffered two serious concussions last season and missed most of the year. The 6'4" 305 pound Tennessean hopes the move will allow him to incur less initial contact since most opponents play a 4-3 and not a 3-4, meaning the center is uncovered. Spurlock has never been great with the mental side of the game, but he will enter Spring as the starter at center. If it works, FSU will have increased power from the center position. The questions here aren't about his strength, toughness, or nastiness, and everything about his ability to stay healthy and the mental side of the game.
At right tackle is Zebrie Sanders. Another four-year starter, the 6'6" 310 pound senior has transformed into a very good right tackle. He doesn't have the feet of Datko, but does have more power. He is also questionable for Spring. Sanders is a likely NFL guy if he keeps progressing.
A big new player for Spring, literally, is Jacob Fahrenkrug. The 6'3" 310 pound junior comes to Tallahassee by way of North Dakota State college of sciences. He was rated the top lineman from junior college. Fahrenkrug is very powerful, but certainly has some things to work on. Luckily, he has coach Trickett to help with that. He will be expected to take over for Rodney Hudson at the left guard spot.
With Spurlock moving to center, both guard spots are open. One of the players vying for a guard spot is Bryan Stork. The third-year sophomore stands 6'4" 300 and played extremely well last year in the bowl game against South Carolina. He is very athletic and has a chance to be a multi-year starter for the 'Noles.
Another promising prospect is Blake Snider. Snider was a favorite of the coaches last year before breaking his upper ankle in Fall camp. He is 6'3" and around 300 and I believe will be a red-shirt sophomore. If he can practice this Spring, and is anywhere near as good as those close to the coaches indicated, he'll firmly be in contention for a starting guard spot.
Another quality interior lineman is Henry Orelus. At 6'2" 305, the red-shirt sophomore still has time left at Florida State. Last year he saw time at tackle and guard. The tackle experiment didn't go so well, but Orelus can be a capable guard. Between Orelus, Fahrenkrug, Stork, and Snider, there is every reason to feel confident FSU will find two capable guards and two capable backups.
The backup situation at tackle is a bit more unclear, likely because the starters are so entrenched. One key backup is red-shirt sophomore Garrett Faircloth. The 6'6" 300 pound tackle from Jacksonville struggled a bit last year in fill-in duty, but seems to be developing normally. The other backup tackle is Dan Foose. The 6'6" 280 pound red-shirt freshman from New Jersey is a complete mystery, as it should be given that he redshirted last season while getting in better shape.
Odd Man Out?
Backup guard Rhonne Sanderson might be out for Spring. Even if he is not, the 4th-year junior isn't likely in line for playing time.
Florida State also has three freshmen who smartly early enrolled in center Sterling Lovelady, tackle Jordan Prestwood, and guard Trey Pettis. None of these freshmen are expected to contribute in year one and all are likely to red shirt. All will focus on improving physically while learning the game. They are of varying talent levels and shouldn't be heard from until next spring at the earliest.