FSU will need new Left Tackle - and former Defensive Tackle - Cameron Erving to anchor the left side without ever having played a single snap at the position in college. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
In a previous article, I brought up the idea of comparing the 2008 and 2012 offensive lines, as they were both coached by Rick Trickett:
2008 was a revelation in terms of improved blocking and back runs playing within the scheme, as Bud has chronicled ad nauseum. And this against the 6th most difficult set of defenses faced. The 2008 FSU offensive line was comprised of (L-R) Datko (Fr.), Hudson (So.), McMahon (RS So.), Spurlock (Fr.), and Sanders (Fr.). That line only returned 23 starts from 2007: McMahon (13), Hudson (10).
So what does this portend for the 2012 FSU offensive line? Well, until we know the exact starters, I'm not sure. But let's assume for a moment a line consisting of Erving (RS So.), Matias (So.), Barron (So.), Jackson (So.), & Stork (RS Jr.). That configuration features a returning starts total of 19: Stork (14), Barron (3), Jackson (1), Matias (1); 4 less than the 2008 FSU OL.
The experience level could between the two lines can actually be considered equal, though, as FSU would be returning 4 starters with starting experience (compared to just 2 in 2008). I don't have the birthday info, but we can assume the 2008 OL ages to be something like 18, 19, 20, 18, and 18 across (L-R). Using the potential starters above, 2012 could feature OL of ages 20, 19, 19, 19, and 21. That's a full year older on average (19.6) than the 2008 offensive line (18.6). Props to onebarrelrum for pointing this out to me via Twitter. That should only be a good thing in terms of strength and frontal lobe development (only 1/2 joking on that last part). For more comparison, the ND-FSU bowl game OL age was Sr., Fr., Fr., Fr., & Fr. Assuming 22, 18, 18, 18, and 17 (Hart), that's a line age of 18.6, same as the beginning-of-year 2008 OL.
Let's improve on these findings now.
Besides the age differences (and experience similarities), how else do these two lines compare or contrast?
Two additional places to look are recruiting assessment (i.e., stars) and size. Adding in some more precise information and in handy-dandy chart form:
Here is some help reading some parts of the chart: "Age" corresponds to the player's actual age at the date of FSU's first game (this Saturday). The column "Year" corresponds to the player's year in college (e.g., 1 = true freshman; 3 could be a redshirt sophomore or true junior). "RR" corresponds to the Rivals Rating. A 5.5 here implies a low 3-star rating, 5.7 a high 3-star, and a 5.9 as a low 4-star. In this regard, the 2008 starting offensive line averaged a high 3-star recruit.
The weights were likely even lower than what is shown here, but for continuity's sake I used the Official Roster from 2008 here. I think the 6'5" Datko played at no more than 270 his freshman year based on this pic alone. The 2008 FSU line was actually +0.26 years older than my initial back-of-the-envelope calculation came in at. Note that David Spurlock was 17 until FSU's 8th game of the season.
The 2008 line returned just 23 total starts in 2008. Only McMahon (13) and Hudson (10) had any starting experience amongst the entire unit.
Now, FSU's updated starting offensive line for 2012:
Thanks to Bill Connelly's FSU 2012 statistical profile page for some of this info and inspiration. With Stork moving to Center and Watson starting at RT, the average age of the 2012 FSU OL is +2.12 years older than the 2008 starters. That is astounding. If you were active or working out at all, consider your 19-year-old version of yourself compared to the 21-year-old version. Advantage: 2012.
Based on year in college, the 2012 projected line - an average of college juniors - is +1.4 years ahead college than the 2008 OL - comparable to spring-semester freshmen. So these are guys who didn't fail out their first few years, obviously. But mental maturity and frontal lobe development that comes with your 20's should not be overlooked here. Advantage: 2012.
The talent is comparable between the lines, based on the numbers above. I'll invoke the argument here that OL is the toughest position to evaluate in terms of recruiting and call the talent difference nominal. I do think that converted DL make for pretty decent OL. 2008 had Rodney Hudson. Advantage: None. If he were a Junior today, Hudson plays Center on the 2012 line, and wins the Rimington Trophy multiple times there.
But look at the beef! FSU in 2012 (1597 lbs.) averages 319.0 lbs. along its offensive line. That is a difference of +34.4 lbs. per position compared to 2008 (1423 lbs.). I don't want to get into a "Size Matters" debate along the offensive line here, but FSU is almost 35 pounds heavier at every position in 2012 than 2008. And these aren't immobile big guys, a la 2006. These are zone-blocking capable linemen; else, they wouldn't be sniffing the depth chart. Advantage: 2012.
This configuration seems to only return 16 starts: Erving (0), Matias (1), Stork (14), Jackson (1), Watson (0). But as a unit, the line returns 50 starts. That's more than double the experience of the 2008 line, though still about 10 below the FBS average (~60 starts). Advantage: 2012.
In summary, FSU's 2012 offensive line is bigger (~35 lbs.), similarly talented, further along in the college program (+1.4 years), older (+2.12 years), and more experienced (+27 starts). The 2008 offensive line faced the 6th hardest set of defenses, and improved it's average yard per carry by +1.12 (4.22 to 5.34) from 2007. 5 ypc is not an unreasonable expectation from this 2012 unit.
The problem for the 2008 offensive line wasn't it's outside zone run game, though. Their primary deficiency was in pass protection. Bud noted this 3 years ago:
When FSU needed their offensive line to dig in and provide protection in 2008, in passing situations like 2nd & 8+ or 3rd & 5+, the line failed miserably. They simply could not pass protect. Sure, they made big strides in other areas, and looked much better than some of the garbage produced by Jimmy Heggins and Mark McHale in the early and middle parts of this decade, but 'Nole fans eager to have a decent offensive line jumped all over the idea that their boys up front were now elite.
Typically, young offensive linemen are soft, but they do have bulk and it is that bulk which is needed to sustain the initial jolt delivered by the pass rusher. If a pass rusher knows he will have success with the bull rush (straight ahead), he will not attempt other moves. FSU's line was different because it had the quickness to attain angles to block for the run, but the young guys were simply too small to effectively pass protect because they couldn't anchor. The Problem was physical maturity. Kid's seemed for the most part to be assignment smart but lacked the bulk and strength to compete play to play.
For more on Florida State's offensive line, click any of these 10 profiles on which we've done ~1000 words of analysis a piece over the last two months (starters in bold)
Austin Barron, Center
Cam Erving, Offensive Tackle
Tre' Jackson, Guard
Bryan Stork, Center/Tackle
Josue Matias, Guard
Jacob Fahrenkrug, Offensive Line
Garrett Faircloth, Guard
Menelik Watson, Offensive Tackle
Daniel Glauser, Offensive Tackle
Bobby Hart, Offensive Tackle
FSU in 2012 is older and is a good 10% heavier than their 2008 predecessors. Perhaps they will avoid the same pass protection pitfalls? Hope here, in my opinion, is warranted.
Will they be as adroit in run-blocking as their 2008 predecessors? I'll say this: At the open practice, the OL was practicing it's double-team-to-2nd-level blocks. OBR was taking some pictures when I heard Trickett say something (gravelly) to the effect of "teams are going to be surprised when they see you [large, fine men] rollin into (their 2nd level of defenders)." Perhaps CT was merely ankle-flexion'ing us onlookers. But mine eyes do not disagree with his assessment. These guys are mobile at 310+.
I think FSU will greatly improve in the inside zone (IZ) blocking given the size of this year's crew. IZ is the style of run protection used for between the tackle runs; OZ, off-tackle and sweeps. IZ often looks like traditional man-blocking, like double-teams to the 2nd-level defenders. If you see everyone take a pull step (90 degrees left/right out of their stance), OZ. If the extra size here actually results in increased power (which is not always the case), then that double-team is won more often, and the 2nd level defender has to run around or shed a big body. Not sure how many double-teams that '08 line was winning, but they certainly lacked power in the IZ. I expect the IZ to be much more successful this year. If this part of the game gets going, defenses will really suffer later in the game. Also sets up the play-action better, a fundamental play in any offense - but especially in Jimbo's pro-style spread offense.
With that described, I don't think FSU will be as good as outside zone (OZ) blockers as the '08 line. '08 had undersized guys whose strength came from their agility by being so light. But I do not think it will be a weakness by any stretch this year. I think this is what Trickett was surprised by; that these large linemen were reaching the 2nd level with balance and power. Even if the starting 5 changes due to injuries or performance, I expect stout run production by this line.
If FSU's opponent defensive coordinators are paying attention, though, they'll attack this line with both run and pass blitzes early and often, in hopes of putting as much mental pressure on this line as possible. Force FSU to read and respond; to think in space. Experienced linemen more easily and quickly recall defender positions and their taught responses (cerebellum) in a host of situations. Compare that to ingenuitive problem-solving (frontal lobe); if a lineman sees something unfamiliar, the defense has gained a split-second advantage already. It's the same reason (most of) you can answer what 9 x 9 is, but have to think about 9 x 8.5 equals. Or why you can play catch now, but probably took one in the face early on. Zone blitzes, along with a nice helping of twist-and-stunts, and bringing extra guys on any down could be the bane of a still green - but bigger & older - offensive line.
A final (kinda) random stat: In 2008, FSU allowed sacks on 9.37% of passing attempts, 113th nationally. This came against the 6th hardest set of defenses faced nationally. In 2011, FSU allowed sacks on 9.4% of passing attempts, 111th nationally. That came against the 60th hardest set of defenses faced nationally.There are probably a lot of different reasons for this, including:
- The 2008 coaching staff had advanced notice of how bad the line could be, and designed the offense to fit that. The 2011 staff did not have its crystal ball properly tuned and couldn't foresee all of the injuries that turned what was supposed to be a good line into a bad line. (Lots of short passes in 2008)
- Quarterback play
- Other stuff (this is not an exhaustive list)