Florida State football spring 2013 preview: offensive line

Chris Trotman

Can Florida State's offensive line continue its improvement from the 2012 season?

FSU spring practice kicks off March 20 and our Florida State football spring 2013 preview continues with a look at the offensive line position, which was a strong point for much of the 2012 season after being an injury-riddled mess in 2011. It was one of the main reasons FSU improved and turned in a top-25 offense (we are aware that FSU's traditional numbers, like total yards and points, are off the charts, but one must adjust for the quality of competition, and top-25 is probably much more accurate than top-five). FSU returns

The goal is, as always, to maximize a player's talent and to get the best possible group on the field.

The departed

Florida State loses starting right tackle Menelik Watson and reserve lineman Daniel Glauser. Watson was ridiculously raw last year as a JUCO, having only eight games of American football experience. But his tremendous natural athleticism, combined with coaching by Rick Trickett, allowed him to put together enough tape to leave early for the NFL.

Watson has a chance to be a top-50 draft choice, and potentially much higher. But did he play like an elite college tackle? No, not overall. In fact, he wasn't the best offensive tackle on the team. Watson's level of play was good, but that was a result of a combination of dominance and disaster. At times, Watson would block the right man and absolutely demolish him. Other times, his inexperience showed, and he would not block the correct man or would fail to get the job done, often due to technique. FSU is replacing an above-average college tackle, not an elite one. If Watson has returned to college, he could have potentially been great, but going pro was the right choice for him and his family.

Glauser was not very good, and isn't likely to be missed.

The talent

Florida State's offensive line was one of the better in the league last season, and returning four starters, it should again be a strength. This is a very veteran group, with 28 years of varsity experience (not counting red-shirts).

Interior: FSU has one of the top guard duos in the country in Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias, both of whom had strong seasons as first-time starters after playing reserve roles as freshmen. Both are very strong, and move well for their size. Jackson is a true mauler, while Matias probably plays with a bit better technique at times. Both players need to continue to hone their game and emerge as leaders for an offense that lost many of its veteran leaders.

FSU also returns its center in Bryan stork, who was solid last year, but not great. Stork provides a lot of experience, and has good size. He also has the ability to play tackle, and indeed should take some reps there in spring, because junior Austin Barron has put in good work in the weight room and now has the size to be a good center in the league.

Regardless of who starts at center, I think FSU needs to ask less of the position. Too often Stork was asked to make a block that only a special center can make, and it made him look bad because he's not special, but merely solid. I'm not sure why FSU does this. Is the coaching staff instructing the center to make the block on his own? Or does the center make the call to take the block solo as opposed to making the call to combination block the defensive lineman with the help of the guard. In either case, this needs to happen less often, though not to the extent where the Seminoles become predictable. It's great for the center to have self confidence, or for the staff to have confidence in the center, but there are some blocking angles against elite defensive linemen that FSU needs to combo.

It could be that FSU is too focused on hitting home runs, and wants to send the guard to the second level to seal the backer, only to have the play blown up because the center couldn't execute an extremely difficult block (one that is tough for even the best of centers).

There's also the possibility that what I am seeing is a misdiagnosis by the player making the call to solo/combo, or a miscommunication/missed signal between the two players.

Regardless, it's something that needs to improve, and should be expected to improve. If it does, Florida State should be more effective running the inside zone play, which is something we've consistently griped about.

I also think FSU needs to cut more frequently on the interior on its zone plays to reduce defensive line aggressiveness, and to do so more effectively.

And of course, after Chris Thompson went down and James Wilder stepped up, FSU ran less zone blocking and more man, to take advantage of Wilder's strengths.

Moving to tackle, FSU returns one very solid starter in Cam Erving. Erving moved from defensive tackle to left tackle last spring, and was about as good as could reasonably be expected in his first season in the position. Erving is very long, very athletic, and can bend. He has the potential to be one of the best left tackles in the country in just his second season at the position. He needs to continue to work on his technique, particularly not overextending and reaching. And he needs to become stronger, which should happen in the weight room.

With the departure of Watson to the NFL, the right tackle spot is now open.

The prime candidate for the position is Bobby Hart. By now, most know the interesting story of the talented Bobby Hart. He turned 17 a week before the first game in 2011, and should have redshirted, but Florida State suffered a ridiculous rash of injuries and he was pressed into duty. Hart finished the 2011 year as a starter, but (and this shouldn't come as a shock, given his age) did not make strides in the off-season, perhaps because he was overconfident and didn't work as hard as he could have. Hart, who was not very good as a 17-year old freshman, and really had little reason lost his starting position to Watson.

Since then, Hart has had numerous tweets discussing how he has been working hard in the weight room and on his game in general. And there are some rumblings that he has been better. But FSU fans have heard this before, and the proof will come on March 20, when he steps on the practice field with a chance to regain his starting position. Hart, who will turn 19 a week before Florida State opens at Pittsburgh, still has a lot to learn about playing tackle. But his physical skills are undeniable, and given his age, there's still a lot of hope. In fact, I think he has the edge at the position.

As mentioned above, Stork can also play tackle, and will take some reps there this spring. Matias also has a tackle build., and could be an option, though I am not sure if FSU wants to mess with a good thing at guard.

Regardless of who wins the job, he'll have help in the form of a tight end. Florida State has one of the better left tackles in football in Cameron Erving, and if he plays to his athletic potential, he can lock down the left side. FSU can and should help out the right side frequently with a tight end. And that's not limited to running situations, because the new QB will not likely be able to work through four or five options, and protection must be first and foremost.

Remember that throughout spring, FSU will try a lot of different combinations and cross-train players. Most every team does this, and overreacting to a practice report or two noting a player playing at a different position would be unwise. The player is most likely not switching positions.

Behind the six players discussed above, Florida State has a lot of experience in Faircloth, Orelus, and Fahrenkrug (who is out for spring), though they will all have their degree (or graduate degree) after spring, and could elect to pursue a career. I am not expecting anything from Foose or Pettis, and am not sure what the 'Noles have in Carter. FSU also adds one of the top offensive linemen in the country in Ira Denson (arriving in spring), who looks to be college ready.

There's a lot of talk about depth concerns due to poor recruiting, but I don't see them for 2013. It's possible depth could be a big issue in 2014, and it's certainly a looming issue for 2015 (albeit fixable with better recruiting). But I just don't see it for 2013. Florida State returns four starters and has a lot of experienced depth, which knows what to do should it be pressed into duty.

Arriving in June

Florida State adds 4-star Ira Denson, 3-star Wilson Bell (who I feel is quite underrated as a late bloomer) and 3-star Ryan Hoefeld. Denson has a very good shot to be in the two-deep, and I am intrigued by Bell's athleticism and frame. Hoefeld seems destined for a redshirt.

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