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Florida State football: Offensive line ready to roll

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Tomahawk Nation is previewing the Florida State Seminoles 2014 season with a series of roundtable responses. Our authors chimed in on questions that piqued their interest.

Streeter Lecka

Offensive line is a really tough position to evaluate, and the lay fan almost always criticizes it much more than it deserves. Sacks are too often attributed to the offensive line and not the QB. First downs to the running back, but stops to the line.  FSU has had pretty damn good offensive line play under coach Jimbo Fisher, with the lone exception of 2011 when it was decimated by injuries. And it has had years, like 2013, in which the starters were excellent, but the depth was equally as sketchy. It just so happened that FSU avoided any injuries to the line in 2013 and won the national title, scoring the most points in college football history along the way.

But this line could take yet another step.

Many national outlets have trumpeted the 2014 Florida State offensive line as the best in the country, though I doubt they have meticulously watched the lines of the best teams, grading them to find out. It certainly has a chance to be. FSU returns four starters, each with 20+ career starts. If it stays healthy, it could be the best in the history of the program.

Let's review what FSU has, with the help of the media guide.

Left tackle Left guard Center Right guard Right tackle
Cam Erving Josue Matias Austin Barron Tre' Jackson Bobby Hart
6'6, 308, RSr. 6'5, 325, Sr. 6'3, 293, Sr. 6'4, 330, Sr. 6'4, 320, Sr.
Converted defensive tackle has grown into one of the nation’s top left tackles...ACC coaches named him the recipient of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy given to the league’s top offensive lineman...captured All-ACC honors from the coaches and media…collected several All-America accolades, including First Team honors from the Sporting News, USA Today and Sports Illustrated and Second Team recognition by the Associated Press and Walter Camp…held Clemson All-America defensive end Vic Beasley without a sack and was named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week following the 51-14 win at then-No. 3 Clemson...helped hold National Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald of Pitt to just two tackles and one TFL...had a grade of 98 percent at Boston College...graded out to over 80 percent at Boston College, at Clemson and at Wake Forest... Junior left guard started all 14 games this season and has 29 consecutive contests dating back to the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl...produced the top offensive line grade in three games, including against Wake Forest (88), Miami (86), and Nevada (89), when the Noles ran for a season-high 377 yards against the Wolf Pack...his average grade of 78.5 percent ranked third on the team... Valuable reserve offensive lineman who appeared in 12 games, including a start at center at Wake Forest in place of Bryan Stork...protected Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Roberto Aguayo as a starter on placekicking unit...has five career starts under his belt, including three as a true freshman center in 2011. Two-year starter for the Noles offensive line that produced the best offensive season in school history...has started 28 career games...his first start was the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl...owned second-highest grade among Seminole offensive linemen (80.2)...had best grade among Seminoles against Idaho (89), Syracuse (93), NC State (86) and Maryland (89)...graded out to 84 percent or above in eight of final nine contests heading into BCS National Championship Game... Right tackle, who started all 14 games and has 23 starts in his career...graded out at 86 percent at Florida and also had grades above 80 percent against Miami (81), Bethune-Cookman (83) and Nevada (86)... August 21, 1994

Erving, Matias and Jackson are locks to be drafted, and likely early, barring a catastrophe. Sources on the staff have told me that they believe Hart, who turns 20 Thursday, will be a good guard in the NFL and could be drafted, as well.

To that, it adds a fifth-year senior center. And it's deep, too, with a fourth-year junior on the interior, two highly touted junior college players, and a stud freshman, among others. And the junior college players have pushed for starting time, giving the staff a lot of confidence in its depth.

This group has gone from a unit of very good starters and sketchy depth, to having some of the best depth in the country.

Florida State season preview

Let's get to the roundtable bits about the offensive line. It was admittedly tough figuring out what to ask, because the group is very good and pretty set.

Trickett routinely asks his centers to scoop-block opposing 3-tech DTs on some runs, freeing the guard to attack play-side LBs. What opposing DTs on FSU's schedule could give Barron problems?

ricobert1: The best penetrator at DT isn't on FSU's schedule (DT Luther Maddy, ~1 TFL/G in ‘13). The next best returning DT using this metric is Thomas Teal, a Senior from N.C. State. Teal recorded 10.5 TFL (3 sacks) last year. Listed at 6'1, 303, his quickness could make for a tough matchup. Clemson's Grady Jarrett (10.5/2), too, at 6'1, 295. FSU may have a tough time running the ball against Clemson. Bud's encouragement to take the under looks well-advised.

Alan Mundy: Ed Cunningham thinks it's Nikita Whitlock. Who cares if he graduated, here's a five minute video package on him. Did you guys know Nikita Whitlock played at Wake Forest and is a very good player?

Seriously, though...this issue is a little overblown in my opinion. The center is only asked to scoop/reach the nose on outside zone runs, and even that is not necessarily required. There are other ways to block OZ. On inside zone and power which are FSU's other primary blocking schemes the center has much easier blocks.

Bud: Some of them. I think Barron is a clear step down from Stork (and that's not hating on Barron; Stork was just very, very good). If Barron isn't able to execute this block as well as Stork, I imagine FSU will change up the way it blocks some of its zone runs. I don't think FSU will be caught off guard by this. Stork was a luxury and the ability to do what he did is not a necessity. Just combo more stuff.

I also think center is a fairly misunderstood position. I've seen plenty of good guards ask to try and snap and then block and fail miserably. The steps, timing and motion are different. There are reserves on Florida State's squad who are undoubtedly better blockers than Barron, but not when asked to snap and handle the duties of the center.

Onebarrelrum: Barron played quite a bit against Maryland last year (Stork got a concussion early). Good game to watch to get a preview of this year's o-line. Maryland was supposed to have a decent defense and FSU rolled. He wasn't perfect but was not as good as Stork. Hopefully with a year more in the program, he'll close the gap a little bit. He won't be as good as Stork. More important, if he's the one calling adjustments, he better get that right. We've seen what happens with a center can't call out adjustments.

For how many starts will Wilson Bell, Chad Mavety, Ruben Carter and Kareem Are combine?

Alan Mundy: Assuming Barron starts at center as I expect, then obviously the hope is 0. A more reasonable expectation would be 3-5. I would also add Ruben Carter to this list as I think he might still be the first guy in for any of the interior three positions.

Onebarrelrum: I'll say 5. Over the course of the season, a couple of the starters will get rested against some of the lesser opponents due to minor injuries.

Bud: The hope is obviously zero, but offensive line is a collision position, not just a contact one. And I think the reserves will start 14 games or so. FSU picked a tremendous year for injury luck in 2013.

What front-7s will test FSU's line this year? How do you expect FSU's OL to fare?

Evenflow58: It has to be Clemson, right? The Tigers return almost their whole defensive front from last year and are in year 3 of Brent Venables so they should be reacting more and thinking less. While Clemson does lose 2 starting linebackers they certainly have the talent to fill the void with senior (senior?!?!) Tony Steward and T.J. Burrell set to start. While I expect this front-7 to give FSU the most issues I'm not sure how long that will last. FSU also returns most everybody on the line and did a pretty good job in this same match up last year. Add in the fact that Clemson's offense looks set to struggle against FSU's defense and that front-7 could get tired real fast.

Bud: EF58's Clemson pick gets a ditto from me, but I'll have to say Florida and Oklahoma State, as well. Florida's Dante Fowler, Jr. and Bullard are very good off the edge, and the combo of Orr and Cummings in the middle is decent. Oklahoma State returns 28 tackles for loss in its defensive line. But FSU's OL will be the best any of these teams see, as well, so I expect FSU to do better than most other opponents against these lines.

Onebarrlerum: I'll throw in Miami just because. FSU will struggle early, like they do at times in that game, but will get the edge by late 3rd quarter.