Florida State enters its 2015 spring practice with as much uncertainty as any in recent memory. Half of its starters, and almost all of its top players are gone. The offense is especially green, with just four returning starters -- only one of five along the offensive line. Gone are Cam Erving, Tre' Jackson, Josue Matias and Bobby Hart, three (maybe four?) of which are expected to be drafted. That is an insane amount of offensive line talent to lose in a single year. Luckily for the blood pressure of FSU fans, the Seminoles have heavily recruited the position in the last few years, and the Seminoles have 10 scholarship players available for spring practice, plus three on the way in the summer. None are seniors*, but they should help to lessen the huge blow that is losing four NFL linemen.
Coach Rick Trickett is well known for trying out numerous combinations along the offensive line, and sometimes asking players to play out of position for a day or two. Sometimes, this is to see if they can handle the new position, and others, to facilitate their knowledge of the offensive line responsibilities and how the line works together as a unit. Don't take these moves too seriously unless they stick for a few weeks.
Luckily for Trickett, one spot where he shouldn't have to do any shuffling is at left tackle, where sophomore Roderick Johnson (6'7, 325) will look to expand on a stellar freshman season. Johnson was inserted into the lineup for the Miami game as a true freshman after Cam Erving moved from left tackle to center. His freshman-like moments were few and far between. He displayed light feet, good power and an impressive knack for playing the position at such a young age. For instance, Johnson was great at keeping his long arms bent and moving his feet while holding -- a veteran move that makes the penalty tough to diagnose. Johnson can improve on his get-off and on setting up vertical in pass protection as to cut off speed rushers without opening the inside lane for a counter move. He's already a very good player with superstar potential.
"It seems like Big Rod has been here for 10 years, the way he works," Jimbo Fisher said.
But there are some questions remaining about the other four positions, though no guarantees that they will be answered.
Are Kareem Are and Chad Mavety locks to start at guard and tackle?
Florida State welcomed in junior college signees Kareem Are and Chad Mavety last season, but neither played much as FSU returned four starters from the 2013 squad and stayed quite healthy. Spring will be a chance for the coaches to see how well they used that reserve time.
*Note: I believe Are and Mavety qualified for redshirts, but Florida State has not updated its roster to reflect redshirt status. Reflecting that belief, I'll refer to them as juniors.
Are, at 6'6 325 has excellent power and slimmed down some upon getting on campus last season. Given his physical maturity, it seems likely that he'll be able to lock down one of the guard positions.
Mavety is more suited to playing tackle, and Jimbo Fisher praised him recently for slimming down, (FSU listed him at 6'5, 315, but he looked larger during the season) which will only help him move better out in space on the edge. Given that Mavety's competition against departed tackle Bobby Hart was very real last year, he seems like a good bet to grab the right tackle position. FSU will probably have to run the football more this year, given its inexperience at receiver and QB, and Mavety profiles as a better run blocker than pass protector.
Who will play center and the other guard spot?
Operating on the assumption that Are and Mavety can lock down spots at guard and tackle, and that Derrick Kelly (RFr. 6'5, 310), Brock Ruble (RFr. 6'8, 324) and Ethan Frith (FR 6'7, 280) will all be playing tackle, FSU is likely going to find its remaining two starters, at least in spring, from a group of:
- Ryan Hoefeld (6'3, 290, RSo.)
- Alec Eberle (6'4, 282, RFr.)
- Corey Martinez (6'5, 290, RFr.)
- Wilson Bell (6'4, 309, RSo.)
Hoefeld was pressed into duty last season before he was ready as Austin Barron went down with injury at the center position. He was very much hit or miss, with a lot more in the miss column, though that doesn't necessarily foreclose any future chance of success at the position. He simply wasn't ready. He likely begins spring as the de facto starter at center.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that he will hold on to the job. Hoefeld is going to have to really devote himself to his conditioning and in the weight room to hold on down the stretch. If Alec Eberle, who was recruited to play center, has made strides, he might have a real shot. And Corey Martinez might be able to snap (an aspect of playing center than fans often overlook), adding more size to the position. If that happens, Wilson Bell would seem to have the inside track for the guard job opposite Kareem Are. If not, Martinez and Bell are probably going to have quite the battle for that guard spot.
As you can tell by the non-committal language, there is quite a bit of uncertainty. The arrival of three extremely promising freshmen linemen with college-ready size this summer will only further cloud the waters.