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Learning from Florida State’s backups

FSU has championship-level depth at many positions

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Florida State v Houston Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Between this article on whether Alabama’s backups could beat an average college football team and our staff’s own editorial discussions on position battles to come in the fall, I’ve been thinking a lot about reserves and depth this week. And in watching our staff debate who will start where, when and why, something hit me: Florida State is going to have a lot of players on the bench who would start elsewhere. And that can actually be an indication of team quality, as it means the starters are even better players. The inverse isn’t necessarily true; a team could have shaky reserves, great starters and never need it due to great health, but think about some of the players FSU is going to have on the bench this season. Very few starters are going to have their jobs by default, but rather because they beat out other highly skilled challengers.

While FSU’s offensive line wasn’t great in 2015, it was better than many fans realized. But, if you’ll remember, it was very young:

Florida State has the youngest offensive line in major college football, with just nine career starts combined on the offensive line. No other team in the Power 5 conferences is in the single digits.

This year, about 15 scholarship offensive linemen on the roster will be in years 2, 3, 4 or 5 in college football. Not only does that provide great depth in case of injury, for linemen No. 16-20 (the freshmen) to develop at an appropriate pace, and allow better looks for the second and third-string defenses in practice, but it is also going to result in some fierce position battles in training camp. Rod Johnson seems like a lock to start at left tackle, but beyond that, it’s conceivable that the other four positions are legitimately open. Consider that one of Derrick Kelly (very promising in 2015 for a redshirt freshman) and Rick Leonard (promising returns in the spring) will be a backup. On the interior, only two of Wilson Bell, Kareem Are, Chad Mavety (if he is cleared), Cole Minshew and David Robbins will be starting. Those are some very talented reserves. FSU may not have Alabama’s depth, but at certain positions like offensive line, it’s absolutely reasonable to believe FSU’s second string would be better than what is fielded by the average college team. And that says a lot about the starters.

The same goes for defensive back. Sophomore safety Derwin James and senior corner Marquez White are locked in as starters, but FSU is going to fill its other three starting spots with some combination of senior Nate Andrews, juniors Trey Marshall and Malique Jackson, sophomores Tarvarus McFadden, Marcus Lewis, and A.J. Westbrook, plus freshman Levonta Taylor, arguably the top corner in the country for the recruiting class of 2016. Barring a lot of injuries, FSU is going to have some very talented defensive backs who play 2-300 snaps as opposed to the 8-900 typically played by a starter. The guys who win these jobs will have absolutely earned them. Compare this situation to 2015, during which FSU ended up playing a walk-on after starter Trey Marshall went down with injury and Tyler Hunter never fully returned to the level he was at prior to a neck injury. I’m fascinated to see how all the pieces come together. Thanks to how well it has developed players, FSU has stockpiled a ton of players at the position who would be starters for most teams in college football.