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Florida State has never had a deeper offensive line under Jimbo Fisher

Florida State hopes competition produces elite play in 2016.

Florida State’s offensive line in 2015 was much maligned. Some was deserved, some not. Nine players started at least three games due to injury and inconsistency. Ultimately that mixed lineup should pay dividends in 2016 as eight of the nine, and all of the regular starters return. At some of those spots, the returners are being pushed and fierce competition is occurring on a daily basis at practice. Florida State has 19 scholarship offensive linemen, which is easily the most it has ever carried under Jimbo Fisher. The result is excellent depth, especially on the interior, for a position group that gets constantly banged and bruised. And 12 of 14 returning linemen were redshirted. That means another year in the system and another year of lifting.

The star

Left tackle Rod Johnson is a the most dependable player of the group. If Johnson improves in 2016, the 6’7, 311-pound Missourian is likely to leave early for the NFL as an early pick. There aren’t many prospects with the combined length, agility and strength of Johnson. In 2015 he wasn’t quite as dominant as expected and the leap in play from true freshman to sophomore season could have been bigger. But he would start for every team in the country and is arguably Florida State’s most irreplaceable player.

The Are

Next to Johnson is senior Kareem Are, a JUCO transfer who started eight games in 2015. Are is a massive 6’5, 334-pounder, and when he gets his hands on opponents it is usually over. An injury limited his effectiveness and availability at times, causing his foot speed to suffer on occasion. This is Are’s third season in Florida State’s system, and at 22 years, 6 months it should be his best. If he improves he will be an NFL prospect.

Better at center

Center was a rotating spot for the Seminoles for much of 2015, with RsFr. Corey Martinez starting three games, RsJr. Ryan Hoefeld four, and RsFr. Alec Eberle six. Eberle came on late and was the best of the bunch. He showed that he understood the offense and the unit seemed to function better as a whole with him in the middle. And while center is the spot where an undersized player can best excel, Eberle was not physically mature enough in 2015 and struggled at times against elite defensive linemen. Florida State was forced to double team more which limited what it could do.

Still, for a RsFr., he was promising. Eberle has added noticeable muscle, roughly 10 pounds via the media guide. He has missed some of fall camp with a concussion, but assuming he comes back from that and stays healthy he should have a good year.

And if he doesn’t stay healthy, Florida State has better depth at the spot, too. Martinez is a year older and bigger, and provides some peace of mind. The drop-off from Martinez to the next option is potentially huge.

If FSU did have to go with an inexperienced player, at least it would be in the form of an elite talent — Baveon Johnsnon was the No. 1 rated center in the class of 2016. Johnson has also followed through with his weight loss, dropping from North of 340 to 316. Johnson’s snaps do need work, though, and depending on when he gets it fixed, true freshman Andrew Boselli could also be in line in an emergency situation.

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016 Year Recruit 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Roderick Johnson OT 6'7, 311 Jr. 4 stars 13 18 2015 1st All-ACC
Wilson Bell RG 6'5, 320 RJr. 3 stars 13 13
Kareem Are LG 6'6, 325 RSr. 3 stars 8 8
Ryan Hoefeld C 6'2, 305 RJr. 3 stars 4 8
Alec Eberle C 6'4, 294 RSo. 4 stars 6 6
Brock Ruble OT 6'8, 319 RSo. 3 stars 5 5
Derrick Kelly OT 6'5, 323 RSo. 3 stars 4 4
Corey Martinez C 6'4, 298 RSo. 4 stars 3 3
Rick Leonard OT 6'7, 306 Jr. 4 stars 0 0
Ethan Frith OT 6'7, 317 RSo. 3 stars 0 0
Mike Arnold G 6'4, 339 Fr. 3 stars 0 0
Abdul Bello OT 6'6, 312 Fr. 4 stars
Cole Minshew RG 6'5, 347 RSFr. 3 stars
David Robbins LG 6'4, 324 RSFr. 3 stars
Landon Dickerson OL 6'5, 310 Fr. 4 stars
Baveon Johnson C 6'3, 316 Fr. 4 stars
Jauan Williams OT 6'6, 300 Fr. 4 stars
Josh Ball OT 6'8, 287 Fr. 4 stars
Andrew Boselli C 6'4, 303 Fr. 3 stars

So many guards

The battle at right guard has been fierce so far in camp. Last year’s starter Wilson Bell was dependably in the lineup, but not always dependable on the field. Bell made some awesome blocks but also had some memorable misses. If the 6’5, 320-pound RsJr. can improve his consistency he can hold down the job.

But many are pushing for the spot. Following off-season knee surgery, FSU moved tackle Derrick Kelly to guard. The 6’5, 323-pound RsSo. has good power when he is able to get his hands on opponents. Given the move, it’s worth wondering if he has regained all his mobility following the knee surgery, but he has received a number of reps with the first team in camp.

Landon Dickerson looks like one of the few true freshmen who have a chance not to redshirt. Dickerson was almost a composite five-star recruit (rated No. 31 nationally regardless of position). While he did not enroll early, he did show up in shape and already looks physically like an upperclassman at a trim 6’5, 310. He has drawn rave reviews from those within the program, and that is all the more impressive considering he does not turn 18 until September 30. Not getting completely whipped as a 17-year old facing Florida State’s first string defensive line is an accomplishment within itself.

RsFr. David Robbins is a fellow young player who folks inside the program are high on. Robbins just turned 19 in June and is in good shape at 6’4, 324. Coming from a small classification in Maryland, Robbins has continued to mature physically and has received first, second and third-team reps in camp. Robbins has a solid base, and has made the adjustment to the step up in competition that is Florida State. While he does not project as a starter in 2016, he is an example of the quality depth within the program.

The wildcard in the group is Cole Minshew. When healthy and in shape, Minshew is arguably the guard with the most natural talent. A massive redshirt freshman listed at 6’5, 338, Minshew was likely going to play extensively as a true freshman but injuries including a foot/ankle, concussion(s) and conditioning issues led to a redshirt. Those same issues minus the foot/ankle injury still exist this year, and as of this Monday, August 22 Minshew is sidelined with concussion-like symptoms.

Fewer tackles

The depth is not quite as rosy as offensive tackle, but it is better than 2015.

Derrick Kelly not having the same mobility after knee surgery is certainly a blow, but in any case, Kelly is still an option as a tackle backup.

The favorite to start at right tackle is Rick Leonard, a former defensive end with great athleticism who has packed on 20 pounds since the move, now checking in at 6’7, 306. With the aggressiveness of a defensive player, the junior has been quite good at run blocking when his technique is right; but his inexperience has shown in practice. Being new to the position, Leonard’s inexperience leads to inconsistency. Pass blocking is an expected concern with such a new player, as run blocking is a more natural skill. It takes time to learn the intuitive feel needed to become a good pass protector.

The right side of the line, regardless of who starts, will need to be protected with lots of play-action passing, tight end and running back chips.

Behind Leonard is Brock Ruble, a RsSo. checking in at 6’8, 319. Because of his huge body, Ruble has always profiled as a player with a high upside who would take a while to reach it. Word from practice is that Ruble has improved his coordination some as he continues to mature physically. This is similar to how big men in basketball take longer to develop than point guards.

RsSo. Ethan Frith is likely the fifth option at tackle, while RsFr. Abdul Bello, a former four-star, is learning the game after losing his first season to a torn ACL. Four-star true freshmen Jauan Williams and Josh Ball appear headed for redshirts.

Bottom line

Florida State should have excellent play from left tackle and the guard spots. Assuming it can keep at least one of Eberle and Martinez healthy, center should be a much improved spot. Right tackle is the biggest unknown, but having two upperclassmen options at the spot provides comfort. And if the line has only one question, as opposed to multiple, it is easier to scheme options to minimize weakness.

The line has what looks to be a strong combination of power and teamwork inside, and elite length and athleticism on the outside. The ability to use that athleticism in run blocking from the tackles makes Florida State’s ability to run wide with Dalvin Cook especially dangerous.

Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett is probably the coach on staff who most consistently maximizes his group’s talent.