Down the stretch of the 2016 season, the FSU offensive line began to make strides closer towards what was expected of them heading into the season. The same unit which allowed 27 sacks over its first eight games a season ago gave up only nine sacks over the final five games, including just two against a senior-laden Michigan defense lauded as one of the best in the country.
Now, the Seminoles are in the unenviable position of having to replace multiple members of their starting offensive front which was finally beginning to come into its own. Still, this blow is softened by the sheer amount of impressive depth Florida State has among its scholarship offensive lineman, of which the ’Noles have 17.
FSU’s two losses from its starting OL in 2016 both come from the left side of the line in left tackle Rod Johnson, who decided to forgo his senior season to declare for the NFL Draft, and left guard Kareem Are, who graduated after last season.
At left tackle, the trending name to replace Johnson is senior Rick Leonard. Leonard, who moved from the defensive line to the offensive line last offseason, started the first three games of the 2016 season at right tackle. However, the learning curve was not going as quickly as anticipated and Leonard was replaced at RT by Brock Ruble for the middle stretch of the season.
Leonard was not finished, though, as he took advantage of a groin injury to Ruble to reclaim his right tackle spot. The difference between his early-season and late-season runs was night and day. He looked far more natural and well-prepared for the starting job over the final few weeks, even limiting the impact that Taco Charlton, a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, was able to have in FSU’s Orange Bowl victory. Leonard’s name has been spouted off in the conversation of Johnson’s replacement not just because of his performance at the end of the 2016 season, but also in part to his 6’7, 306-pound frame which lends itself to playing tackle.
Are’s replacement at guard is equally up in the air. Florida State’s advantage in replacing these two is that the coaching staff’s options are varied, each bringing different things to the table. The two names that jump off the table immediately as potential starters at the guard spots are Landon Dickerson and Cole Minshew. Both took advantage of their playing time in 2016 with Dickerson starting seven games at right guard and Minshew getting some time and both guard spots.
However, Dickerson will not participate in spring practice as he continues to rehabilitate his torn ACL suffered in November of 2016. Among those likely to compete for Dickerson’s spot in spring practice are Derrick Kelly and Wilson Bell.
At center, Florida State returns Alec Eberle from last season, but he will be absent in spring after undergoing offseason hip surgery. In looking through the potential candidates for his spot in spring practice, a few names jump out. Corey Martinez is the only other member of the roster with significant in-game experience at FSU, but a pair of younger players, redshirt freshmen Andrew Boselli and Baveon Johnson will be in the conversation as well. Boselli, an early enrollee in 2016, received praise from Jimbo FIsher for how quickly he was picking it all up last year and Johnson, the No. 1 center in the 2016 recruiting class, has obvious potential but has not yet shown it in Tallahassee.
At the right tackle spot, Florida State returns Ruble, who has started 13 games at right tackle over the last two seasons. Ruble is almost assured to start spring practice as the first-team right tackle, but he will have some competition, most notably from redshirt freshman Josh Ball, who measures in at 6’8, 287 pounds. Ethan Frith, the backup left tackle in 2016, also looks to be a factor in spring practice as well as the Spring Game.
Florida State’s exceptional offensive line depth gives the Seminoles a number of options at each position on the line. It also makes it significantly more unclear as to who is on pace to open the 2017 season in the starting lineup. Spring practice, which begins Monday, will give a better look at who is pushing for playing time next season, culminating nicely with the Spring Game on April 8th.