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2017 FSU season Preview: Offensive Line

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Can returning depth be the difference this season?

Florida State v Mississippi Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The first to get criticism and the last to get credit, Florida State’s offensive line has been a sore subject for the ’Noles for some time now.

Ever since the departure of the 2014 group, the Seminoles have struggled to find consistency along their offensive line. Eleven different players have started along the line, with no combination lasting for more than five games. With the departure of left tackle Roderick Johnson to the NFL, FSU is guaranteed to start its 14th different offensive line combination since the beginning of 2015 when it lines up against Alabama in Atlanta.

The good news is that, aside from left tackle, the ’Noles have starting experience returning at most every position.

If the season were to start tomorrow, here’s a logical guess at what the starting offensive line would look like:

  • Derrick Kelly (redshirt junior) at left tackle
  • Landon Dickerson (sophomore) at left guard
  • Alec Eberle (redshirt junior) at center
  • Cole Minshew (redshirt sophomore) at right guard
  • Rick Leonard (senior) at right tackle

Of those players, Eberle (6’4, 294) has the most experience. The junior has 19 consecutive starts at center, dating all the way back to midway through the 2015 season. A former four-star recruit, Eberle figures to be the unquestioned starter at center after recent news that freshman Baveon Johnson will miss the 2017 season, a story that our own David Visser broke days before it was confirmed by Jimbo Fisher.

While he has experience, Eberle’s play left a lot to be desired during his sophomore campaign. He struggled against some of the ACC’s better interior linemen and looked limited from an athletic standpoint.

However, it was recently revealed with an interview with Sports Illustrated that the junior played nearly the entire 2016 season with not one, but two torn labrums in his hips. With an offseason to rehab and recuperate, Eberle has said that this is the best shape he’s ever been in.

Another player coming off of injury is Dickerson (6’6, 310), who started seven games at left guard as a true freshman before tearing his ACL. A former five-star recruit, Dickerson was too good to ride the bench and he earned the starting job over more veteran players.

Almost a year removed from his injury, the sophomore figures to be a staple along the offensive line. Although he played offensive tackle in high school, Dickerson played very well at guard last season and should continue to improve as lineman.

Dickerson’s running mate at guard is likely Minshew, a redshirt sophomore. At 6’5, 338, Minshew is a monster of a man, but showed good finesse and ability to play in space during his brief starting experience last year after Kareem Are went down with an injury.

The one area for concern with Minshew is with injuries. The former three-star recruit missed practice time during his redshirt year with concussions, while ankle problems bothered him last year.

As we shift our focus to the offensive tackles, this is where things become a lot less solid.

The big move last year was Leonard (6’7, 306) moving from defensive end to offensive tackle. He started the first three games at right tackle, but was benched due to poor play. As expected, Leonard struggled against some of the talented edge rushers that FSU faced, such as Ole Miss’ Marquis Haynes.

However, he finished the season on a high note. After Brock Ruble (6’8, 319) went down with an injury, Leonard stepped back in and managed to hold his own against players like Michigan’s Taco Charlton, a first-round pick in this year’s draft.

The other starting tackle, as of now, is Kelly (6’5, 323) on the left side. A former four-star recruit, Kelly played very well as a freshman at right tackle before going down with a season-ending injury. Last year, FSU tried to play him at guard and he did not look like the same player.

But from all accounts, Kelly has practiced well at left tackle during fall camp and would be the Seminoles’ starter there should the seasons start tomorrow. If he’s healthy, Kelly has enough upside as anyone on the roster.

One positive note for Florida State’s offensive line this year is that it has good depth, something that has eluded it in previous years.

Ruble, a redshirt-junior, is not penciled in as a starter, but has 15 career starts at right tackle under his belt and four years in the system. His play has left a lot to be desired, but the three-star recruit was always considered to be a long-term project. If Leonard were to go down with injury, sliding in a player with double-digit starts like Ruble isn’t the worst thing in the world. Former four-star recruit Abdul Bello (6’6, 312) is another player who could play at tackle should injuries arise. Although Bello’s own injury history presents some questions.

On the other side, redshirt-freshman Josh Ball (6’8, 287) spent the majority of spring ball practicing with the first-team at left tackle. The four-star recruit was once thought to be FSU’s answer at left tackle this year, but will have another year to sit and learn with Kelly in control. Unfortunately, fellow redshirt-freshman Jauan Williams was recently ruled out for the 2017 season after having shoulder surgery.

At guard, redshirt sophomore David Robbins (6’4, 324) figures to be the first man up at either spot, should an injury occur. A former three-star recruit, Robbins has played well in the limited snaps we’ve seen him in and has taken first-team reps this fall when starters were sitting out. Redshirt freshman Mike Arnold (6’5, 330) is another player who could contribute at guard if necessary.

With recent news of Johnson’s surgery, fellow redshirt freshman Andrew Boselli (6’5, 303), the son of Jaguars’ great Tony Boselli, is the next man up to back up Eberle at center. Corey Martinez (6’4, 298) is another name with starting experience who could contribute as well.

Finally, true freshman Brady Scott (6’6, 285) figured to redshirt in his first year on campus, especially after his recent scooter accident.

While FSU doesn’t necessarily have the star power along the line like it’s had in years past, returning depth at several positions may be the difference this season. Losing “Big Rod” Johnson to the NFL is a big hit, but the ’Noles have recruited well enough and developed players to fill in the holes where necessary.

With an opening Power-Five slate of Alabama, Miami, and NC State, FSU’s offensive line will have to find its footing fast. This year’s line might not come out of the gates at an elite level, but it has enough depth and returning experience to be one of the better position units on this team by the end of the season.