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How did Florida State’s offensive line get this bad?

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FSU has had offensive line struggles in the past, but never like this.

Considering that Syracuse’s defense is not good, it’s fair to say that the Florida State Seminoles’ offensive line just had one of the worst performances in recent memory.

Florida State fans have long complained about their offensive line. Under the prior staff, the line was often asked to execute a large number of protection schemes that some on staff believed it could not handle. It made the line’s talent look worse than it was, as evidenced by the NFL Draft.

However, fans are now getting the chance to see what a truly terrible line looks like. FSU’s offensive linemen are not able to execute a limited number of very simple protection schemes.

The group that was out there at the end of the Syracuse game can’t play. It’s that simple. This is more than just momentary lapses in coordination or technique, though both of those scenarios have occurred a multitude of times. This is about the linemen getting beat physically, both in strength and speed.

The major worry of FSU’s staff entering the year, according to my sources, was the depth on the offensive line. Based on the results, those concerns were warranted and then some. They’ve already had to empty the bench, and that bench is a disaster.

Going back and reviewing the performances, the only time the team’s offense has looked even halfway decent this season against an FBS team was the first half against Virginia Tech. Florida State’s offense ran up 246 yards on 44 plays (5.6/play). This coincides perfectly with the recurring theme of injuries on the O-line, as that half was the healthiest that unit has been all year. After that, as I’ll chronicle below, Landon Dickerson went down and the offense began its descent into ineptitude.

The ’Noles have not had a half against an FBS team over five yards/play since.

But, how is it this bad? How can three injuries cause things to spiral so drastically out of control?

Was it simply a case of poor recruiting by the previous staff? Or did the previous regime fail to develop these athletes properly? Conversely, have the current coaches truly maximized and improved the talent that they inherited from Jimbo Fisher?

I went through every offensive lineman FSU had signed in the last four years to determine the cause.

4 of the 5 OL positions are not occupied by the original starter

The line being run out at present looks nothing like the group that went through fall camp.

Alec Eberle, the senior center, is playing OK. Other than that, this is one of the worst offensive lines for a Power 5 team that I have ever seen.

Right tackle has been rocked by injury and a lack of, well, tackles

At right tackle, it was supposed to be Landon Dickerson. Dickerson is a guard, but at least he has the ability to play tackle when healthy. But, he got hurt in the Virginia Tech game.

Dickerson’s backup is Derrick Kelly, another guard. Unfortunately, Kelly doesn’t seem to have the quickness he once had after suffering a knee injury. He was slated to start at guard, and he was playing tackle only out of desperation.

Furthermore, Kelly went down in a heap at the end of the Syracuse game and was unable to put any pressure on his left leg. His status going forward is unknown.

In came Brady Scott, who is also more of a guard. If you’re scoring at home, that’s the third guard type Florida State has had to start at tackle this year.

The guard spots are also occupied by backups due to injury

Kelly was supposed to be the starter at one of the guard positions, until Dickerson’s injury pulled him outside. In his place is Arthur Williams. Williams is a defensive tackle by trade, who moved over to offensive line for depth purposes this fall. He looks like a player who has played the position for barely a month.

At the other guard spot, starter Cole Minshew has already missed large chunks of the young season due to injury. His backup is Mike Arnold, a player who has not seemed to improve much under the prior, or current, coaching staffs. Arnold has not shown many signs that he can perform consistently.

If right tackle has been a story of injury, left tackle has been a story of non-development.

The other tackle spot has not been any better. Starter Jauan Williams has seemingly suffered from a crisis of confidence. His play has regressed in each successive game, leading to him being removed from the field due to poor performance. Williams redshirted in 2016, and missed the 2017 season after he injured his shoulder. His lack of development is being felt in spades by Deondre Francois.

Abdul Bello, his backup, is a similar story. Bello was a high-upside, low-floor recruit. A top-100-rated player, he was new to the game of football and needed significant coaching. That did not happen. Part of that was the ACL injury he suffered in 2015. He badly needed that development time. But, it doesn’t appear that he has improved much, if at all, in the years since.

How in the heck are FSU’s top backup tackles actually guards?

Williams and Bello did not progress under the prior staff. And clearly, no miracles have been worked by the new staff.

However, that only accounts for two offensive tackles. What about the others?

Florida State did sign an offensive tackle in its abbreviated transition class under Willie Taggart. That player, Jalen Goss, shows promise, but needs to add 20+ pounds before he can physically hold up at the college level. If Taggart’s staff develops him properly, he has the potential to be good.

Additionally, this team badly misses the play of Josh Ball.

Ball was a starter on the 2017 team, and was suspended for and ultimately removed from the program for a 2017 dating violence incident. Ball was a national top-100 recruit who had two years left to play. While his removal was no doubt the right call, and an important one, his absence has exacerbated FSU’s depth problem. He would be FSU’s best tackle by a wide margin.

Ditto for Brock Ruble, who transferred to Toledo to finish his senior year. Ruble was never an excellent player, but he could at least play offensive tackle, which is more than the ’Noles have right now.

Others

In the class of 2016, several players have not lived up to their potential, and some have.

  • Baveon Johnson was a national top-50 recruit as an interior lineman/center, but he has struggled with injury, conditioning, and snapping. It would be helpful to this team if Johnson could contribute at guard.
  • Andrew Boselli, a three-star guard prospect, left the program and is no longer playing football.
  • Corey Martinez, a senior guard who was not projected as a starter, left the program this year to begin his career outside of the sport.
  • Brady Scott was the only offensive lineman signed in the class of 2017. That is an issue that will have long-reaching negative effects.

Can this be fixed? Can the situation at tackle improve?

Not in 2018. There’s just no path to average play this year, absent some miracles of science to get the starters back on the field

In 2019, there could be. It would involve Jalen Goss developing to provide quality depth, at the very least. Jauan Williams would also need to regain some confidence, add strength and take a positive step. It would also depend on the health of Landon Dickerson.

Realistically, it would also consist of signing a JUCO tackle or a high-level high schooler capable of playing Day 1, of which there are a few potential candidates.

Is it all the offensive line’s fault?

No. There have been other issues.

QB Deondre Francois still makes the wrong read in the zone read and RPO game too often, which makes the offensive line look even worse. He looks as if he is anticipating a hit on every play, which is a pretty decent bet, if we’re being honest. Also, defenses have not shown any respect to the QB run game, which allows them to pin their ears back and dial up the pressure.

But, a QB change does not seem likely. Taggart believes the problem lies with the front, not the QB, as evidenced by his answers to questions regarding a possible change at the position.

“I’m focused on the team now. No I’m not considering that,” Taggart said. “I think I know what I’m doing, I’ve had success doing it before. I’m focused on the entire team. I know exactly what’s going on with our football team right now.”

So you want me to put someone else in there to get hit like that? No, because Deondre wasn’t the problem,” Taggart said. “If Deondre was a problem, if I thought he was the problem, I would’ve made a change. Deondre is not the problem right now. So no, I didn’t think about changing.”

“I just want us to protect a lot better, and if we protect a lot better I think we’ll see [Francois] do the things that he’s capable of doing,” Taggart said. “But he can’t do it when he’s on his back and he’s got pressure like he had all night.”

To be frank, the situation looks bleak. But, with an honest assessment of how the team found itself in a position so dire, we can begin to discuss where Florida State can go from here.