TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State’s presumptive starter at center Baveon Johnson is a good quote, but a better interview, because if he disagrees with the crux of a question he won’t just play along with the person asking. He’s been that way since I interviewed him in high school. I had the chance to chat with him after the Florida State spring game.
Johnson is well aware of the poor performance of the line, which was arguably the worst in the Power 5 in 2018. He believes it has a lot to prove, and is eager to prove it with his teammates. He is also in noticeably better shape.
But how are he and his linemates going about getting better? Readers want specifics, not tired tropes about working harder. They want reasons to believe this line could improve from a disaster to bad, or perhaps even to below average. Johnson gave some specifics on points of emphasis from new offensive line coach Randy Clements.
Johnson has struggled with snaps in the past. In the spring game, they were improved. While they were not always chest height, they were consistently in a catchable area, with none bouncing to or sailing over the head of QB James Blackman.
Johnson said that Clements has not taught a new snapping technique. But he has discussed focus, patience, and priorities with Johnson.
“As a center, you have to think but you can’t worry,” Johnson said. “I worried a lot, ‘oh let me get this block, let me go all out on this block’ and not focusing on the snap. I was more focused on the block than the snap. That was one thing the center cannot do. You have to start the play before you can block.”
Johnson said that some of the footwork for the center position is different with coach Clements, and he has found it easy to pick up.
Florida State’s teamwork on double teams in 2018 was poor. And that’s an area that can be improved with coaching, rather than a talent infusion.
This is another area of obvious change from 2018 to 2019, based on watching the spring game. Florida State’s linemen were using better technique with their double teams, and were staying on them a lot longer. The latter has its benefits and potential costs, but Johnson explained why this has been a major point of emphasis from Randy Clements.
“Because we understand that in this tempo offense, we have a lot of play action. The linebackers, they’re going to come to you eventually. If we stay on that double team a little bit longer, they’re going to come right to us, so yes, that is a key point we are trying to improve on.”
Clements has the line prioritizing the double team first before grabbing the linebacker. So much so that they aren’t issuing demerits for not grabbing the linebacker on some plays. At least not yet.
“Staying on them, run run run, if you get the linebacker you get the linebacker, but if you don’t, that’s still three yards, you feel me,” Johnson said.
Eventually, I assume they will be asked to get the linebacker, but it is clear from Johnson’s words and watching the spring game that a point of emphasis has been to secure the double team before going after the linebacker. Leaving to grab the linebacker before the down lineman has been secured and overtaken can lead to issues, as seen in 2018.
Effort, expectations, and confidence
Clements does not have a lot of talent to work with, especially at tackle. So he has come in and tried to establish things upon which he can build, both with technique and confidence — two elements the 2018 group lacked. FSU did not get a talent infusion in recruiting following a 5-7 season, so Clements will need to work his magic with the existing players.
“He is teaching different stuff than [former offensive line coaches Greg and Rick, respectively] Frey and Trickett. But he understood that the technique would not be there right off the bat. He understood that as long as we were playing with full effort, we were good ... at first. But now, if that technique is bad, you’re bad.”
Following the game, Clements spoke with the offensive line.
Johnson said that after the game, Clements didn’t say he needs more effort from the group, but rather “better effort,” which Johnson believes is an important distinction.