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Silversmith’s Mailbag: Answering your questions from a hectic FSU week

Giving my two cents on the offensive line, QB outlook next year, and what I think Saturday night will look like

Syndication: Tallahassee Democrat Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK

This season's most breathtaking week in FSU football worked out perfectly for our first mailbag.

Thanks to everyone for all the questions this week. I tried to get to most of them, but hopefully, we will do more of these in the future if they are not answered.

With that being said, let’s dive in!

How can the FSU football team build trust in Tate with just six days until a night game in the swamp, and what challenges might receiver Keon Coleman face in trusting a relatively unfamiliar quarterback like Tate? -Kaiden

As FSU media would love to call it, this is a “multi-layered question.”

The Seminoles may see a lot of problems without JT under center Saturday, but one of those will not be building/ believing in Tate. Rodemaker was part of Mike Norvell’s first recruiting class in Tallahassee and a mainstay in the roster. He brought them back on the road against Louisville last year and looked proficient every time he stepped on the field this year. Regarding game planning, Alex Atkins did an excellent job in his press conference breaking down how the offense changes, with the Georgia product being the man this week.

“Not much difference, I mean, like we said, he knows the system, he understands it. We’ll tweak some things that kind of go to his skillset...I don’t think anything goes different as far as planning, but he gets the phone call, of What do you like?”

Long story short, building trust will not be an issue. The team is too senior-heavy and deep into the season for players not to believe in the guy under center. For the second part of the question, every quarterback on this team has thrown countless balls to these receivers. Mike Norvell does a great job in practice mixing up the 1s and the 2s together, so I think Keon and Johnny will be prepared when seeing a different ball coming out of the QB's hand. The other X-factor with receiver trust is that Jaheim Bell and Tate Rodemaker played together since middle school, the transfer tight end said yesterday.

The one issue coming with a new quarterback could be a cadence issue. On the road, with possibly a new center snapping the ball (depending on the status of Maurice Smith), I worry about snap infractions and checks with an unfamiliar voice in an unfamiliar setting. That’s not to say FSU will not be practicing with crowd noise all week because they will be. But that will be where my eyes are at the beginning of the game to see how seamless the transition has been.

Can you detail why our O-line is worse than it was last year? I thought we brought in a lot of new talent. We couldn’t have had THAT many injuries, could we?

The offensive line performance last week was not up to par, which explains the many questions on this topic this week. I found that there are two reasons to explain the offensive line struggles. When I say struggles, I mean inconsistencies; the group was nominated as a Joe Moore semifinalist this week for best offensive line unit in the country.

The first problem with this unit has been continuity.

Last year, these players had been in the system for a year at least already. Robert Scott Jr. entered his third year along the offensive line, coming off of a year starting 11 games in 2021. To his right, Dillon Gibbons made his mark in year one as a leader on the team and commanded the offensive line. Maurice Smith became the mainstay at center, and D’Mitri Emaneual had Charlotte ties with Alex Atkins.

This year has been a different story.

Take last week, for example; the Seminoles started three first-year transfers, and Darius Washington has not consistently played one position the entire season. Robert Scott has been in and out of the lineup, and the left tackle position feels like a revolving door from week to week. Casey Roddick and Jeremiah Byers are the only players on the roster besides Jordan Travis, whose snap totals are over 600. However, they took their licks throughout the year, and Alex Atkins mentioned last week that they are still learning each other. On the other hand, Alex Atkins loves to rotate the different positions, and the team talks highly of the 8-man rotation it has. It helps keep the offensive players healthy and provides valuable information to the sideline. But it causes problems getting everyone on the same page and developing that unit’s chemistry. Pick your poison.

The other reason I find some of the inconsistencies has been the playcalling. This offensive line feels more powerful and hit you in the mouth than quick and athletic. Their most successful run play in the last few weeks has been the inside zone instead of counter. Mike Norvell and the staff are ironclad in their desire to run counter, but the running play takes too long. The tackle and guard rarely seem fleet of foot to get all the way over before the defensive end crashes down. My theory proves true when looking at pass-blocking sets because, by and large, it has been a strength for them the whole season. However, when breaking down the offensive line issues, these are the issues I found most concerning.

What kind of future can we expect from our offense, given the current significant injury setbacks?

When discussing the future, let’s look at these next two games. As I mentioned, the offense should still look the same, and the play calls will be similar. I would expect these next two games to see a ton of blitzing from UF and Louisville, but that means more 1-on-1s with Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson on the outside. With this in mind, I could also see FSU throwing more passes outside the numbers instead of the middle of the field. Since the Clemson game, where it felt like every pass was a jump ball, Travis and the offense focused more on the tight ends and the screen game. Tate certainly possesses the arm strength to make the difficult throws, and if teams dare him to put the ball out there, I think he will trust his receivers. The one injury issue that I mentioned earlier lies in the offensive line. Alex Atkins this week said Robert Scott was available but “wanted to give him more time to rest up,” which resulted in his lack of playing time. The same can be said for Maurice Smith, who got banged up and is the unsung hero for this offense. Darius Washington proved during the year he is more than capable under center, but down multiple pieces against a “massive defensive front,” as Mike Norvell said, will be a challenge.

What are the keys to the game for leaving Gainesville with a victory?

For both teams, the ways to win will be similar. Each team has to run the ball on the offensive side to win this game. Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne are as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the country. Florida attempted an average of 41 rushing plays in their last two weeks. With a young quarterback under center and an FSU run defense that has tackling trouble, look for more of the same. On the flip side, the same can be said for Florida State. They will want to take the Gator crowd out of the game early, and the best way to do that is to take the air out of the ball. If Florida State can wear down a Florida defense that has been giving up tons of points recently, the pendulum swings back in their favor.

Furthermore, the loss of Travis, I feel, takes away the Seminoles mulligan. Tate can execute the game plan, but I do not think he can carry the load alone. Every player will carry an extra burden without JT, and Florida State needs to run the football efficiently to take the pressure off of Tate.

The other factor for both teams will be putting heat on the opposing quarterbacks. When FSU faced a young signal-caller against Miami, the adjustment was to bring the house, and it proved dividends for them. The Seminoles forced the ball out quickly before receivers could get open and stalled the Miami offense. I would predict more of the same on Saturday. Max Brown ran the ball effectively last week, and I expect FSU to load up against the run anyway. Will Brown have enough time to get the ball to his two exceptional pass catchers, Ricky Pearsall and Trey Wilson III, or can the pass rush cause quick decisions?

On the flip side, Florida will look reasonably similar. One of Tate’s weaknesses has been slow decision-making, and if Austin Armstrong can speed up his clock, there may be mistakes. Of course, if the offensive line holds up, I would trust myself to throw the ball up to Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson 1 on 1.

With JT going down, Tate is our man going forward. But as we get into the offseason and prepare for 2024, how do you see the QB situation playing out? Any add-ons from the portal? Any departures? Is it Tate’s job to lose, or is it open?

Similar question about the OL. How do you see us addressing our needs? Develop what we have or shop for another 2-3 OLman in the portal? -Gofernole

I will tackle both of these questions together, but a disclaimer: I have not heard anything about what FSU will do, and this is strictly my opinion.

Before the injury, I felt Florida State would go into the portal. Tate, Brock, and AJ produced flashes in practice throughout the year and even during limited game action. After a season that most likely produced an undefeated ACC champ that reached the playoff and a top 5 recruiting class, the program could not afford to be a 9-3 team next year and take a step back. I thought FSU would capitalize on its momentum, take a player out of the portal, and try to bridge a year before Brock or Luke were ready to be handed the keys to the car.

Now, everything changed.

If Tate produces these next two weeks and FSU wins these games, he has to be the head man next year. He would have handled unimaginable circumstances, leading his team down double digits, gone on the road to beat a UF team at night in the swamp, and won an ACC championship. FSU will not be able to win these two games without a couple of explosive plays in the passing game and Tate making the throws. Not only are these next two weeks massive for this season, but I assume it will also be an audition for next season.

The offensive line paints a different picture. There will be changes up front. D’Mitri Emmanuel, Jeremiah Byers, and Casey Roddick will exhaust their eligibility and move on after the season. Furthermore, Florida State’s two young tackles, Jaylen Early and Julian Armella, have been subtly called out by the coaching staff at times this year while also receiving their flowers. Their inconsistencies have been displayed during practice and in their sparse game action, but their progression over the season can be felt. The question, of course, is, does the coaching staff trust them to be full-time starters next season?

With this in mind, I assume FSU will take multiple transfers along the offensive line. First off, they love the 8-man rotation that they boast this year. Alex Atkins talks about how he can quickly receive information and how it wears down opponents as games go on. As I mentioned earlier, the other factor is that the program took such a leap this year that the expectations will be too high for a downturn next season. Offensive line injuries are bound to occur along the front, and I think Mike Norvell wants to keep a young guy from gaining his experience through trial by fire if it happens. Florida State wants to make this unit a position of depth with how they recruit it, and I think they will continue that mindset by taking multiple transfers.