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Florida State football: 2021 offensive line spring preview

Can one of the nation’s most improved units continue its upward trajectory?

Florida State v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In 2020 the offensive line was a unit that in my opinion took an unnecessary beating from fans and media alike when something would go wrong during a game. Sacks are not just an offensive line stat and runs stuffed are not just an offensive line. Pocket movement, vision or lack thereof can greatly influence the perception of how an offensive line is performing. Rebuilding a good starting offensive line along with competent depth takes multiple years of recruiting and good coaching.

FSU’s 2020 offensive line was average and sometimes good when it was fully healthy; when it didn’t have its starters it was a decidedly below-average unit which is actually a step up from 2019 & 2018 units. FSU’s 2020 offensive line across the board was a top-25 run-blocking unit. Ranking 17th in Line Yards, 23rd in standard down line yards, 11th in passing down line yards, 8th in opportunity rate, and 47th in power success rate. The weakness of FSU’s line and its depth was clear in pass protection where they ranked 112th in sack rate, 117th in standard downs sack rate, and 79th in passing downs sack rate.

A standard down is a down in which the offense is on schedule to gain another first down upon completion of the down (1st & 10, 2nd & 7 or fewer, 3rd & 4 or fewer). In laymen’s terms its FSU’s ability to stay ahead of the chains. Obviously a passing down would be vice versa of the aforementioned definition.

FSU is bringing back its entire offensive line and with that its first chance at a real spring under Coach Atkins. Florida State is hoping that its pass blocking prowess can catch up to its run blocking aptitude and hopefully create an above-average or possibly even good (gasp) offensive line.

Let’s look at the group.

2021 Florida State Seminoles Offensive Line

Tomahawk Nation Projected Starters

Going from left to right I’ll start at left tackle with Devontay Love-Taylor. The grad transfer from FIU was very good for FSU before his season ended against Pittsburgh with a knee injury. Normally this would exhaust his eligibility but with the NCAA grating everyone an extra year because of the pandemic DLT is back for one last ride with FSU. At 6’4 308lbs he does not have ideal measurables for the position but his foot quickness, technique, and physicality are why he will enter 2021 ready to start his 24th game at offensive tackle. Assuming one of the young players doesn’t emerge to unseat him he will be FSU’s left tackle in 2021. If someone does develop well enough to beat him out he will kick inside to start at either one of FSU’s guard positions. Either way, DLT is starting.

Next up left guard is Dontae Lucas. Lucas will be entering his third year at FSU with a lot of football under his belt. 19 games and 14 starts worth. He’s a very talented player that needs to mature on and off the field to his potential. So far in his first two seasons as a Seminole that hasn’t happened. Suspensions and immaturity have kept him from realizing that potential but internal reports have indicated that ‘The Pope’ is ready to do what it takes to take full advantage of the opportunity before him. He is still one of FSU’s most talented offensive lineman and an absolute mauler once he gets locked onto a defender.

At center, we have Maurice Smith. The redshirt-freshman soon to be sophomore was impressive in his first full season after slight action in 2019. He was named to Rivals Freshman All-American team and it stands to reason that he’s only going to get better in his second year under Atkins. He’s reminiscent of those old BC centers that were all about athleticism and leverage. The Miami Central native has a very good FSU career ahead of him as long as he manages to stay healthy. Frankly, I’d be shocked if someone manages to beat him out.

At right guard is FSU’s only returning player from the class of 2016, redshirt super senior Baveon Johnson. Johnson hasn’t quite lived up to his billing as a borderline five-star recruit but has been very consistent for FSU the last two seasons and is the only player to start all nine games last season. Now that he’s moved from center to guard his play has improved, he’s maintained his weight better and has been a very positive influence on the rest of FSU’s young core of offensive lineman. With Baveon, you know what you’re going to get and you know what you’re going to not get.

Last but certainly not least is Robert Scott at right tackle. He might be the most promising offensive lineman that FSU has had in a long time. Devontay Love-Taylor initially started at right tackle but Scott was too good to keep off the field which allowed DLT to move to left tackle. As a true freshman, he earned all sorts of accolades; 247Sports Freshman All-American; an All-ACC Academic member for Scott it was an exceptional first year. At 6’5 305lbs the Arkansas native has ideal length and bulk for the position. His athleticism, his effort, his demeanor: he’ll be the stalwart of FSU’s offensive line for the next two to three years.

Returning Players

I’ll start with the backup that received the most extensive playing time last year and that’s a former starter from 2019 in offensive tackle Darius Washington. He took over for DLT after his season-ending knee injury and was solid in relief. A former four-star recruit that has played well when called upon but still has to adjust to the rigors of the collegiate game. If he can stay healthy he could potentially become one of FSU’s best five offensive lineman this offseason. A name to keep an eye on.

Next up is Thomas Shrader. The true freshman had a very good camp and started pushing for playing time vs. Dontae Lucas eventually starting against NC State. Four appearances and he didn’t look overwhelmed vs. the better defensive lines on the schedule like Miami and Pittsburgh. Shrader will make sure the guys ahead of him keep working because if they don’t he’ll be taking their snaps.

Senior Brady Scott is in his final year of eligibility. He can step in for a moment and be somewhat serviceable at multiple positions. He’s started in prior years but has subsequently been outplayed by more talented, younger players. If he has extended playing time this spring and fall it’ll be because better players are unavailable.

Redshirt freshman Ira Henry appeared in eight games mostly on special teams. He’s an athletic interior lineman that needs to improve upon his physicality to see extended playing time. Although access is limited changes from the weight room will be a good indicator if he’s been taking his offseason seriously.

Zane Herring, the Madison Cowboy missed all of 2020 with an injury. Not quite athletic enough to be an offensive tackle but a big 6’5 312lb frame will do wonders for him inside. He’s extremely nasty but does it well within the whistle. I’m looking forward to seeing him healthy this spring.

Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Lloyd Willis made his FSU debut in the final game of the season vs. Duke. 6’7 310lbs his frame is exactly what Atkins is looking for at the position and inside reports suggest the coaches like him. He wasn’t able to early enroll like he planned but the Miami native could make some noise this spring.

Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Chaz Neal is up next. He was very raw coming out of High School and hasn’t shown the ability to play at this level yet. On his most notable play, he came in for a play and subsequently gave up a strip-sack fumble. He has decent size and length at 6’7 296lbs but so far just isn’t up to this level of football. If he’s playing in non-garbage time then something likely has gone wrong.

The last returning player to preview is redshirt sophomore Jalen Goss. He sees time exclusively on special teams as a Jumbo-TE in power packages. Physical, long, and athletic so why isn’t Goss playing? After three years in a college weight program he’s 267lbs; two pounds higher than his listed weight in HS. He has to get serious about adding weight and time is running out.

Early enrollees

There’s only one early enrollee at the offensive line position and that is Bryson Estes. The McDonough, Georgia native looks like he’s ready to contribute day one physically:

Most HS offensive linemen, even the ones that go D1, tend to have baby fat and a degree of sloppiness to one’s physique that just can’t be helped once you start pushing 300lbs. He’s still baby-faced but Estes looks like he’s already spent some time in a college weightlifting program.

Overall Thoughts

This is the first time in a long time that FSU has had the same offensive line coach and same offensive philosophy for consecutive years since Rick Trickett left FSU in 2017.

Darius Washington, Brady Scott, and Thomas Shrader at the moment represent functional depth, and the development of Lloyd Willis, Ira Henry & Zane Herring could lead to a full two-depth of players that have spent multiple off-seasons in a college strength program. Functional strength and depth has been the biggest issues for FSU’s offensive line and it looks like Florida State is finally taking the steps to address both issues.

Stay tuned to Tomahawk Nation all week long as we preview each position unit before the start of Spring Practice on Mar. 9.