As we approach the start of the 2021 football season, Tomahawk Nation is breaking down each position group on the Florida State Seminoles football team. Next up, the offensive line.
2020 felt like a step in the right direction for the FSU offensive line segment. There was evidence of improvement across the board but still a long ways to go. It does not take a football savant to know that this group must continue to improve if they want to win games. This is a position group that continues to take a beating by FSU fans and media, however, we are going to discuss why that is going to change this year.
First, let’s discuss the leader of this group. OL coach Alex Atkins has been a true gem brought to FSU by Mike Norvell. Alex has infused life and hope into this position group. Atkins work on the field is equal to his work on the recruiting trail. Atkins has connected well with the players in his segment, communication and accountability have become a strength, and he has helped Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham hide the weaknesses of the group. Atkins is thought of as a rising star in the industry, and he will need to continue to prove he’s worthy of that praise. This is a coach about the work and not about the words so I expect another step forward for his group.
Going into the 2021 season the FSU offensive line has to become more balanced. Bill Connelly put out a tweet in May about the FSU offense:
Norvell can certainly take comfort in knowing that PART of the FSU offense clicked into place nicely last year. The other part's kind of important, though. pic.twitter.com/MNIqPzhZRu— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) May 7, 2021
You see that the passing game for FSU abysmal last year which impacted their explosiveness and efficiency. However, they were very good at running the ball. One reason for their rushing success was improved play along the OL and the other was Jordan Travis’ ability. If the FSU offense is going to take a step forward, the OL must get better on standard and predictable passing downs. This is a group that has not been strong in these situations and I’m sure this will be a major focus this summer.
The 2021 Offensive Line
FSU returns a majority of the starts on the OL next year. Lets take a look at the names.
Left tackle: Devontay Love-Taylor, Darius Washington, Lloyd Willis
Love-Taylor played a three positions last year on the OL but settled in at LT before suffering a season-ending injury on November 7th. The exact injury was undisclosed but obviously it was serious enough to end his year. Whether he is ready to go for fall camp is still to be determined, but it’s likely he’ll be available for the Notre Dame game.
Darius Washington entered the 2020 season as the starter at LT, but it was noticeable how physically unprepared he was after missing the pre-season because of a shoulder surgery. Finally, Washington has been able to maximize the 2021 offseason and prep his body for the grind. What will this do for his confidence and game? Washington is a player to watch.
Lloyd Willis is a project from the 2020 class but one that is highly thought of within the program. Willis may not be a player ready for the 2021 season, but there are some who think he will be a player once he learns the position. Just a player to keep an eye on for now.
Left guard: Dillan Gibbons, DLT, Dontae Lucas
Dillan Gibbons transferred to FSU from Notre Dame. A player with less than a handful of starts but plenty of experience, Gibbons, could play all five spots along the OL. I am going to project him, very early, as a left guard. Potentially pairing DLT and Gibbons would provide a level of experience that most schools would be envious of. Gibbons raises the floor of the OL group.
DLT could slid to guard, his more natural position, if beaten out by Washington at LT.
Dontae Lucas has been a lightning rod of sorts during his time. Best known for silly personal foul penalties in crunch time, Lucas is another player with much untapped potential. But he’s also another guy who coming off a major injury in 2019 that was not afforded the opportunity to prepare for the 2020 season. What can an offseason in the weight room do for a player like Lucas? I think it could mean quite a bit, but he has got to show the focus in game.
Center: Maurice Smith, Baveon Johnson, Bryson Estes
Maurice Smith is the returner at the center position and the favorite to start there. A player who was a bright spot in 2020 should continue to shine in 2021. Smith might be better served at guard, but he is a very talented center prospect and another offensive linemen who will benefit from an actual offseason with the training staff.
Baveon Johnson has been a starter at center though he was at right guard last season. Johnson is a veteran player who understands the system and the speed of the game. I believe Johnson is more of a backup player at the center position, but he is still very valuable to this group.
Bryson Estes is a rare freshman who comes in physically ready (weight room wise) to play. He needs to build on a solid spring and show that he can be an asset this season. What does that look like? Ability to snap consistently, get the offense in the right protection, and hold up in the run game. You don’t want to rely on a true freshman, but Estes is a name to remember.
Right guard: Johnson, Brady Scott, Thomas Shrader, Zane Herring
See above for Baveon Johnson.
Brady Scott is one of the few remaining from the Jimbo Fisher days. A veteran voice and hard-worker who has lined up at just about every position up front, Scott is more of a depth piece at this point but brings plenty of value.
Thomas Shrader was praised for his work at center in the spring. Then he was injured and it’s unknown what his status is for the 2021 season. I believe he is a guard long-term and hope that he is available this season. Shrader would be amongst FSU’s top 8 OL if healthy.
Zane Herring missed the 2020 season due to an injury in the summer. We will see where he is at physically for the 2021 season. Herring is a name to remember.
Right tackle: Robert Scott, Jalen Goss, Rod Orr
Robert Scott was a freshman All-American last year yet could be a player pushed aside if things fall the right way. I am going to project Scott as the starter at RT though as it makes the most sense for a program still in the rebuild phase. Scott is a good prospect with plenty of ceiling yet to be reached.
Jalen Goss has been in the program for awhile now and a player whose weight has been talked about more than his play. This offseason it appears he has transformed his body into one of a D-1 football player. Now, he needs to show that he can be a viable option at the tackle position. Doing so would be a big boost to the depth chart.
Rod Orr is a true freshman with loads of talent. Not a player thought to be ready to contribute this year, but, for a team looking to rebuild, it might make some sense to get him a few game reps. Orr has the looks of a tackle you can build your OL around. Pay close attention to Orr this summer in camp and see if his name gets much mention.
Projected Offensive Line
LT: Devontay Love-Taylor
LG: Dontae Lucas
C: Maurice Smith
RG: Dillon Gibbons
RT: Robert Scott
I know, I know, coach you listed you Gibbons and DLT above Lucas at LG above. When push comes to shove, I think this is going to be about comfort. Lining Lucas and DLT up next to each other provides an experienced player of DLT with Lucas. The same thought applies with Gibbons sliding over to RG once the season begins and playing over Johnson and others. Gibbons will be there to communicate and help out Scott. This OL could go any number of ways in reality. My projected starting five will likely change between now and August 7th.