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2016 Spring Preview: Offensive Line

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* = early enrollee Bold indicates a player with starting experience

UPDATE: On National Signing Day, Florida State secured the commitments of two more offensive linemen. Five-star offensive tackle Landon Dickerson (#TBA) is versatile enough to play either tackle or guard in college and four-star offensive tackle Jauan Williams (#TBA) will compete for backup reps at right tackle this fall. It is likely that both will redshirt in their first year on campus baring injuries to the position group.

One of the best ways to track the experience that an offensive line returns between seasons is to look at the number of starts that the line returns. In 2014, Florida State entered the season with five senior starters and 113 starts between them. Behind Jameis Winston at quarterback, it was easily the most hyped position group heading into 2014. After some shuffling and seniors departing for the NFL, Florida State entered 2015 with only one returning starter along the offensive line.

The number of starts that Florida State entered 2015 with? Nine.

Those nine starts came from Roderick Johnson (#77), who took over at left tackle when Cam Erving made the move to center, and Ryan Hoefeld (#59) at center for a four game stretch. Johnson’s move to left tackle ensured that the Seminoles would enter 2015 with a proven starter at the most important position along the offensive line. But while Johnson and Hoefeld had starting experience, expectations for Florida State’s offensive line in 2015 were very low.

In their home opener versus Texas State, the offensive line consisted of Johnson, a junior college transfer, a redshirt sophomore and two redshirt freshmen. Throughout the course of 2015, only two players remained starters for all 13 games: Johnson and right guard Wilson Bell (#78). Left guard, center and right tackle were each rotating doors due to injuries and inconsistent play.

However, there is a bright side to this. Despite sloppy play and growing pains from the offensive line in 2015, every player is expected to return in 2016.

The result? Florida State now enters 2016 with 73 returning starts, compared to the nine they had in 2015.

Roderick Johnson is still the superstar along the offensive line heading into next season. The junior left tackle has started 18 games in his career and has been one of the most consistent players on the line. He has NFL-ready size at 6-7, 323 lbs. and is widely expected to make the jump to the pros at the conclusion of his junior season. Johnson has been mentioned as a possible Top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and has a great shot to be the second offensive tackle off the board after Alabama’s Cam Robinson.

Kareem Are (#72) came to FSU as a part of the 2014 recruiting class as a junior college transfer, but redshirted in his first year on campus. He started at left guard to begin the year, but injuries caused him to miss five games in the middle of the season. He returned to start the final four games of the season, but his presence was missed both in run and pass blocking. Are was talked about as a possible early entry into the NFL Draft, but injuries derailed any opportunity he had. At 6-6, 334 lbs., Are has great size and him and Johnson form a terrifying duo on the left side of the line.

Unlike left tackle and left guard, center was anything but stable throughout 2015. Then-redshirt freshman Corey Martinez (#57) started the year at center, but his play left much to be desired. Much like most freshman offensive linemen, it was obvious that Martinez needed more development before starting again and he was benched after the third game of the season. The next man up was Ryan Hoefeld, who had started four games in 2014 as a redshirt freshman. But, again, it was clear to Rick Trickett and the coaching staff that Hoefeld not the man for the job and he was benched following their loss at Georgia Tech. Hoefeld, while experienced, had major problems handing opposing defensive linemen and was beat on a consistent basis.

That left the door open for Alec Eberle (#54) to take the job. A four-star prospect out of high school and an Under Armour All-American, Eberle took over and provided some force and intensity at the position that neither Martinez nor Hoefeld brought. He started the final six games of the season and is likely considered the starter at center heading into 2016.

Wilson Bell started all 13 games at right guard in 2015, but could have some competition this offseason. Cole Minshew (#70) entered last season with a lot of hype and often took snaps with the first-team offensive line in practice. However, a concussion and ankle injuries sidelined him and he redshirted in his first year on campus. Assuming he’s healthy, Minshew is certainly a contender at the right guard position and has impressive size at 6-5, 340 lbs.

Finally, right tackle was the position in 2015 that saw the most rotation due to injuries and inconsistent play. Florida State signed Chad Mavety (#55) from junior college to play right tackle, but he redshirted in 2014 and entered fall camp overweight and out of shape. As such, Florida State was left with two then-redshirt freshmen competing for the right tackle job: Brock Ruble (#71) and Derrick Kelly (#74).

Ruble started the first three games of the season, but inconsistent play opened the door for Kelly to start. Kelly provided some good play at right tackle for the next four games, but suffered an injury during the loss to Georgia Tech that caused Ruble to step back in. After a poor performance by Ruble against Clemson, Chad Mavety finally started at right tackle for the first time in his Florida State career. But, as fate would have it, injuries prevented Mavety from playing in the bowl game versus Houston and Ruble started the final game of the season at right tackle.

Ideally, Florida State would love to have Chad Mavety start at right tackle in 2016. He’s perhaps the best option they have at right tackle heading into next season, but injuries have held him back throughout his two years on campus. Provided that he shows up to fall camp in shape this year, it is likely Mavety will be the starter at right tackle. Brock Ruble and Derrick Kelly are terrific backups, even more so now that they have starting experience, but 2015 made it clear that neither is physically ready to play the position. Ruble, at 6-8, 305 lbs., needs at least another year or two in the weight room to grow into his body. However, they each have three more years on campus, so there’s still hope that they can grow into great players in the long term.

Apart from Cole Minshew, Florida State also had other talented offensive linemen redshirt in their true freshman season. The highlight of the offensive line class from 2015 was Abdul Bello (#75), who redshirted due to injuries. A four-star tackle prospect and former boxer, Bello has the size to play left tackle at 6-6, 307 lbs. and will compete for the backup job at either tackle job this offseason. David Robbins (#52) was a four-star prospect out of high school and will compete for the backup job at either guard spot this offseason.

One player from the 2015 recruiting class that did not redshirt was Ethan Frith (#62). He played in three games in 2015 at left tackle and was the primary backup to Roderick Johnson throughout the season. Frith will likely open the season as Johnson’s primary backup again next season and it will be interesting to see if his experience grants him the upper hand in a possible left tackle-competition in 2017.

Florida State currently has four offensive line commits for the class of 2016, one of which is currently enrolled. Andrew Boselli (#TBA), the son of former Jaguars star Tony Boselli, is enrolled and will compete in spring practice. A three-star out of high school, he is projected to play either guard or center for FSU. Baveon Johnson (#TBA) is the No. 1 ranked center in the 2016 class and is solidly committed to Florida State. Johnson will enroll this summer and will compete for playing time at center right away. If Eberle or Hoefeld struggle at all during fall camp, don’t be surprised to see Johnson get some snaps.  Josh Ball (#TBA) is a four-star offensive tackle prospect from Virginia who is also solid to Florida State. He will also enroll in summer and it is likely that he will redshirt in his first year on campus baring injuries to the position. Finally, offensive tackle Mike Arnold (#TBA) is the No. 1 ranked prep-school recruit and will also likely redshirt in his first year in Tallahassee. Florida State will look to sign 2-3 more offensive linemen before National Signing Day next week.

After a rough 2015 season, the future looks bright along the offensive line. Nine players on the roster have starting experience and the rest of the roster is littered with blue-chip talent. With a competition at quarterback, expect the competition along the offensive line to be equally fierce as player compete to start on a Florida State squad that has high expectations for 2016.

Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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