- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The lure for Menelik Watson to return for his senior season was the potential of Florida State's offensive line. Had he played for the Seminoles again in 2013, all five starters from a solid unit would've been back, and Watson figured they could have been something special.
"They still are going to be one of the best in the country, but the camaraderie us five had was good," Watson said. "That was really the hardest thing for me."
The unit entered the 2012 season with just 16 combined starts -- 14 of which belonged to center Bryan Stork -- but quickly jelled.
The question now is whether that same camaraderie -- and more significantly, that same potential -- can exist without Watson.
The numbers suggest Watson was integral to the line's success a year ago. Watson missed two-and-a-half games in the 2012 season, and in those 10 quarters FSU allowed 10 sacks. In the 11-plus games he played, the Seminoles allowed just 16.
Part of those struggles without Watson could be pinned on Daniel Glauser, another juco transfer who stepped in as the primary backup at right tackle throughout most of 2012, but that also underscores just how far Bobby Hart had fallen.
Two years ago, Hart started nine games as a true freshman. By spring of last year, he'd lost his starting job. By the time the 2012 season started, Hart was a third-string option at tackle and spent most practices working at guard. Now he is FSU's best hope to replace Watson -- not that Jimbo Fisher is conceding the job.
"You've got quite a few guys," Fisher said. "Bobby Hart has had a good offseason. Stork can do what he does. There's different guys we can put in there."
Stork spent last season at center, but he could slide to tackle this year with Austin Barron moving into his vacated position in the middle. Fisher said Ruben Carter has had a strong offseason as well. Regardless of whether Barron or Hart gets the starting job, this year's line will enter the season with at least 75 career starts worth of experience.
Still, Hart makes the most sense as the starter -- both in the short term and the long term. He's easily the most talented of the group, and his presence would maintain stability elsewhere. The only question, Watson said, is whether Hart is ready to fully buy in.
"I think he's ready," Watson said. "I spoke to him before I left and I actually spoke to him [last week]. He's working his tail off, and he's trying to get right. Essentially, he's got to prove it to Coach [Rick] Trickett and the rest of the offensive line. The offensive line needs to know they can go out there and trust him. The five we had last year, we all trusted each other. If he can earn that trust and give everything 100 percent, give his whole body and mind to the system and what Coach Trickett is trying to do, I think he's going to be fine."
6dDavid M. Hale
6dDavid M. Hale