Florida State Seminoles: austin barron

Jameis Winston gets the bulk of the publicity (both good and bad) on Florida State’s offense for good reason, but as the Seminoles look ahead to 2014, it’s perhaps the offensive line that offers the biggest cause for optimism on that side of the ball.

While center Bryan Stork has moved on to the NFL, Florida State still projects to have five senior starters on the offensive line, all with prior starting experience. In fact, the depth chart on the line includes 114 career starts, led by Josue Matias' 29. Matias, Tre' Jackson and Cameron Erving have been fixtures for the past two seasons (during which FSU is 26-2 and has averaged 7.3 yards per play), while Bobby Hart started in both 2011 and 2013 and Austin Barron has seen consistent work behind Stork.

In fact, from 2010 through last season, only 13 teams (and just seven in a Power 5 conference) have returned more career starts on the offensive line than Florida State will this year.

So that’s reason to be optimistic, right?

Thanks to Phil Steele’s helpful accounting of returning starts on the offensive line over the years, we dug a little deeper into what exactly that experience has meant.

Since 2010, there have been 42 teams that returned at least 100 career starts on their offensive lines. The conventional wisdom would suggest all that experience would pay dividends, particularly in the running game, but in the aggregate, the numbers don’t tend to agree.

Of those 42 teams, 22 increased their yards per carry from the previous season, 19 saw decreased yards per carry and one (BYU in 2011) broke even. Overall, the teams with 100 career starts worth of experience on the line saw an average increase of just 0.07 yards per carry. In other words, it was roughly a 50/50 proposition on whether all that experience corresponded with an improved rushing offense.

Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s possible that Florida State’s circumstances are more nuanced. In fact, if we look only at teams that play in Power 5 conferences, the numbers change quite a bit.


Of the 42 teams we just looked at, 22 play in power conferences. Of those 22, a far more noteworthy 16 saw improved yards per carry, with that subset increasing its YPC by an average of 0.30 (a roughly 7 percent increase) and upping its national ranking by nearly seven spots.

What’s more, the six teams in that subset that failed to see an improvement in YPC also share some common concerns. In five cases, there was a change at quarterback. The lone exception was last year’s Georgia squad, which suffered a remarkable rash of injuries, including to its two star running backs, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.

There’s also the case of Florida State’s 2011 squad. That team returned 115 career starts on its line (one more than this year’s unit) but turned out to be absolutely abysmal in the trenches. The 2011 Seminoles rushed for just 3.34 yards per carry -- a decline of 1.45 YPC from the previous year. A combination of injuries and inconsistency on the line, at quarterback and at tailback all played a role. It’s a reminder that experience is great, but it also has to be quality experience for healthy players if it’s to matter at all.

Of course, Florida State’s line has been remarkably healthy the past two years, and there’s a good chance that at least four of the current starters will be selected by NFL teams in next spring’s draft, so there’s every reason to believe the Seminoles will be among the best rushing teams in the country yet again in 2014.

The running game is only part of the equation, however. While the ground attack has been consistently excellent during the past two years behind Erving, Jackson and Matias, the pass protection has been a bit more of a concern.


During the past two seasons (2013 with Winston at QB, 2012 with EJ Manuel), Florida State allowed a sack every 15.75 drop-backs (i.e., attempts plus sacks) -- good for 79th nationally. Manuel was widely criticized by FSU fans for his methodical approach that often led to some drive-killing sacks at crucial times (see Virginia in 2011, NC State in 2012), but that 2012 team actually averaged nearly three more drop-backs per sack than last year’s squad.

Part of that blame certainly falls to Winston, who often looked a bit too long for the big plays to open up downfield and took a sack as a result. (Note: While Manuel and Winston’s sack numbers look similar, it’s to Winston’s credit that he also averaged nearly two more yards per attempt than Manuel.) But some of the onus falls on the offensive line, too, and the Seminoles should hope that with so much experience returning in front of Winston in 2014, that pass protection can improve to meet the lofty standard the ground game has already set.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State returns the best quarterback in the nation. But what cannot go unnoticed is that Florida State returns the best offensive line in the nation, too.

Four starters are back -- all of them projected NFL draft picks. The new face on the line, center Austin Barron, has starting and game experience himself. As if that was not advantage enough, the Seminoles will field an all-senior offensive line, a rarity in college football. No other ACC team projects a starting offensive line with all seniors.

[+] EnlargeCameron Erving
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaLeft tackle Cameron Erving is one of five Florida State senior starting offensive linemen with NFL aspirations.
Indeed, this could be one of the best offensive lines Jimbo Fisher has ever coached -- potentially even better than the group last season that had center Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the best center in America. Another year should make all these players wiser and better, with 113 combined starts between them -- and a chance to make at least 70 more in 2014.

When asked for some perspective, Fisher pointed to the offensive line LSU had for its 2003 national championship season, when he served as offensive coordinator. Two of those players were drafted, and all five ended up on an NFL roster.

“But this group here’s a pretty good group now,” Fisher said recently. “It lets you sleep better, I know that much.”

Left tackle Cameron Erving and right guard Tre' Jackson each turned down opportunities to leave school early for the NFL. Erving already was recognized last season as the best offensive lineman in the ACC -- winning the Jacobs Blocking Trophy -- and should go into the season as a preseason All-American.

He and Jackson made the All-ACC coaches first team. Guard Josue Matias made the second team. Matias and Jackson are among the top four rated guards for the 2015 draft, and Fisher believes each player on this line will play in the NFL.

Returning so many experienced players gives the Seminoles a luxury that not many other programs have, especially when you return the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston.

“What you’re able to do at the line of scrimmage, protection wise, run wise, and then you’ve got a quarterback to process it and get you into the right plays all the time -- it gives you a huge advantage,” Fisher said. “The confidence, on the road, the noise that can hurt your communication issues, you don’t have to worry about.”

What’s more, the players on the line are versatile. This spring, Fisher experimented a little bit. Where there is experience among the starters, there is hardly any among the backups. So to make up for some of the depth concerns, Fisher had Erving play some center and Matias play at left tackle.

He raved about both players in the different spots. Matias came into Florida State as a tackle, so he was a natural fit there. Fisher said Erving had “big-time capabilities” at center.

“The versatility of how you can mismatch those guys in there? It’s the best we’ve had for a long time,” Fisher said.

For their part, players on the line believe they have an opportunity to improve on what was already a fantastic line a year ago.

“I feel like we had a pretty stout line last year, but there’s always room for improvement,” Jackson said. “There’s no telling where this line can go.”

Some of the depth questions should be answered in the fall. Florida State signed the best offensive line class in the ACC in February. Fisher praised junior college transfer Kareem Are for his performance this spring. He also said another junior college transfer, Chad Mavety, “may be more talented than anybody we’ve got.”

It is clear Fisher knows how to develop talent. Florida State has had offensive linemen taken in three straight drafts, and Stork is a projected mid-to-late round draft pick next week. Several, if not all, of these seniors will be drafted in 2015.

For now, the focus is on just how good this group can be by the time the season ends.

“We’ve all played, been in the system for three years now,” Matias said. “This is going to be a big year for us to reach our full potential.”

FSU depth chart breakdown: Offense

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A lot has changed for Florida State in the few weeks since Jimbo Fisher hoisted that crystal trophy above his head in Pasadena, Calif. Stars have departed, several incoming freshmen have arrived and the Seminoles are already at work with an eye toward repeating in 2014.

With that in mind, we’re taking a quick run through the depth chart to see where Florida State stands in advance of spring practice. Up first, the offense.

Quarterback

Projected starter: Jameis Winston (RS-So.)
Backups: Sean Maguire (RS-So.) and John Franklin III (RS-Fr.)

[+] EnlargeWinston Sacked
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKeeping Jameis Winston upright will be a key for Florida State, especially with Jacob Coker transferring.
Storylines: Winston plans to play baseball again this spring, which means at least some concerns about injury. Jacob Coker is transferring, leaving Maguire as Winston’s top backup. He had only limited playing time in 2013 and will need to continue to improve this spring. Franklin has great athleticism, but questions linger about whether he’ll stick at QB for the long haul.

Status: A
Returning the Heisman winner makes life easy for FSU’s offense, but Winston’s health will be watched closely.

Offensive line

Projected starters: Cameron Erving (RS-Sr.), Tre Jackson (Sr.), Austin Barron (Sr.), Josue Matias (Sr.), Bobby Hart (Sr.)
Backups: Sterling Lovelady (Sr.), Ira Denson (RS-Fr.), Ruben Carter (RS-Jr.), Wilson Bell (RS-Fr.), Ryan Hoefeld (RS-Fr.), Kareem Are (Fr.), Stephen Gabbard (Fr.)

Storylines: Barron steps in for Stork in the only noteworthy departure from the line. Barron has starting experience, and if he wins the job, FSU will have five senior starters -- meaning lofty expectations for the unit. Erving and Bell played well on the edges last year, but both could make further strides. The improvement for youngsters such as Bell, Hoefeld and Are will be crucial for both depth in 2014 and managing a massive overhaul in 2015.

Status: A
The starting lineup might be the best in the country, but developing depth for the future will be crucial this spring.

Running backs/Fullbacks

Projected starters: Karlos Williams (Sr.) and Freddie Stevenson (So.)
Backups: Mario Pender (RS-So.), Ryan Green (So.), Dalvin Cook (Fr.), Cameron Ponder (Sr.)

Storylines: Williams was a revelation in his first season as a tailback, but for all his success, 70 of his 91 carries came in late-game, blowout situations. Pender returns after sitting out two years because of injuries and academics, but he provides ample speed and a knowledge of the system. Green showed flashes of potential as a freshman but must improve his blocking and decision-making this spring. Cook could be the wild card. He’s an immense talent, and by enrolling early, he’ll have a leg up on getting touches in the fall.

Status: B
With a ton of talent, this group could easily turn this grade to an A by the end of the spring.

Wide receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS-Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.)
Backups: Isaiah Jones (So.), Jarred Haggins (RS-Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.)

Storylines: FSU must replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, who accounted for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns between them. The current group, aside from Greene, has combined for just 34 catches, 441 yards and no touchdowns in the past two seasons. After a solid 2011 season, Green has virtually disappeared and must show he’s still capable of making an impact. Haggins returns from a knee injury and figures to be limited in spring practice, but he could provide a solid veteran influence. Whitfield is a budding star thanks to his blazing speed, but FSU will need to see marked improvement from both Jones and Wilson in order to make up for the depth this unit lost.

Status: C+
Without any established depth behind Greene, this is the one area of the offense where Florida State has a lot of work to do this spring.

Tight end

Projected starter: Nick O’Leary (Sr.)
Backups: Kevin Haplea (RS-Sr.), Giorgio Newberry (RS-Jr.), Jeremy Kerr (RS-Fr.)

Storylines: O’Leary had a breakthrough 2013, but with two of FSU’s top three receivers gone, he figures to see even more looks this year. Haplea returns from a knee injury that cost him all of 2013 and will likely take it slow entering spring practice. Newberry’s stint at tight end after moving from defensive end wasn’t entirely smooth, and he’s been vocal that he’s not enamored with staying at the position.

Status: A
O’Leary figures to be among the top tight ends in the country this season, and getting the veteran Haplea back for blocking situations adds to the unit’s depth and versatility.

FSU in position to reload for 2014

December, 18, 2013
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For the past four seasons, Florida State’s seniors have worked to rebuild a program that was mired in mediocrity when they arrived. The project was a resounding success, but after the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Jan. 6, they’ll be gone. If 2013 gave the seniors a chance to take that final step toward a title, it also offered a glimpse at what’s to come, and Florida State appears well stocked to weather the inevitable losses.

Out: Lamarcus Joyner, CB

[+] EnlargeTyler Hunter
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTyler Hunter could replace cornerback Lamarcus Joyner for the Seminoles in 2014.
After moving from safety to corner, Joyner proved he was one of the nation’s top defenders, leading FSU in sacks and finishing second in tackles.

In: Tyler Hunter, DB

Joyner is a huge loss, but Hunter is well prepared to step into the vacancy. His 2013 season was cut short by a neck injury, but he knows the defense well and his combination of size and speed allows him to fit well at safety, corner and nickel. Replacing Joyner is impossible, but Hunter could be in for a huge 2014.

Out: Terrence Brooks, S

He has been an under-the-radar performer since he arrived at FSU as a three-star recruit, but Brooks has been consistently good at safety for two years.

In: Nate Andrews, S

Brooks found a perfect protégé in the similarly underrated Andrews, and the relationship has already paid dividends. Andrews started just one game, but he leads the Seminoles with seven takeaways (four INTs, three forced fumbles) and is second on the team with eight passes defended.

Out: Telvin Smith, LB

For the past two years, there has been no louder voice in the locker room than Smith, and in 2013, he blossomed on the field, too, leading FSU in tackles.

In: Reggie Northrup, LB

Northrup hasn’t started a game in his two seasons at Florida State, but when he’s been on the field, he has proven to be a big-play defender. He has 46 tackles this season, and he has a skill set to both play the run and in coverage. Terrance Smith is FSU’s only returning linebacker with starting experience, but there’s ample depth at the position, led by Northrup.

Out: Christian Jones, OLB

Jones' move from traditional linebacker to edge rusher was a turning point for Florida State’s defense, helping to seal the edge and add another dynamic pass rusher to the D line.

In: Matthew Thomas, OLB

An injury ended Thomas’ season after just five games, but his potential is immense. He had two tackles for loss in his limited playing time, and his athleticism and strength could make for a smooth transition into the role Jones defined so well in 2013.

Out: Kenny Shaw, WR

Always a reliable option in the slot, Shaw blossomed as a senior and is on pace for 1,000-yard season while also handling punt return duties.

In: Levonte Whitfield, WR

Whitfield may lack Shaw’s consistency, but his big-play potential is through the roof. He racked up 646 total yards and three TDs on just 21 touches (an average of 31 yards per touch) as a runner, receiver and kick returner. It was valuable experience as a freshman, and Whitfield should be an excellent fit in the slot in 2014.

Out: Bryan Stork, C

As Florida State’s line developed from disaster in 2011 to dominant in 2013, Stork was the centerpiece. The veteran leader of the group has been the foundation for the unit’s growth.

In: Austin Barron, C

Losing Stork is big, but Barron is no rookie. He has six career starts already under his belt, and he has worked routinely with the first-team line during practices this season while Stork has nursed a foot injury.

Out: The underclassmen

No one has made it official that they’re leaving, and with so much talent on the roster, plenty of Florida State’s draft-eligible underclassmen could decide to come back for what figures to be another big season in 2014. Of the group, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan -- widely considered a first-round selection -- is the most likely to depart. Beyond that, tailbacks Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., receiver Kelvin Benjamin, tight end Nick O’Leary, and lineman Cameron Erving will all have big decisions to make.

In: The next regime

Replacing Jernigan will be a tough task, but Nile Lawrence-Stample (14 tackles, 2 QB hurries) took some big steps in 2013. Karlos Williams (705 yards, 11 touchdowns) is ready to pick up the slack if either tailback leaves, while Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones will see their workload at receiver increase in 2014. Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury, though he’s unlikely to match O’Leary’s productivity in the passing game. Wilson Bell earned rave reviews before an injury ended his season, but he could step into a vacancy at tackle should one arise in 2014.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 14 Bryan Stork

Bryan Stork
Sean Meyers/Icon SMIBryan Stork's versatility on the offensive line is invaluable to Florida State.
Position/Class: Center/Senior

What he's done: A tight end in high school, Stork has developed into Florida State's most versatile and consistent offensive lineman during his four seasons in Tallahassee. He's started games in each of the past three years and is now FSU's most veteran lineman, with 35 games and 27 starts under his belt. Over the years, he's worked at center, guard and tackle, and last season he made 13 starts at center -- anchoring a line that entered the season with just two career starts among the four other regulars.

Where he's at: Not much has changed for Stork. He's still pencilled in as the starting center, but Jimbo Fisher has continued to make noise that Stork could slide to right tackle if Bobby Hart doesn't develop as hoped. During spring practice, Stork worked at both positions, while continuing to mentor both Hart and junior Austin Barron. After two rebuilding years on the line, the group is now firmly established -- the 96 career starts between them ranks 10th in the nation for 2013 -- but Stork is still the unquestioned leader. His role, both as the senior leader and the versatile blocker, makes him an invaluable part of the puzzle.

What's to come: It's almost impossible to overstate the significance of Stork's experience a season ago. The group entered the season as a work in progress and finished it as one of the more successful units in the nation, with FSU racking up its third-highest rushing yards in program history and keeping QB EJ Manuel healthy for the entire year. As the line has grown up around him, however, Stork's job shifts somewhat. This season will be less about bringing the rest of the group along and more about ensuring the line takes the next step -- going from successful to dominant. If that happens, Stork should receive a good bit of credit, and along with it, some serious consideration as one of the top centers in next year's NFL draft class.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 32 Austin Barron

Position/Class: C/Jr.

What he's done: Barron was among the bevy of freshmen to get playing time during the 2011 debacle on the offensive line, seeing action in nine games and starting three, including the bowl win over Notre Dame. But when FSU added two new tackles for 2012, shifting Bryan Stork back to center, Barron ended up as one of the odd men out. Still, Barron remained FSU's most reliable lineman off the bench throughout the season, getting one start early in the year and working this spring as the top alternative should Bobby Hart not perform at right tackle.

Where he's at: Even with the departure of Menelik Watson for the NFL, Barron again appears to be the sixth man on the offensive line totem poll, but that won't necessarily preclude him from winning a job this fall. Hart turned in a strong spring and remains atop the depth chart at right tackle for now, but few players are so tenuously attached to their spot. If Hart slips up in fall camp, expect Stork to slide out to tackle and Barron to be back in the starting lineup at center.

What's to come: It's probably unfair to suggest Barron's 2013 season will be dictated largely by Hart's success or failure, but it makes sense that Jimbo Fisher won't want to reshuffle multiple positions on the line if he doesn't have to, and Stork is a lock for a starting role -- either at center or right tackle. Still, Barron earned plenty of praise even while running with the No. 2 offense the past year, and the experience -- both as a starter and a reserve -- is incredibly valuable to an FSU team with little depth on the line. Barron may not be a starter from Day 1, but odds are he'll play a few key snaps at some point this season, and when Stork graduates at year's end, he'll certainly be ready to step into the starting job for 2014.

Under Pressure: RT Bobby Hart

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Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 FSU players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.

No. 3: RT Bobby Hart

2012 performance: Hart's sophomore season was a huge step back in terms of productivity, but it may have been the most important step of his career. A starter at age 17 in 2011, Hart quickly adopted a lackadaisical attitude toward practice and found himself in line coach Rick Trickett's doghouse. He lost his job to transfer Menelik Watson, didn't start a game in 2012 and saw only limited playing time. The time spent on the sideline may have been a setback on his career path, but it also opened Hart's eyes to the fact that he hadn't accomplished anything yet.

[+] EnlargeHart
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesBobby Hart is looking to replace Menelik Watson at right tackle and return to Florida State's starting lineup in 2013.
Pressure point: With Hart out and Watson in, the offensive line improved markedly in 2012. That's certainly not all due to Hart's limited role. There were big changes all over the line. Still, a new standard was set, particularly from the veteran Watson, who went from football novice to second-round selection in the NFL draft in the span of just nine months at FSU. Those are huge shoes for Hart to fill in his junior season, and with a first-year starter at QB, the Seminoles can't afford more struggles on the O-line.

If he succeeds: An offensive line that was solid if unspectacular in 2012 could make the leap forward to become one of the top units in the country in 2013. Hart's the swing vote in that potential growth. The other four starters from last year return, all expecting to improve after a year in the trenches. But Watson was, in many ways, the glue that held last year's line together, and its struggles when he was hurt underscored that notion. If Hart can become a viable replacement -- on the field and, perhaps as importantly, in terms of maturity off it -- the rest of the group should coalesce nicely, and the star-crossed tackle's career could once again be on an upward climb toward an NFL future.

If he fails: All that experience and growth from 2012 could fall by the wayside if Hart proves incapable of handling the job. If Trickett pulls the plug and sends Hart to the sidelines once again, there are few easy alternatives. Bryan Stork, a steadying force at center last season, would likely slide out to replace Hart on the right side, and Austin Barron would step in at center. FSU already has depth concerns on the O-line, and that makes any major shakeup a concern. But after a year of building continuity for a group that struggled badly in 2011, another major renovation is the last thing the Seminoles need.

Projection: There will be obvious comparisons between Hart and Watson this season, but that's a bit unfair. Watson was 23, and while his football experience was limited, he was a veteran of the ups and downs of life. He was as mature a leader as FSU had on offense, and he had the skill set to develop quickly. Hart is another story. He arrived on campus at 16, and he had a ton of learning still to do -- not just on the field. The trials and tribulations of the past year have taught some valuable lessons, but replacing Watson won't be an easy task. NFL-level tackles don't grow on trees. Hart's ceiling might be nearly as high as Watson's, but he's got farther to go to reach it. FSU will likely be satisfied with marked progress from 2012, and as long as Hart keeps heading in the right direction, he might reach Watson's level by season's end.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Spring practice arrived with some significant questions, and it ended with at least a slightly clearer indication of some answers. This week, we'll take a look at five of the biggest question marks of the spring and decipher what we learned and how much further the Seminoles have to go before the season kicks off.

Next up: The offensive line

The question: With starting right tackle Menelik Watson leaving for the NFL draft, can FSU find a suitable replacement and improve on a solid season by a young offensive line?

[+] EnlargeHart
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesNow in his third season, Bobby Hart is still very young at 18, but he's showing more maturity.
The possibilities: The simplest solution would be for junior Bobby Hart to seize the right tackle job -- a position he owned for eight games in 2011. But Hart has struggled with maturity and consistency, which opened the door for a potential reshuffling of the line, with Bryan Stork moving out to tackle and Austin Barron taking over at center.

What we learned this spring: Hart has grown up -- at least a bit. Now in his third season at Florida State, it's hard to believe, but Hart is still just 18 years old, so some of those maturity issues early in his career are understandable. But with age and experience comes wisdom, and Hart insists he's learned from his struggles.

"Once you sit back and understand why you're in that predicament, you mature and you learn from it, and that can be a good thing," Hart said.

At times this spring, that maturity showed. Hart and Cameron Erving were Florida State's two most consistent linemen this spring according to coaches, and when the spring game ended Hart was still the nominal starter at right tackle.

(Read full post)

FSU's spring winners and losers 

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- While Jimbo Fisher won't be etching anything into stone after Saturday's spring game, there were clearly a few players who took big leaps forward during the past month and a few more who saw significant opportunities slip away.

WINNERS

Jameis Winston, QB

The performance: Winston entered the spring third on the depth chart, but tops in potential. He didn't disappoint. By spring's end, he was splitting first-team reps with Clint Trickett and dominated FSU's spring game, solidifying his place as the fan's choice for the starting job even if Fisher hasn't made anything official.

What comes next: Heisman? National championship? The Hall of Fame? With Winston, there doesn't appear to be such a thing as setting the bar too high. Fisher might be trying to temper expectations, but that's likely a lost cause. Winston still has plenty of work to do before he reaches the vast heights predicted for him, but he's only burnished his resume during the past month. What comes next for him though? "It's baseball season," he said after Saturday's spring game.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State opened the spring with more significant questions looming over the team than in any season since Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach. The past four weeks certainly haven't provided answers for them all -- including some of the most hotly debated -- but there have been some clues as to what the Seminoles will look like in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJeremy Pruitt has quickly put his aggressive scheme into use at FSU this spring.
The defensive scheme: Fisher opened spring by assuring there would be few changes on defense despite three new coaches, including a new coordinator. It didn't take long to see he was bluffing. Jeremy Pruitt had players watching game film of his old Alabama teams during the offseason, and he's installed an aggressive new scheme that includes shifting players around, dropping linemen into coverage, bringing linebackers to the line of scrimmage, and blitzing early and often. "I love this defense," safety Terrence Brooks said. "It's amazing. A lot more blitzing, a lot more chances to make plays, moving guys around. Everybody's learning but we're picking it up every day and it's getting a lot better."

The right tackle job: Fisher might never offer Bobby Hart a full-fledged endorsement after the young lineman squandered his starting job with a lackadaisical approach last spring, but there was clear improvement for Hart this time around, and he managed to hold on to his spot atop the depth chart throughout. Moving Bryan Stork to right tackle and giving Austin Barron the starting job at center remains a possibility -- or a threat, depending on how much of the debate is based around motivating Hart -- but for now, Hart looks to be on solid ground.

(Read full post)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State wrapped up its first scrimmage of the spring Monday, but if Jimbo Fisher is any closer to picking a starting quarterback, he's playing his cards awfully close to his chest.

"Ain't even close," he said even before he could be pushed on the subject.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJimbo Fisher liked what he saw from his QBs on Monday but insists the competition still is wide open.
Still, Monday's practice gave the four men vying for the job a chance to test their knowledge without Fisher looking over their shoulders on each play, and for the most part, the coach said he's pleased with the results.

"Guys did some nice things, but we've got a long way to go," Fisher said.

Fisher insisted each of the four quarterbacks rotated with the first- and second-team offenses, though left tackle Cameron Erving said his starting line worked more with Jameis Winston and Clint Trickett than the others.

In any case, Fisher said he made a point to put each quarterback in adverse situations to see how they might react.

"We wanted to see pass blocking and we wanted to see the quarterbacks set in the pocket vs. a live blitz, making them stay in the pocket and making the line have to block," Fisher said. "We wanted to do that deliberately."

While most of this is old hat for Trickett, who is now in his fourth year of scrimmages in Fisher's offense, Winston, Sean Maguire and Jacob Coker all had moments of optimism Monday, which fit well with what Fisher was expecting.

He's still far from the finish line in deciding this competition, but the upside is that the four contenders aren't making it any easier.

"It kind of reaffirmed some things I'm seeing in practice, which is that I'm not unhappy at all," Fisher said. "They need to be more consistent, but I imagined that right now in terms of where we're at."

(Read full post)

Editor’s note: Each day until the start of spring practice, we’ll pose a question facing Florida State's football team as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: Can FSU's offensive line continue to grow in 2013?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The starting point was so low, it would've been nearly impossible for Florida State's offensive line to fall short of expectations last season.

In 2011, the line was horrendous -- allowing the most sacks in the conference, providing virtually no room to run, and forcing an injured EJ Manuel to be a one-man offense far too often. By season's end, Jimbo Fisher essentially went back to the drawing board and started from scratch, giving a starting nod in FSU's bowl game to four freshmen. It was a gesture that admitted there was nowhere to go but up.

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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."

[+] EnlargeHart
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesIf Bobby Hart can fulfill his potential, Florida State's offensive line might not miss a beat despite the loss of Menelik Watson to the NFL.
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.

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From the impending quarterback competition to finding replacements for departing juniors, Jimbo Fisher will have his work cut out for him during the next few months as he lays the groundwork for 2013.

With that in mind, we're going position by position looking at Florida State's strengths and weaknesses as the Seminoles prepare for the start of spring practice.

Previous entries can be found here.

Next up: Offensive Line

2012 recap: If success is determined as a matter of perspective, then 2012 was a tremendous accomplishment for the Florida State offensive line. It's not that the unit was dominant -- though at times, it was exceptional -- but rather that it came so far from the unmitigated disaster of 2011. Only center Bryan Stork was a holdover from the previous season's regular starters, while guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias built on the foundation they laid in the 2011 bowl game. But it was the arrival of right tackle Menelik Watson and left tackle Cameron Erving that made the biggest impact. Overall, the line helped FSU to nearly double its rushing total from the previous season while trimming the number of sacks allowed from an ACC-worst 40 to a much more respectable 26.

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State of the Noles: Guards and Centers 

February, 18, 2013
2/18/13
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When it comes to recruiting, coaches are always thinking long-term. It's not just about which holes must be filled immediately, but rather where the needs might be in two or three more years.

With that in mind, NoleNation writers David Hale and Corey Dowlar are going through each position, looking at what FSU has on its roster now, and who might provide reinforcements down the line, projecting starters and evaluating the depth through 2015.

Up next, a look at the interior of FSU's offensive line: Guards and centers.

Current scholarship Guards/Centers (11): Tre Jackson (Jr.), Ruben Carter (RSSo.), Josue Matias (Jr.), Daniel Foose (RSJr.), Trey Pettis (RSSo.), Garrett Faircloth (RSSr.), Ira Denson (Fr.), Sterling Lovelady (Jr.), Bryan Stork (Sr.), Austin Barron (Jr.), Ryan Hoefeld (Fr.)


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