TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Offensive line coach Rick Trickett has a bounty of linemen to work with as Florida State goes through preseason practices. Finding the right combination for the Sept. 5 opener in Orlando against Mississippi might be a tougher task.
“It is going to be the five guys that work the best together. It won’t always be the five most talented,” Trickett said. “They’re all good guys. I don’t have a problem with any of them. Just are they ready yet?”
Besides quarterback, no position group struggled more last season than the offensive line. At this time last year, it had only one returning starter and lacked depth.
“In another sense, it’s really nice going into the team period and blitz period to know that in five plays after I do my first team reps playing center I don’t have to turn around and go play guard or a tackle is coming to play guard,” sophomore center Alec Eberle said. “That’s how it was at a point” last year.
The Seminoles return eight linemen who started at least one game last season.
Left tackle Roderick Johnson and right guard Wilson Bell — both juniors — started all 13 games. Johnson was named the top blocker in the Atlantic Coast Conference and is projected as a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft.
Johnson said a big point of emphasis during preseason drills has been on converting on third down. The Seminoles were eighth in the ACC last season, with most of their struggles coming in third-and-short situations. Johnson pointed to at least three third- and fourth-down plays in the 23-13 loss at Clemson that could have given them momentum if they converted.
“We’re doing better than last year,” he said. “When we’ve worked on short-yardage and goal-line plays we have made most of them throughout camp.”
Besides short-yardage, other areas of improvement are alleviating penalties and better production in the red zone. The Seminoles’ offensive line accounted for 35 of the team’s 87 penalties last season, including 24 false starts.
When Florida State got inside the opponents’ 20, only 57 percent of their trips resulted in touchdowns, which was the fifth-worst percentage in the ACC.
“I think it comes back again to the discipline part of it,” Trickett said. “If you’ve got an undisciplined person, you’re probably going to have undisciplined play.”
The Seminoles had three different centers last season, but Eberle looks to have the inside track after starting the final six games. Brock Ruble is listed as the starter at right tackle but could be pressed for snaps by Rick Leonard, who moved over from the defensive line during the spring.
If Florida State runs into injuries again, depth won’t be a problem, thanks to the addition of six freshmen. Five-star recruit Landon Dickerson has made the biggest early impression as he has been taking some first-team snaps at left guard. Senior Kareem Are is still projected as the starter.
“Last year we had a couple different fronts up there, but this year our biggest thing is five guys come together and being one cohesive bond and doing our jobs,” Eberle said.
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