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FSU Offensive Line is All Grown Up

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Looking ahead to this fall, four starters off of last year's first-team unit return and seven FSU linemen with regular starting experience are back overall.

In a 2010 season where Florida State ranked 104th nationally in rushing and 112th nationally in sacks allowed, head coach Jimbo Fisher and offensive line coach Rick Trickett decided to start four true freshmen against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl: Austin Barron, Bobby Hart, Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias. The lineup change was due in part to injuries, in part to inconsistency.

In their collective baptism by fire, the young Seminole front surrendered five sacks and, most dramatically, left the field to a smattering of boos in Orlando after entering the locker room down 7-0 at the halftime break. As those on the Florida State front line took their lumps, they also proved to be taking their notes. After looking overwhelmed in the game's first two periods, the Seminole line showed progress and helped the offense score 18 unanswered second half points, 15 in the fourth quarter, en route to a four-point FSU victory.

"The guys up front finally realized they could play," Fisher acknowledged.

With a little momentum, a little more maturity and a lot more beef in the form of 6'6'', 320-pound, 23-year old signee Menelik Watson and 6'6'', 310-pound converted defensive lineman Cameron Erving, Florida State's offensive line play improved considerably a season ago. It was the Seminoles, not option-based Georgia Tech, who paced the ACC with 5.62 yards per carry. That production was good for 4th nationally, trailing just Oregon and Texas A&M in all of BCS football. The line yielded just 26 sacks in 14 games, a much more respectable tally than 40 in 13 the year prior.

Florida State, led by its offensive front, capped off the season with 243 yards rushing against Northern Illinois in a lopsided Orange Bowl triumph. Fullback Lonnie Pryor was named MVP after rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries. 

"They came out and did what we expected them to do. They ran a lot of stretch and power. They got a few big plays on us, and any time you give up big plays against a team like Florida State it's going to hurt you," nodded NIU senior defensive end Sean Progar. 

The Seminoles set a new school record for total offensive yards in a single season with 6,591, edging out the 2000 team that played for the national championship and was led by Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke. Erving, Jackson, Matias and Bryan Stork each earned some sort of All-ACC honors for their efforts.

Looking ahead to this fall, four starters off of last year's first-team unit return and seven linemen with regular starting experience are back overall. Watson declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft, reopening the door for the versatile junior Hart -- who started pre-season camp his first year in college at just 16 years old. Fellow juniors Erving, Jackson and Matias, who has gotten some All-American attention this spring, and Stork, a senior, should round out the first five. Barron, a junior, and Jacob Fahrenkrug, a senior, have made multiple starts during their careers. Sophomores Ruben Carter, Daniel Foose and Trey Pettis and junior Sterling Lovelady also return to provide depth.

This is now an established, veteran group bursting at the seams with talent and ability. 

"You've got quite a few guys," Fisher explained of the Seminoles' offensive depth in the trenches. "I think Bobby Hart has had a good off-season. Stork and those guys can do what they've got to do there. There's different guys we can put in there that we can have a rotation there."

From a liability in 2010 to leading the way just a few shorts years later, Trickett has molded a unit, still with just a single projected starting senior, into one of the best offensive lines in the country. Expectations are extremely high for this group and pre-season accolades will likely reflect those anticipations. The offensive focus will shift to the front as Rick's son Clint looks to begin the season as the replacement to E.J. Manuel at quarterback in Tallahassee.  

This season at Florida State should be a five-month example of just how far the Seminole offensive line has come. Glancing back over the shoulders, it's clear that they've come full circle.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports