Atkins building deeper, versatile OL for 2022

Eight is enough. Florida State would like more versatile, dependable offensive lineman — who in college football doesn’t? — but coach Mike Norvell and offensive coordinator Alex Atkins have long sought to rebuild the room by developing young players and pulling in transfers. 

Landing D’Mitri Emmanuel, a graduate transfer from Charlotte, gives the Seminoles a lineman who has started 25 games at guard and tackle. He likely factors in at right guard given the adjustment from the G5 to P5 level as well as the evaluation of his skill set and who FSU already has in the offensive line room.

FSU will go into 2022 with easily a deeper OL group compared to Norvell’s first year and it’s improved compared to last fall if you factor in the loss of Devontay Love-Taylor and Brady Scott for the infusion of Kayden Lyles, Bless Harris and Emmanuel. The Seminoles also return four linemen with starting experience at FSU in Robert Scott, Maurice Smith, Darius Washington and Dillan Gibbons.

“We had more bodies but we still were able to get a bunch of reps,” Atkins said in mid-April. “Just having that depth and competition always adds a lot of value and just more confidence, to be honest. They feel more confident in what they’re doing and what we’re asking them to do.”

If you count Emmanuel’s experience at the G5 level — which also includes games against the likes of Duke and Illinois — and Harris’ time at FCS program Lamar, as well as his rather quick acclimation this spring, the Seminoles now have seven offensive linemen who are dependable. That’s just one away from the goal, but it’s also worth noting Smith or Washington could slide to guard and Thomas Shrader is a full year out from leg surgery last spring and should factor in as a reserve in 2022. 

“He’ll help us,” Atkins said of Shrader this spring. “He’s just going through his process of returning to play.”

It’s tough to nail down starters for FSU’s line but there’s the potential of (from left): Scott, Gibbons, Smith, Emmanuel and Washington. The Smith-Lyles camp battle will be intriguing. “I’m always up for competition because it’s going to push us at the end of the day,” Smith said before the spring game. Washington also missed the spring game due to injury so if his timetable to return doesn’t have him ready to go, the Seminoles could use Harris at right tackle and the signing of a versatile lineman like Emmanuel can’t be underscored.

FSU has options – and options with starting experience. Washington (20 starts), Scott (18 starts), Gibbons (12 starts, with 11 at FSU), Smith (17 starts), Lyles (16 starts) all have been there and showed they are dependable run blockers. Pass protection has long been an issue at FSU, a reflection of the line as well as a number of factors from a quarterback’s comfort and inexperience to how running backs and tight ends block to how receivers run routes and catch the ball (or as was often the case didn’t catch the ball).

The goal of every coach is to be good up front and FSU is far better going into 2022 than in Norvell’s first season. Coaching and rebuilding a roster in year 1, and doing it during the height of the pandemic, the Seminoles started (from left) Washington, Dontae Lucas, Smith, Baveon Johnson and Love-Taylor in the opener against Georgia Tech. Washington, Lucas and Smith were all second-year players going into 2020.

FSU also now has 16 scholarship offensive linemen going into the fall, including summer arrivals Julian Armella and Jaylen Early but not Qae’shon Sapp (he has not been formally announced by the school as a signee).

Revisiting FSU’s success in portal

A month ago, the Osceola took a wide view of the transfer portal and how Mike Norvell has evaluated prospects. If you view the transfer portal as an immediate opportunity to elevate the roster, and similar to free agency, here is what Norvell and the staff have brought in vs. those who departed.

Arrivals: Jashaun Corbin, Devontay Love-Taylor, Dillan Gibbons, Fabien Lovett, Jermaine Johnson, Keir Thomas, Jammie Robinson. That’s seven transfers who have been significant contributors and the number will rise as transfers from this offseason like Jared Verse, Tatum Bethune, Mycah Pittman, Trey Benson, Lyles, Emmanuel and Harris play this fall. (We’re also not counting Jordan Travis or Jarrett Jackson, as both arrived at FSU before Norvell did.)

Departures: Cory Durden, Chubba Purdy, La’Damian Webb, Jarvis Brownlee, Dontae Lucas and Quashon Fuller are among the notable Noles who left.