Nobody who follows FSU football will deny the most improved position group on the team in 2020 was the Seminoles’ offensive line when compared to how that unit performed during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
FSU finished the season ranked 31st (199.8 yards per game) in the country in rushing after finishing the 2019 season ranked 93rd (140 ypg) with virtually the same personnel with the exception of Devontay Love-Taylor replacing the graduated Ryan Roberts last fall at left tackle. The Seminoles averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2020 vs 3.8 yards per carry in 2019.
The credit for the turnaround is widespread but certainly starts with the offensive linemen themselves and the way they bought into offensive line coach Alex Atkins’ style of coaching and Mike Norvell’s offense. There is also no doubt the playmaking ability of quarterback Jordan Travis also had a significant impact on the offensive line’s production in 2020. And to both the players’ and first-year staff’s credit they did so despite having 12 of its 15 practices cancelled last March and April due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
That being said there are still several questions surrounding this position group and the Seminoles’ running game heading into spring ball.
What we do know is that every starter and backup who saw significant playing time are all back, which should make for an ultra competitive spring.
And we also know that there is still much improvement to be made, especially in pass protection, which struggled against some of the better pass rushing teams they faced. FSU gave up 29 sacks in nine games in 2020, which ranked 110th among FBS teams. Against two of the better pass-rushing teams in the ACC last season, Miami and Pitt, FSU surrendered 13 sacks in blowout losses.
Improvement in this area is a must no matter who lines up behind center but it becomes even more imperative if someone other than Travis is the starting quarterback. While McKenzie Milton, Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker are all elusive in their own way, none of the three possess the ability to escape a collapsing pocket and turn a broken play into a 60-yard touchdown run pass.
There is also the question of can FSU sustain its success in the run game without Travis as the primary starter in 2021. When will Devontay Love-Taylor be fully recovered and ready to go from a knee injury suffered late last season? And will Norvell use the transfer portal this spring to bring in a plug-and-play left tackle?
We also know that most of FSU’s offensive linemen will cross-train this spring and that Atkins and Norvell would like to identify 8-9 guys to utilize across all five positions coming out of spring practice. There are a number of ways the two-deep could shake out coming out of spring ball. Let’s take a look at who might line up at each position this spring.
The Usual Suspects
T/G Devontay Love-Taylor (6-4, 308) – Love-Taylor is back for his second senior season and FSU should be very happy about that. He is the most experienced and versatile offensive lineman on the roster. He started four games at left tackle, two at right tackle and one at right guard. His experience, poise and leadership helped a very “green” offensive line improve throughout the course of the season. Love-Taylor projects as either the starting left or right tackle as the roster currently sits. However, if FSU picks up an offensive tackle via the portal it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him at guard in 2021.
LT/RT Darius Washington (6-4, 301) – Washington, a redshirt sophomore, started five games at left tackle and will likely be the starter here to begin spring practice. He has the versatility to move inside to either guard spot. He has some work to do in pass protection and Washington and the offense could benefit greatly from improvement this area of his game, especially from the tackle position. Atkins was a fan on his potential and skill set last season and there is every reason to think his best football is still ahead of him at any one of four positions.
C/G Maurice Smith (6-3, 286) – Smith, a redshirt freshman, looks to be set at center after starting seven games there in 2020 and earning Rivals’ Freshman All-American honors. He can and has lined up at guard in his career. And like Washington, the young center to still has plenty of room for growth and his best playing days are still ahead of him as well.
LG/RG Dontae Lucas (6-3, 315) – Lucas projects to be one of the starting guards going into spring practice. He started seven games at left guard in 2020 and started 11 games in 2019 as either a left or right guard. Lucas needs to improve his consistency in all areas. He brings a tough-guy mentality to this group but must learn not to let his emotions get the best of him on the field. Lucas has been hit with some costly penalties over the course of last two seasons, several of which have come after a play being blown dead. He has ability but entering his third season in Tallahassee maturity must show itself for Lucas to become one of the leaders of this unit.
RT/LT Robert Scott (6-5, 305) – Scott, a redshirt freshman, learned the hard way in 2020 by playing as a true freshman and while he certainly looked like one at times he certainly improved with each game and will compete for the starting at either of the tackle spots. He was forced into a starting roll in third game of the season and was named to 247Sports True Freshman All-American team. He and FSU’s offense should benefit greatly from his 2020 experience. Because of his youth, like most of his line mates, Scott is scratching the surface of what he has the potential to become.
RG/C Baveon Johnson (6-3, 307) – Johnson is back for his second senior campaign after starting all nine games in 2020, with seven of those starts coming at right guard. He has started 20 games over the last two seasons. He will have to hold off some underclassmen to maintain his status as a starter this spring and fall but his experience at the very least will prove beneficial in the two-deep over a 12-game season.
G/T Brady Scott (6-6, 317) – Scott, a redshirt sophomore, has played both guard and tackle during his career. In 2020 he earned one start, at right guard, while playing in eight games and has started 16 games over the last three seasons. Should compete for a spot on the two-deep roster this spring and whose experience will help over the course of a full regular season.
Ready To Push For Playing Time?
G/C Thomas Shrader (6-5, 283) – Shrader made one start at left guard and made four appearances in 2020. His name was mentioned several times by Norvell and Atkins during his true freshman season. At the very least Shrader should be on the two-deep coming out of spring practice but could push either Lucas and/or Johnson for a starting spot.
RT/LT Lloyd Willis (6-7, 310) – Saw action in one game in 2020. Great size and athleticism coming out of high school but very raw as a football player, having only started playing the game as a junior in high school. Has a lot of tools to work with physically but needs to continue to work on the fundamentals and improving his strength. Should compete to be on the two-deep at one or both of the tackle spots. Willis has a high-ceiling and he development should be fun to follow.
LG/RG Zane Herring (6-5, 312) – Was an early enrollee in 2020 and found himself running with the first- and second-team lines at guard last spring. Missed last season because of a shoulder injury. In high school he played with great effort and toughness. Should benefit from a strength standpoint because of being redshirted last fall and be in a better position to compete for a spot on the two-deep coming out of spring and into fall camp.
T Chaz Neal (6-7, 296) – Has seen action in 19 games over the last two seasons, mostly on the field-goal unit. Has great size, length and is athletic. Is this year he puts it all together?
T Jalen Goss (6-7, 267) – Tremendous size, length and athleticism. The redshirt sophomore has seen action in 21 games, mostly on the field-goal unit. Could benefit from adding more weight. Another tackle prospect that has some good physical tools to work with and could compete for a spot on the two-deep if he puts it all together.
G Ira Henry III (6-4, 305) – Has appeared in 12 games over the last two seasons. Will have to battle this spring for a spot on the two-deep in the fall.
C/G Bryson Estes (6-3, 291) – Signed with FSU in December, enrolled at FSU in January and will participate in spring practice. Rated as the 5th-best center prospect in the 2021 recruiting class.
T Rod Orr (6-7, 296) – Signed with FSU in December but will not enroll in school until this summer. Long, athletic and should compete for a spot on the two-deep in the fall with a strong off-season and summer conditioning program.