FSU OL preview: New coach + new scheme = improvement?

Let’s face it: The one position group that gives Florida State fans the most concern is offensive line.

It has been the biggest question mark since 2015 and is annually the reason for pause, for hedging bets about the Seminoles’ outlook. And going into this fall, it’s a group that could – with a deeper group and a new position coach – could allow FSU to take a step forward in Willie Taggart’s second season.

New offensive line coach Randy Clements has a group that lacks starting experience but has depth and has embraced the new schemes installed by offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.

FSU will lose its top lineman in Landon Dickerson, who graduated, went in the transfer portal and will land at Alabama. But at the same time Dickerson missed more games than he played in three seasons.

As the Osceola begins its position outlook for 2019, let’s evaluate some critical questions for the offensive line:

Who is the top option to start at left tackle?: Graduate transfer Ryan Roberts from Northern Illinois was presumed to be a starter for FSU at one of the two tackle positions. (He arrived on campus in May.) Roberts is the leading candidate to start on the left side to protect quarterback James Blackman. The only other realistic options were Dickerson, Brady Scott or Chaz Neal, especially considering that potential tackles like Abdul Bello and Jauan Williams have not developed. Scott played some at left tackle in 2018 but is better suited on the interior and Neal is really going into just his second year as an offensive linemen. So if you’re trying to pencil in a five-man starting offensive line, Roberts is a safe bet at left tackle.

What about the other four spots on the line?: Baveon Johnson appears to be a safe pick at center as he was praised for his development by FSU coach Willie Taggart this spring. After Roberts and Johnson, this is where it gets fun. Good luck getting your FSU friends to agree on any combination of five linemen.

Scott, Cole Minshew and early enrollee Dontae Lucas will be vying for starting jobs at the guard spots. Taggart has praised Neal, who has embraced the transition from defensive end to offensive lineman at FSU during his redshirt season of 2018. Neal could be an option at right tackle. So if you want a starting five that is plausible, one option is Roberts, Minshew, Johnson, Lucas and Neal.

Why is Dickerson leaving?: Dickerson wants to play in a pro-style offense, so Alabama has appeal. Dickerson put his name in the transfer portal back in the winter, offensive line coach Greg Frey was dismissed and then Dickerson was not in the portal again. Dickerson was limited this spring due to injury.

In early March, he praised Clements as a “great guy” and a teacher of fundamentals. It appears Dickerson will graduate and be able to play at Alabama in the fall.

The consensus opinion has always been one of this: When healthy, Landon Dickerson was Florida State’s top offensive lineman. But the reality is that Dickerson was often on the sideline due to injury. A natural guard who started the 2018 opener against Virginia Tech at tackle, Dickerson played in just two games last year, missed six games in 2016 and nine games in 2017. His loss hurts FSU but his injuries never really allowed the line to build cohesion as a group with Dickerson on the field.

What’s the outlook for FSU’s line in 2019?: The Seminoles played nine different offensive line combinations in 2018. And the odds are in FSU’s favor that the group won’t have as many injuries in 2019.

FSU fans are going to take a “we’ll believe it when we see it approach” with the line in 2019, and that’s fair. Clements developed some of the Big 12’s top linemen when he was at Baylor. The tempo utilized by his coaching friend at Baylor and now FSU, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, allows for linemen to hold their blocks for less time. It’s a built-in advantage of the scheme and one that should help what will be a younger, less experienced line in 2019.

The line group is deeper than a year ago. There are options like Christian Meadows, Christian Armstrong, Mike Arnold, Jalen Goss, walk-on Andrew Boselli and junior-college transfer Jay Williams. Also, FSU has three more 2019 signees in tackles Ira Henry and Darius Washington as well as guard Maurice Smith who arrived this summer. With the exception of Arnold and Boselli, none of the linemen in this paragraph have played a Division I game. So they are wild cards, guys who could contribute or need time to develop. The good news? Clements has options.

Look for position previews for quarterbacks and running backs later this week

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