Playing on the offensive line in college football as a true freshman is challenging no matter how talented you are. Offensive and defensive schemes are more complex in college than they are in high school. There is also a difference in the physical maturity and strength of a true freshman compared to that of a college junior or senior who has had three to four years in an FBS strength and conditioning program. There is a big difference between a true freshmen and a redshirt sophomore when it comes to physical development. Veteran players also have the benefit of several seasons’ worth of practice and playing experience and understand the nuances of their positions and that of their opponents.
It’s hard enough to find a true freshman offensive lineman on any program’s two-deep depth chart let alone in the starting lineup. Some people regard the transition from playing offensive line in high school to college as the most difficult of all positions. It generally takes time to develop at any of the five positions because of all the reasons listed above, but time is a luxury FSU and true freshman right tackle Robert Scott don’t have. Scott is learning the old-fashion way: baptism by fire.
Scott will be making this third start of his career against North Carolina after having been thrown into the starting lineup against Jacksonville State after Mike Norvell and offensive line coach Alex Atkins were forced to shuffle the offensive line due to injuries and the benching of at least one player.
Norvell mentioned Scott several times in fall camp as being one of two true freshman, Thomas Shrader being the other, who might compete for playing time this season. That has come to fruition and Norvell continues to like what he sees.
“I thought Robert Scott, getting his second career start there at right tackle, as a true freshman, he has really been impressive to me,” said Norvell after the Notre Dame game. “He had some plays he’s going to learn from, but the way he goes out there and compete is great to see.”
He has also made a good impression on offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham.
“He’s a fighter, man,” Dillingham said of Scott. “He’s a fighter. Every day he shows up to practice. He is in pass protection and we throw a ball 15 yards down the field and he is sprinting to go get lined up on the ball. That’s all he knows. All he knows is how to complete. All he knows is how to work. If you’re a freshman and you want to see the field, he’s the definition of how to get on the field, because every single day we don’t have to question his effort or his want to. At that point, it just comes to ability and he has the ability, so there’s going to be some growing pains, but I’ve been extremely pleased with how he is playing and that is a guy that is only going to get better. He’s going to improve every week because that’s his mindset. I’ve just been extremely happy with him.”
And while Scott certainly has his moments where he looks like an inexperienced lineman who needs more reps, and could have benefitted from a year in the weight room, he has managed to hold is on. One area where he looks to be more mature than his experience would allow for is working in tandem with the person lined up next to him. Scott looks to be comfortable in passing off defenders when picking up blitzes or stunts as well as working up to the second level in the run game.
“He’s just an intelligent kid who works,” answered Dillingham when asked about Scott’s ability in this area. “He has the ability. So he’s intelligent, he’s going to put in the work, and he is the type of guy that very rarely makes the same mistake twice. He makes a mistake, you tell him the mistake he made, he can apply how to fix it. You see that a lot throughout the game and you see that a lot from practice, he’ll make a mistake in a twist game or in a pressure look. We teach it to him and he can apply that the next day in practice. So you see all those applications show up there on game day.”
And while its not always ideal to play a true freshman, Scott’s addition to the starting lineup, coupled with the move of Jordan Travis to starting quarterback, has coincided with FSU’s two most productive games running the ball this season in both actual yards gained and average yards per attempt.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know I was starting, I was taking a lot of reps and then when we were at the hotel and we were doing walk through for the game and I went up, I had to go first. I was like, ‘I think I’m starting then,’ ” said Scott after his first start against Jacksonville State. “That is when it hit me. It didn’t really hit me throughout the practice like Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, but that last day right before the game, I was like, ‘Oh, yep, I’m going into the game.’ ”
And like any other true freshman he is learning and growing from play-to-play and series-to-series.
“It was nerve-racking. I was excited, though, because it was like playing the whole game, you realize it is a lot different than high school because I forgot the clock don’t stop every time and everything,” continued Scott. “I was excited though and I had a good time. I’m not going to lie, the first drive, I was on the ground like every time. Now I think that was because I was nervous, anxious trying to get to the block. But the more I kept going and going and going, it felt like practice. I got into the groove of things. I had awesome teammates because they kept talking to me and making sure I knew what I needed to do.”
You can’t put a price on experience when talking about offensive line play and that is just what Scott is getting. And that experience this week will come in the form of a North Carolina defense that ranks 16th in the country in sacks (11), 24th against the run and 22nd in total defense. The lessons learned by Scott may not always be convenient for he or the FSU offense but that is to be expected when you play a true freshman on the offensive line. And Scott and FSU’s offensive line will benefit from his gaining more experience as the season moves forward and maybe more importantly in the coming season.
“The more experience he gets, the more things he is going to be able to apply and the better he’s going to look,” said Dillingham. “I’ve been really, really happy with how he’s performed but he’s got to continue to get better. And that’s just his mindset. That is how his momma raised him.”
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