Florida State’s offensive line has had some positives, including clearing some holes for Cam Akers en route to a 193-yard night.
There were also too many pre-snap penalties, as well as holding calls, coupled with pressure on quarterback Jame Blackman.
Through two games, the linemen feel they are making progress.
“I’ve been saying this whole time, we got things that we have to improve on and we know that and we’re going to continue to work and get better,” right tackle Ryan Roberts said. “We’ve grown together, closer as a group. You hit adversity and no one flinched. That’s exciting and that’s only going to continue.”
These are the growing pains for a revamped offensive line that features just two players with significant starting experience at FSU in left guard Brady Scott and left tackle Jauan Williams, who each made six starts in 2018. Roberts was a two-year starter at Northern Illinois and arrived this summer as a graduate transfer. Baveon Johnson has taken over at center, and early enrollee Dontae Lucas has started at right guard.
An offensive line that was constantly shuffling in 2018 due to injury faced its first challenge against ULM when Williams was lost to an ankle sprain in the first quarter. Williams did not practice on Tuesday and his availability remains uncertain for Saturday’s game at Virginia (7:30 p.m. on ACC Network). If Williams can’t go, the Seminoles will lean on Abdul Bello.
The Cavaliers are 15th in rushing defense (70 yards per game), are 26th in passing defense (150 yards per game) and have 11 sacks (tied for third nationally) after wins over Pitt and William & Mary.
It’s also FSU’s first road game, which presents challenges. There will be crowd noise that could impact the communication along the line.
“You never know how you are going to respond until you get there but you can simulate that in practice as best you can,” Roberts said. “I’m confident with our group. I’m excited to see how we perform.”
Roberts said he is happy with the performance of Lucas who, like the rest of the line, has made mistakes but is handling the pressure.
“I think he was ready for this,” Roberts said. “He was built for it, he was ready to go. The entire offensive line is ready to perform and I don’t think it matters what five you put out there. We are going to do the best we can every single day. Period.”
One notable sign of progress on offense is the blocking from tight ends like Tre’ McKitty and Gabe Nabers. McKitty has made pass and run blocking an important part of his offseason focus and it has shown in FSU’s first two games.
“All offseason, really,” McKitty said. “It was definitely something I had to work at. I came here more as a receiving tight end. Like I said before in the past, I’ve always been trying to improve my blocking game. I think it’s showing a little bit now.”
Roberts said that McKitty “works his tail off” at blocking and has noticed the improvement in the months that they have been teammates.
“I’m proud of him and I’m excited to see what he can continue to grow into,” Roberts said.
McKitty was also seen lined up with his back to the line of scrimmage on one play. Various posts on Twitter and other social media were critical of McKitty and FSU’s coaches, but the tight end said what he did was purposeful.
“I’ve got a million messages about that,” McKitty said. “The offensive line had messed up, then we had to hurry up and get set so the defense couldn’t see our formation before the play. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t line up the wrong way on accident.”
Blackman looking to run
James Blackman had six carries on Saturday in the win over ULM, one of which was a 6-yard touchdown run. While two of those carries were sacks, Blackman had few designed runs – most were scrambles when protection broke down or receivers were covered.
“I need to do it a little bit more just to keep the defense on their toes, keep them unbalanced,” Blackman said. “That’s a great aspect of the game – being able to pull the ball and run. It just helps the offense a lot more.”