TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Florida State's fall camp set to begin next week, Seminoles.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2017 FSU football team. Up next is the offensive line.
Welcome back:Baveon Johnson (6-3, 326; RFr.), David Robbins (6-4, 294; RJr.), Alec Eberle (6-4, 294; RJr.), Corey Martinez (6-4, 298; RJr.), Andrew Boselli (6-4, 303; RFr.), Ethan Frith (6-7, 316; Jr.), Landon Dickerson (6-5, 310; So.), Cole Minshew (6-5, 338; RSo.), Brock Ruble (6-8; 319, RJr.), Mike Arnold (6-4, 339; RFr.), Jauan Williams (6-6, 300; RFr.), Derrick Kelly II (6-5, 323; RJr.), Abdul Bello (6-6, 312; RSo.), Rick Leonard (6-7, 306; Sr.), Josh Ball (6-8, 287; RFr.)
Fresh faces: Brady Scott (6-6, 285; Fr.)
So long, farewell: Ryan Hoefeld (graduated), Keith Weeks (graduated), Kareem Are (nine starts in 2016, graduated), Roderick Johnson (13 starts in 2016, ACC Jacobs Blocking trophy recipient, declared for NFL draft), Wilson Bell (transferred).
The buzz: Despite saying goodbye to the left side of the line – All-American Roderick Johnson and steady Kareem Are are both gone – Rick Trickett will still have four players with starting experience in 2016 back for another year. And thanks to the virtually unprecedented influx of young linemen over the past few years, Trickett has a plethora of options as he looks to determine the best front five over the next few weeks.
Exactly what that group looks like probably won't be determined for a little while, although it's possible to make some educated guesses. Redshirt junior Alec Eberle has made 19 consecutive starts at center, and, despite missing spring practice with an injury, is healthy and says he's stronger than he was before he got hurt. As a result, he's the frontrunner to anchor the middle this fall.
“I'm bigger than I've ever been, stronger than I've ever been,” Eberle said. “I'm definitely excited to use it this year.”
With Eberle sidelined during the spring, redshirt freshman Baveon Johnson, the top-ranked center prospect for the signing class of 2016, took plenty of reps at the position. Johnson may not immediately challenge for the starting job, but he should at least make for a dependable reserve.
Eberle ought to have familiar faces on his left and right. Cole Minshew is back after starting the final three games of the 2016 season – a stretch that included matchups against stout fronts from Florida and Michigan – at left guard, and Landon Dickerson is set to return to right guard after a knee injury prematurely ended his freshman year.
Dickerson last year was the first freshman guard to start a home opener for the Seminoles since Jamie Dukes in 1982, and he had earned steady praise from coach Jimbo Fisher before sustaining his injury.
At tackle, FSU returns Rick Leonard, who started three games at right tackle, sat for six games in the middle of the season, then, following an injury to Brock Ruble, reclaimed his job and finished with strong performances in the final three contests.
Leonard, a converted defensive end, is the likely favorite at right tackle, but Ruble will be in the mix as well.
Finally, that leaves left tackle, where FSU could turn to a redshirt freshman to replace Johnson, one of the most decorated linemen in recent program history.
Both Josh Ball and Jauan Williams worked at the spot during the spring, with Ball finishing with a slight leg up.
"Those guys up front are learning and getting better,” Fisher said during the spring. “That O-line is constant communication. ... It's been pretty solid.”
As always, line combinations can be fluid and it won't be a surprise if Trickett tries a number of combinations between now and the season opener on Sept. 2. Between Trickett's unwavering commitment to cross-training and having a staggering 16 scholarship linemen on the roster, he'll have no shortage of choices.
Burning question: Can the Seminoles find continuity and cohesion up front?
Whether the result of injuries or ineffectiveness, FSU used seven different offensive line combinations in 2016. The year before, the Seminoles used five.
While it's good to have the type of depth that can sustain those injuries, the Seminoles would also get a huge benefit from having the same starting five from week to week and allowing that group to build a deeper rapport with each other.
See the 2013 and 2014 Seminoles as examples: FSU in 2013 started the same offensive line in 11 of 13 games, and used just three different combinations in 2014. Those Seminoles, of course, combined to win 27 games, a national championship and two ACC titles.
"Whatever O-line you're talking about,” Fisher said, “whether it's experienced or not coming back, O-line is a constant communication, changing with people, changing how they do stuff inside. It's one of the hardest positions to teach and coach by far.”