An Uphill Climb
Offensive line is a position group that certainly hasn’t been one of Florida State’s strengths the last few seasons, putting it politely. However, 2020 saw a slight upward trend for coach Alex Atkins’ group, particularly when it came to the running game. With some key pieces now fully healthy and every returning player getting a full offseason with no Covid-19 restrictions, we could see the big guys up front take another step in the right direction. Let’s take a look at how the offensive line could shake out in 2021.
The 2020 season ended early for Taylor when he went down with a knee injury against Pittsburgh. In any other season this would’ve been Taylor’s final game in his one short season at Florida State after transferring from FIU. The 6’4 left tackle has his eyes on the NFL and decided to exhaust his Covid year waiver, and will come back for some fine tuning. Taylor was a steady force for the offensive line, and looks to be one again. He proved himself to be the best player in the group, and I don’t see anyone knocking him off of that perch just yet. Tackle is a position of need for the ‘Noles, but with DLT you have one sure anchor up front.
It’s been a little bit of a bumpy ride for the Miami native since his arrival in Tallahassee. Between injuries and some off-the-field clashing, rumors began to swirl about his future at FSU. However, he’s vowed to be locked in and ready for the 2021 season. With him staying put, we may finally see the guard reach his four-star ranking potential, and he certainly helps anchor this group with his experience.
The redshirt sophomore was a nice find for Alex Atkins and company last season. He saw limited snaps in 2019, but he became entrenched as the full time starter in 2020, and I don’t see him giving that spot up anytime soon. Smith was listed on a few freshman All-American teams at the end of 2020, and he hasn’t even reached his full potential yet.
Johnson is the longest tenured player on Florida State’s roster. He was a part of the 2016 recruiting class, and was a borderline five-star prospect. I think we can admit that Johnson hasn’t quite lived up to that during his time in Tallahassee, but towards the end of last season we began to see the skill set that everyone else saw out of high school, once he moved to guard. If Johnson can maintain that level of play, he’s very likely to keep his starting on role on this team.
Scott ended up being a welcomed surprise in 2020. He has the highest upside of all returning players in this group, and it’s easy to see why. His body has the ideal length for offensive tackle, and he has the frame to continue to add weight. After being behind Love-Taylor at right tackle early in the season, he proved to be too much of an asset to be ignored, and that caused Alex Atkins to do some moving around. He was named to multiple freshman All-American teams, and looks to be an anchor that the ‘Noles can count on for years to come.
Swiss Army Knife
The Notre Dame transfer was huge get for Mike Norvell and his staff. Gibbons brings Power Five conference game experience to the table at multiple positions. He played the majority of 2020 at tackle, including against FSU, but was battling at guard and center in the spring. He brings the ability to play all three spots if necessary, and has the potential to grab a starting spot as well. He’s also brought positive attention via the new NIL rules.
Washington was a full time starter in 2019 and seemed to show a lot of upside. His size and athleticism are a major plus, and he brings experienced depth to the table. He’ll have a chance to compete for a starting position in fall camp, and I would say he could easily see the field as the first man up in 2021, assuming he stays healthy.
The senior has had his ups and down during his time at Florida State, but he’s been solid when called upon the last few seasons. Another player that brings experienced depth, and who will push the guys in front of him to always be at their best.
Another player that will push and compete for starting minutes in fall camp. He came in and played for a banged up Donte Lucas in a few games last season, and filled in quite well. Shrader got the start against NC State, and held his own against a solid defensive line. The true sophomore brings experienced depth, and that’s hard to replace.
Goss was used as another big body/pseudo tight end in certain packages last season. He’s not much bigger than he was coming out of high school, and this is his third season at FSU, and that’s cause for concern. The ability ceiling seems to be high, but time is starting to run out on his chance to show and prove. Maybe a full fall camp with this staff will help him see the field in 2021.
Henry has upside to his game, but he needs more time in the weight room and in the conditioning department. He’s been mostly a special teams player so far, but he’s been on campus and working to get better. He looks to push the guys in front of him and try to carve out some playing time in 2021.
Herring missed the entire 2020 season with a serious injury. With this group continuing to add talented players through recruiting, there’s some uncertainty about what his role can be. That being said, he looks to be fully healthy, and has added size to his frame. Finally getting a full fall camp will do nothing but help his cause.
Willis spent most of his 2020 season as a practice player, and didn’t appear in a game until the final one against Duke. His frame is ideal for what Alex Atkins wants to work with, and reports indicate he had a solid spring. He could easily push for second team reps this fall and find his way into games for injured players.
Obviously we don’t know enough about the incoming freshman to accurately preview their game, but this crop of players looks to push the veterans to get better. Early enrollee Byron Estes has already been putting in a lot of work in the weight room. You have guys like Rod Orr, who are the type of recruit that has been sorely lacking at the offensive line position. Orr is a high end four-star prospect– could he be an immediate game changer or will we be waiting to see him take the field?