Monday, August 28, 2006

7 Days and Counting... Will OL Woes Continue?

Wow...after eight arduous months wandering through the desert of golf, international basketball, and the interminable baseball season we are at last approaching the golden oasis of college football. Anticipation hangs in the air like a Hail Mary bomb, and all around the country fans are counting down the final hours until their respective teams kick off the 2006 season. Some teams will rise above expectations, some teams will break their fans' hearts, and some teams will do both in back-to-back weeks. Such is the nature of the fickle beast we call college football. And I love it.

Of course, we here at The Chop Shop couldn't give a rat's ass what happens to other teams. We are concerned solely with the fate of our beloved Seminoles, and since it is seven days (plus three hours, twenty-three minutes, and eleven seconds...) until kickoff it's time to address some of the questions facing the team as we enter what we hope will be a resurgent year for FSU. Of course, the #1 issue facing the 'Noles is the same question that's been at the forefront of Nole Nation's collective consciousness ever since Matt Meinrod went down against Wake Forest: What's up with the offensive line?

Alex Barron. He was good.

Left Tackle - We feel really good about Mario Henderson. He came on strong at the end of last year and had a great game against Penn State in the Orange Bowl. He's been one of the most consistent lineman in the off-season and should be the stand-out performer on the line this season. Plus he has really cool dreads. But the problem here isn't hair, it's depth. Freshman Daron Rose will have to take some snaps to give Henderson a breather and to prepare to take over the position in '07. Rose was easily FSU's highest-rated OL prospect, but we reserve judgement on any and all freshmen until they show it on the field. We hope Rose will be big-time, but if he's not ready to step in and provide valuable minutes Super Mario will have to shoulder a heavy workload, and that ain't good (see: Castillo, David).

Left Guard - Jacky Claude was probably Florida State's most consistent interior lineman at the end of last year, but there was still room for improvement. A key to Claude's struggles may have been the complete lack of depth on the line last year. Unfortunately the situation at left guard hasn't changed much in '06. Unless Geoff Bernaird is ready to take on a more prominent role the Left Guard duties will be left mainly to Claude. The good news is that with a year to get bigger, stronger, and smarter Jacky should be better-equipped to handle the job, but FSU must identify a reliable back-up during the early part of the season or interior blocking will again become an issue by the end of the year.

Center - FSU lost a true warrior when Davis Castillo ran out of eligibility after the Orange Bowl. Castillo was the embodiment of everything good about college football and we wish him the best in medical school. Yet as strange as it may sound, we actually feel better about the center position this year. By the end of 2006 Castillo was playing with too many injuries and no back-up, until he was a shell of his former self. This year the 'Noles have a healthy John Frady and promising Dumaka Atkins platooning at center and the combination should give FSU more power at the position than we've had in years. Interior blocking killed the running game last year but with bigger, stronger blockers like Frady and Atkins look for Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith to find a little more breathing room between the tackles.

Castillo had to carry the load at center last year, often with multiple fractures and severe internal bleeding

Right Guard - Now we're talking. When Meinrod went down last year it blew up FSU's entire plan for the line. The depth was ruined and young players were thrust into roles they weren't ready for. But in '06 Corey Niblock returns to his proper position, where we expect him to make a successful transition from average tackle to standout guard. David Overmeyer, the other guard playing out of position last year provides experienced depth, and a position that was a huge liability last year could prove to be a strength this season. The one problem is that Overmeyer may be pressed into service at right tackle, in which case depth can become an issue if Matt Hardrick isn't ready to help this season.

Right Tackle - Currently this is the most glaring question mark on a line full of them. Shannon Boatman was brought in from the JUCO ranks to shore up the position, and while he certainly possesses the physical attributes necessary to fill the role it remains to be seen how quickly he can make the transition to big-time college football. Making matters worse is the baptism-by-fire he must endure over the first three weeks of the season. Even if he survives Miami's plethora of dangerous DEs on Labor Day his reward will be a date with Clemson's All-American DE Gaines Adams on September 16. If Boatman's not up to the challenge David Overmeyer will have to shift over from right guard, an experiment that was tried last year and produced inconsistent results. As bad as things were at the end of last season I feel good about every spot on the line now...except this one.

If FSU can stay healthy - a big IF over the course of a possible 14 game schedule - the OL should be much improved. However, the re-tooled line may need some time to jell and with two huge conference showdowns in the first three weeks there may simply not be enough time for that to happen. While we don't expect a repeat of last year's horror show, look for Drew Weatherford to take his share of hits and the running game to continue its struggles until the middle part of the season, when a combination of lighter competition and more time working together will allow the line to start to reach its full potential. By the end of the season we should have an FSU-caliber offensive front once again.

Coming tomorrow: How will the Defensive Line replace its two stars?


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