July 8, 2013

Could FSU finally hit a home run in OL recruiting?

Under Jimbo Fisher, Florida State has churned out talent. Check April's NFL draft for evidence. Fisher and FSU have built a track record of producing top-level players - with one glaring exception.

The offensive line is the one part of Florida State's roster that hasn't yet progressed to an elite level. But an impressive recruiting haul for the class of 2014 could be an indication the 'Noles are getting over the hump.

Florida State's offense was potent in 2012, but the Seminoles' offensive line didn't live up to high expectations. Florida State ranked seventh in the ACC in sacks allowed and 43rd nationally in third-down conversions. FSU only attempted six fourth-down conversions in 2012, dead last in the ACC by a long shot.

It's not that the Seminoles don't have talented players; they just don't have enough. Tackle Menelik Watson was just drafted in April. And the Seminoles return four starters from 2012's offensive line. But depth remains an issue, and mainly because of recruiting misses that FSU is trying to rectify.

Seven of Florida State's offensive linemen come from the class of 2011. But outside of that group, the roster is thin. Converted defensive tackle Cameron Erving will likely be starting right tackle. Redshirt senior Bryan Stork is a converted tight end. After that, the roster consists of walk-ons and players with little or no experience. Florida State currently has just one offensive lineman on the roster billed as a five-star prospect out of high school: junior Bobby Hart, who's projected to start this year.

The 2011 recruiting class has been the backbone of Florida State's offensive line - three linemen from that class are starters and four are key backups - but the Seminoles haven't been able to fill out the depth chart in subsequent years. No offensive linemen who signed in the 2010 class are still on the roster, and the only true OL from the 2012 class, Dan Foose, has never cracked the two-deep depth chart.

Part of the reason is inherent difficulties in recruiting offensive linemen. Florida isn't a hotbed of offensive line talent, and it's difficult to tell if an offensive lineman prospect will ¬pan out, according to Rivals recruiting analyst Kynon Codrington.

"Quarterback is probably the hardest position to project," Codrington said. "But offensive lineman is probably the second. And not many schools are flying south to find offensive linemen. It's pretty tough to find a middle-tier Division-I guy. Florida produces a ton of skill talent; it's just not as strong in that area."

FSU made a point to attack offensive linemen in the 2013 and 2014 classes. Only three offensive lineman signed in 2013, but four-star guard Corey Martinez's commitment on Wednesday added some weight to a 2014 class that now features four offensive line commitments.

"Look at Menelik Watson last year and the guys they have produced," Codrington said. "They've got those guys there and developed them. I think once they have a good crop they'll be able to do that again. That 2011 class was huge and sprinkle in a few more guys, it's only going to help."

Martinez in particular is an important catch for the Seminoles as a four-star local product from Tampa. Codrington added that Martinez's commitment sets and important precedent going forward. Codrington mentioned Lake City native Laremy Tunsil, as an example. Tunsil was rated the top offensive tackle in the class of 2013 by Rivals and committed to Mississippi over Florida State and others.

"It's huge to know they're addressing a position of need and they're not letting him leave home like last year with Laremy Tunsil," Codrington said. "They identified him early and closed him early, and now they've got four months to get other pieces of the puzzle. That's a big pickup."

Just as important are three-star products like Ethan Firth and Alec Elberle, two three-star offensive line commitments who can hopefully help rectify FSU's depth issues up front down the road.

"You can tell (Firth) is a developmental guy," Codrington said. "He's going to be ready in two, three years. But you need those guys to help fill out the roster. O-linemen go down and you need to be two deep. You need to have quality guys you can insert. … You want to get those 4-star guys who are going to be ready and you can insert and then you want to fill out with those three-star guys who can help out your class."

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