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Remodeled Florida State offensive line still missing hardware

4/8/2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher stressed patience at the beginning of the spring. He’s harped on the group’s youthfulness throughout camp, too. This present Florida State team, absent nearly every star from the last two seasons, is short on experience.

That is nowhere more evident than along the offensive line, where four multiyear starters are being replaced. The most experienced returner is sophomore Roderick Johnson, who has started all of five games, making his default distinction of “veteran” more tongue-in-cheek than anything else. The Seminoles’ most seasoned offensive lineman hasn’t even started half of a season’s worth of games.

“Patience and being able to teach has been a big part of this spring,” Fisher said.

Fisher has not had his projected starting lineup across the offensive line for most of the spring, though. Right tackle Chad Mavety has had a concussion and an ailing foot. Center Ryan Hoefeld was lost early to torn meniscus.

Despite the unit being limited, the five linemen have impressed Fisher and the rest of Florida State’s offense. Johnson is an All-ACC candidate at left tackle and left guard Kareem Are was one of the stars of last year’s spring session. Alec Eberle has filled in well at center and right guard Wilson Bell has received praise from Fisher, too.

With the loss of Jameis Winston and his passing game cohorts, the offense could lay on the shoulders of star sophomore Dalvin Cook, who late last season established himself as one of the country’s premier running backs. The remodeled offensive line needs to gain the trust and approval of Cook, which it has.

“They did better than anybody thought. We had a bunch of those guys go down, big-time guys like Chad,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “We needed one of those guys to step up. The guys that are in there, they’re stepping up. I’ve got no problem with those guys. They’re stepping up and they’re showing their toughness.”

The Seminoles knew the line would get an overhaul following the 2014 season, so Fisher was proactive, recruiting junior-college transfers Are and Mavety. The 6-foot-7, 312-pound Johnson is the exception, rather than the rule, when it comes to freshman linemen earning starting role. Linemen from the junior-college ranks are usually fit to play an immediate role, and Fisher said Are and Mavety could have played last season if called upon.

Mavety was No. 7 overall in the 2014 ESPN Junior College 50 and No. among offensive tackles, and Are was No. 46 overall and third at his position.

“I love their talent,” Fisher said. “Those two guys could really be a big key.”

With the exception of Johnson, no player has cemented a place in the starting lineup for the season opener in less than five months. Fisher has been pleased with reserve right tackle Brock Ruble in Mavety’s absence, and Hoefeld hardly locked down the starting center job before the injury.

That shaky footing each lineman is on has created a positive practice environment, though.

“We know every position is up for grabs,” Johnson said. “It drives everybody to go harder in practice to make sure everything you do -- alignment, assignment, technique -- is good to allow [offensive line coach Rick] Trickett to trust us just as much, if not more than, the four who left.”