Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Spring Questions: The offensive line
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Spring practice arrived with some significant questions, and it ended with at least a slightly clearer indication of some answers. This week, we'll take a look at five of the biggest question marks of the spring and decipher what we learned and how much further the Seminoles have to go before the season kicks off.
Next up: The offensive line
The question: With starting right tackle Menelik Watson leaving for the NFL draft, can FSU find a suitable replacement and improve on a solid season by a young offensive line?
Now in his third season, Bobby Hart is still very young at 18, but he's showing more maturity.
The possibilities: The simplest solution would be for junior Bobby Hart to seize the right tackle job -- a position he owned for eight games in 2011. But Hart has struggled with maturity and consistency, which opened the door for a potential reshuffling of the line, with Bryan Stork moving out to tackle and Austin Barron taking over at center.
What we learned this spring: Hart has grown up -- at least a bit. Now in his third season at Florida State, it's hard to believe, but Hart is still just 18 years old, so some of those maturity issues early in his career are understandable. But with age and experience comes wisdom, and Hart insists he's learned from his struggles.
"Once you sit back and understand why you're in that predicament, you mature and you learn from it, and that can be a good thing," Hart said.
At times this spring, that maturity showed. Hart and Cameron Erving were Florida State's two most consistent linemen this spring according to coaches, and when the spring game ended Hart was still the nominal starter at right tackle.
That's not to say Jimbo Fisher was all smiles. Hart missed a few assignments in the spring game, and Fisher's diagnosis of the performance as a whole was a tepid "solid." But after Hart slacked off following the 2011 season, Fisher is unlikely to offer too much praise regardless. At this point, it's enough to know that Hart hasn't lost the job.
What's left to decide: Aside from a more mature approach, Hart's biggest asset may be Fisher's lack of alternatives. Barron remains a possibility to crack the starting lineup, but that may end up a slight downgrade for FSU at center and right tackle. For a group that didn't always shine -- particularly in pass protection -- without Watson last season, that's a concern.
Given Hart's track record, Fisher is unlikely to make anything official, even after the season starts. A week-to-week philosophy might be the best motivator for Hart. But as Erving progressed on the opposite side of the line and the interior linemen enter their second full season as starters, there's hope that this unit could be a strength for the offense, and that would be a boon given the chaos at quarterback.