Improvement along the offensive line needed this spring so Florida State can live up to hype this fall

Florida State went into last season ranked in the top 10 and considered a dark-horse pick for the national title. Expect more of the same this season.

The question, though, is whether FSU can live up to the expectations. Last season, the Seminoles fell far short, not even winning their ACC division.

This season, FSU’s defense should be good enough to win the national title. Nine starters return and depth looks good everywhere, especially along the line, which should be one of the nation’s two or three best.

Jimbo Fisher will likely be dealing with a lot of preseason hype at Florida State in 2012.
(Getty Images)
Florida State at-a-glance
Coach: Jimbo Fisher (3rd season)
Last season: 9-4, 5-3 ACC
Spring practice dates: March 19-April 14
Returning starters
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (7): G Jacob Fahrenkrug, TB Devonta Freeman, T Bobby Hart, QB E.J. Manuel, FB Lonnie Pryor, WR Rodney Smith, C Bryan Stork
Defense (9): T Everette Dawkins, E Brandon Jenkins, LB Christian Jones, FS Lamarcus Joyner, T Anthony McCloud, CB Greg Reid, CB Xavier Rhodes, E Bjoern Werner, LB Vince Williams
Special teams (1): K Dustin Hopkins

The Seminoles are looking for new starters at linebacker and strong safety, and those will be the spotlight positions this spring on that side of the ball.

There are more questions offensively, with the biggest about the line. FSU’s rushing offense was poor last season, ranking just 112th nationally. The Seminoles lack a big-time breakaway threat at tailback, but sophomore Devonta Freeman has 1,000-yard potential if the line gives him the room to run.

It will be important this spring for numerous young linemen to make strides and either nail down starting jobs or prove they can be capable backups.

Developing depth at tailback and a pecking order at wide receiver also will be important this spring.

D.C. Reeves of Warchant.com – a Rivals.com website that covers Florida State – provides a more in-depth look at spring practice.

The biggest problem: Offensive line. Florida State’s biggest weakness from last season, the offensive line, will linger as its biggest question entering this spring. The Seminoles’ front was a carousel of struggle – 10 players earned starts on a unit that ranked 110th nationally in sacks allowed (3.2 per game). The Seminoles enter the spring with some promise as coach Jimbo Fisher opted for an injection of youth on the line to end last season, starting four true freshmen against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. After a brutal first half, the unit – which included T Bobby Hart, Gs Tre’ Jackson and Josue Matias and C Austin Barron – shored up after halftime and allowed QB E.J. Manuel to guide FSU to an 18-14 win. Expect those four to be the frontrunners for playing time, while juniors Garrett Faircloth and Daniel Glauser, a JC transfer who enrolled in January, battle for time at the open tackle spot.

On the spot: WR Rodney Smith. With young competition at the receiver spot making waves in 2011, Smith will need a big spring to keep a firm grip on a starting spot. Smith, who is 6 feet 6, caught 36 passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns in 12 starts last season, a slight increase from his 2010 season (31-448-3). But as true freshman Rashad Greene (38-596-7) became the team’s go-to guy down the stretch, Smith caught only 11 passes for 111 yards and one touchdown in the team’s final six games. Smith never had more than 34 receiving yards in any one contest in that span. This spring, seven players return with at least 10 receptions, and that doesn’t count sophomore Willie Haulstead, who was expected to start alongside Smith in 2011 before a preseason concussion forced him to redshirt.

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On the verge: DT Timmy Jernigan. On the first day of fall practice last season, all FSU players could talk about was Jernigan, then a true freshman. He worked his way into an already-deep tackle rotation and made a significant impact. Playing in all 13 games but with zero starts, Jernigan, the No. 2-rated defensive tackle in the Class of 2011, led all FSU tackles in tackles (30), tackles for loss (six) and sacks (2.5). The entire unit returns for 2012 and is rotated heavily, but a solid spring could move him to the top of the depth chart.

General overview: Florida State will be happy to have Manuel available for spring practice. He missed spring drills in 2010 with a shoulder surgery, then fractured his fibula in the bowl win over Notre Dame. Fisher expects Manuel, who played through another early-season shoulder injury last season, to be ready for spring camp. Keep an eye on the position battle at safety between junior Terrence Brooks and highly touted sophomore Karlos Williams, who turned down an offer to move to running back this offseason. FSU also will work in a new punter in freshman Cason Beatty, who has big shoes to fill after the graduation of All-American Shawn Powell.

For in-depth coverage of Florida State athletics, go to Warchant.com

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