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October 16, 2012

Halfway Through Season, FSU Offensive Line Coming Off Their Strongest Game

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Florida State's 51-7 win over Boston College featured the Seminoles' best performance along the offensive line in all of 2012. The five Seminole starting linemen– Cam Erving, Josue Matias, Bryan Stork, Tre' Jackson and Menelik Watson– received their highest grades of the season.

“I like it, I’m really happy for the guys because like you know, I’m making my grades but to see the guys catching up, that’s a wonderful thing," said redshirt junior center Bryan Stork. "And if we’re all together getting the same grades, we’re going to be competing every week for the lineman of the week.”

Stork is the team's most experienced lineman, the de facto leader of the unit. He was expected to play at a high level this year, even surrounded by inexperience. So far he's been solid, and now after some rough spots, the guys around him are beginning to keep pace.

“I’d say everybody, everybody in general [has improved]," said Stork. "It’s kind of even, Josue, Tre’, Menelik and definitely Cam Erving, he got his best grade yet. So I’m happy for him.”

Against BC, Florida State had its best passing numbers of the season, indicative of improved performance in pass protection, an area that has plagued the Seminoles this season. 

“The two flanks held up [against BC]," said Jimbo Fisher on Monday. "Cameron played a really good game and Menelik being back in there makes a difference as far as the power and size he brings.”

But the Seminoles improvements along the O-line are not just the result of having Menelik Watson back in the game. As Fisher said, it helps, but that's not the only answer.

“I can see from outside people thinking that," said Stork. "But there’s more to it than just one thing. See everybody just believes if there’s a problem, it’s one problem, it’s one thing. A problem has multiple [sources], you know what I mean?”

In football, especially when it comes to blocking schemes, Occam's razor doesn't apply. That is, the simplest explanation is oftentimes not the correct one.

For instance last weekend against NC State, EJ Manuel took four sacks but really only one was attributable to the offensive line. The others were the result of poor blitz pick-up by the tight ends and backs. At first blush, it's easy to blame the guys up front, but that's not always the story.

Oftentimes fans wonder why one tight end isn't in the game as much as another or why James Wilder for instance didn't get as many touches against NC State last weekend, the answer comes from what those players can do when the ball is not in their hands.

Pass protection, blitz pick-up, all of the little things that go into making players well rounded take time to develop, and they make a world of difference in how much a coach can trust a player on the field. As much as Chris Thompson had the hot hand against NC State, the Wolfpack also blitzed throughout the second half and the 'Noles senior back is one of the their best in pass protection.

"It's experience," said Jimbo Fisher. "The more you're in there, the better. When you're smart like that you can anticipate issues coming, it makes a big difference."

The line is asked to do a lot, but the backs and tight ends also have to chip in (bad pun). Case in point go back to the BC game and right in the first quarter you see EJ Manuel connect on a 42-yard pass to Scooter Haggins.

If you take your eye off the ball during the play you see the line blocks well but just by virtue of the scheme, a free man comes off the edge. 

On that play Chris Thompson sticks his helmet right on the pass-rusher and clears him out of the play. It gives EJ Manuel the extra second to step up and complete the pass. It makes all the difference.

But there's the rub for the O-line, a lot of fans would see a sack in that situation as their fault. The blame for a guy coming off the edge and hitting the quarterback oftentimes lands at the feet of the offensive tackle on that respective side, even if scheme dictates that wasn't his man or responsibility.

Which is why as Bryan Stork said, it's never just one thing when there are breakdowns in blocking. 

But it's also not overly complicated either.

“When we all did our technique [against BC], the guy we had to block didn’t make the play," said Stork. "It’s as simple as that.”

Basically, it comes down to that worn out old concept of executing.

Against BC the line executed their technique the best they have all season and received their best grades yet. Now they're looking to take that momentum with them down to Miami.

Said Stork:

"It's Hurricane season, man."

The Early Read: Mario Edwards Jr. Coming on Strong Down the Stretch

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Last spring the Earth shook for a moment in Tallahassee when the number one recruit in the country announced on the morning of national signing day that he would be a Florida State Seminole. Mario's father had played at FSU in the 1990's as a defensive back, and now the 18 year-old defensive end would be following in his footsteps.

Then earlier this year came the news he would redshirt.

Behind a trio of Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, and with Giorgio Newberry and Toshmon Stevens sandwiched between Edwards Jr. and fellow freshman Chris Casher, there was little reason to waste a year of eligiblity for either of the two. 

Funny what can change over a season.

With Brandon Jenkins' injury, the redshirt quickly came off for both Edwards and Casher. Casher was lost for the season a couple weeks later. And now Edwards has begun to play himself into the rotation at End.

"He's ready, he's playing very well, his weight's down. He's been playing much better in practice, more physical in the run," said Jimbo Fisher yesterday morning. "We've got to keep getting those reps up."

"He's starting to get in that rotation and we've got to keep that rotation going because as [the year goes on] and you start those guys the bodies break down. And he's really starting to emerge out, do some very nice things in practice."

Edwards saw increased reps in Saturday's win over BC and played well.

"Sometimes those young guys need to understand draws," joked Jimbo Fisher. "They all want to get up the field, but you've got to read it."

"But he played solid, did a nice job."

Edwards will become more savvy with experience, but once again playing into the age old coach's adage that it's a long year, where some fans were beginning to fear Edwards could transfer out of FSU for lack of early playing time at the outset of the season, at the midway point he's beginning to break out and have an impact for the Seminoles. 

Freshmen like Edwards and DT Eddie Goldman seem to be getting acclimated and are coming on down the stretch. That's a good sign for an already deep unit and should give Florida State plenty of confidence, even as they are likely to lose both starting ends after the season.

Check back later today, I'm going to have lots more coming on the blog as I finish player interviews. Besides it's Miami week, where else would you go for coverage of the 'Noles and 'Canes?


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