TAMPA — When you've been in the coaching business as long as Florida State's Bobby Bowden, it's difficult, if not impossible, to be surprised by a situation.
He has pretty much seen it all after more than five decades.
Well, here's a new one for Bowden: His Seminoles enter the season without a single junior or senior along the offensive line, something that never has happened in his career or in the history of FSU.
"That's probably our biggest liability going in," he said Friday during his session to conclude the Florida Sports Writers Association College Football Media Days. "Our offensive line is going to be made up of redshirt freshmen and sophomores and pure freshmen. That's as high as it goes."
That's troubling, especially considering that Bowden, 78, has fretted for the past couple of seasons about the line's depth and breadth. The most innovative play call, he and every other coach will tell you, will net little real estate if the guys up front don't adequately protect the quarterback or create holes for the backs.
FSU coaches had hoped that some recruiting missteps and bad luck with injuries would not be so evident in 2008.
Then heralded junior tackle Daron Rose (Jefferson High), a starter in 11 games last season, had academic troubles and left school after the spring semester. Third-year sophomore guard Evan Bellamy, who started in the Music City Bowl last season, was recently diagnosed with a blood clot in his left leg and will miss the season.
That leaves as the only experienced linemen third-year sophomore center Ryan McMahon and sophomore left guard Rodney Hudson (he's not expected to be at tackle, as he was in the bowl game). Both earned freshman All-America honors last season.
If redshirt freshmen Antwane Greenlee and Will Furlong start at right tackle and right guard, respectively, as seems likely, a quartet of freshmen — Zebrie Sanders, Rhonne Sanderson (Plant High), Andrew Datko and Garrett Faircloth — will compete for the starting left tackle spot. Whoever doesn't start in that crucial spot will form, along with freshman guard David Spurlock, the second unit.
No wonder some pundits have ranked Florida State's offensive line No. 12 in the ACC.
Reminder: There are only 12 teams in the league.
"I don't get concerned about it a lot because of (Rick) Trickett," Bowden said. "Trickett's a pretty dadgum good line coach. He's recruited these guys. He knows what kind of guys he wants. They'll scratch, and he'll have them scrapping."
"It's the biggest challenge I've ever strapped on in 36 years," Trickett said, "but I'm looking forward to it. I'm really fired up about it."
Trickett is renowned for taking unheralded linemen and turning them into All-Americans (at West Virginia, his stop before coming to Tallahassee in 2007, the Mountaineers annually had one of the top rushing offenses). He knows how to develop talent and demand intensity.
"I can give them the tools they need. I don't even worry about that," said Trickett, a hard-driving perfectionist who's apt to hurl his ball cap at a player who goofs up an assignment on the field.
"The thing I can't give them is the experience. You have to earn the experience."
But for this group, it won't come in the fourth quarter of blowouts.
It will be when the game is, well, on the line.
"Everybody's talking about how young we are, but that just motivates everybody on the line to work harder and not even make that a factor," McMahon said recently. "We're confident. We've been putting in extra time watching film, and all the freshmen are hard workers. We're going to be good."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.