As Florida State has floundered through five seasons of disappointment across three coaching staffs, one constant has remained.
The offensive line has struggled.
It began to crack at the end of the Jimbo Fisher era thanks to injuries, recruiting misses and off-field trouble. It reached historically bad levels under Willie Taggart, ranking in the bottom six nationally in sacks and tackles for loss allowed. And through Mike Norvell’s two seasons, FSU hasn’t finished in the top 80 in either category.
But as the Seminoles gear up for Norvell’s third season, the future is beginning to look brighter. The line might not be FSU’s biggest strength this season, but it will no longer be the weakness it has been.
“It’s a whole lot of talent and potential there, man,” said Jazston Turnetine, who transferred to FSU from South Carolina this summer.
The reasons for optimism begin with steady signs of progress through two seasons under assistant Alex Atkins, who earned a promotion to offensive coordinator this offseason. The Seminoles allowed almost two fewer tackles for loss per game last year than they did in 2019. Sacks per game have fallen each of the past two seasons, too.
Many of the players responsible for that growth are back. Four returning linemen have started at least 11 games at FSU: Robert Scott, who has earned offseason buzz as a potential 2023 NFL draft pick; Dillan Gibbons, who earned honorable mention all-ACC accolades last year after transferring from Notre Dame; Maurice Smith, a former freshman All-American; and Darius Washington, FSU’s most improved player last year.
As importantly, the ‘Noles have added a lot of production. Turnetine and Tampa native Kayden Lyles combined for 26 Power Five starts at South Carolina and Wisconsin. D’Mitri Emmanuel was a three-year starter at Charlotte, and a fourth transfer, Bless Harris, was Lamar’s left tackle before he got hurt last year.
Eight players with 123 career starts should build a nice foundation. ESPN recently ranked FSU’s offensive line in the second tier in the ACC. That’s a long way from the 2013 line that still has a pair of players on NFL rosters, but it would be a significant improvement from recent history.
And the future has a chance at being significantly better.
In addition to the four transfers, Norvell signed six high school offensive linemen in the 2022 recruiting class. The 10 additions are, by far, FSU’s biggest influx of bodies at the position in the modern recruiting era.
“It gives me a chance to take bits and pieces from each player,” said Qae’shon Sapp, a four-star signee from Georgia.
FSU’s offensive line class isn’t merely large; it’s talented, too. Three of the signees were four-star recruits: Julian Armella (No. 152 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite), Sapp (No. 356) and Jaylen Early (No. 366). The Seminoles signed only three blue-chip offensive linemen over the previous five classes combined.
Only two FSU classes in the Rivals era had comparable hauls with offensive linemen; the Seminoles signed four blue-chip recruits in 2016 and 2011. Two of the top signees in ‘11 (Bobby Hart and Josue Matias) started on the national title team.
Considering FSU has suffered through four consecutive losing seasons, it’s unfair to put national championship expectations on this class before its first fall camp. But they aren’t shying away from the challenge.
“We’re going to put us back on the map,” Early said. “We’ve been down a couple years, but I feel like this is the class that’s going to do it — this offensive line class. We’re going to bring them back to where we used to be.”
Sacks allowed per game
2017: 2.5 (No. 95 nationally)
2018: 3.0 (No. 112)
2019: 3.7 (No. 125)
2020: 3.2 (No. 112)
2021: 3.0 (No. 114)
Tackles for loss allowed per game
2017: 7.1 (No. 117 nationally)
2018: 8.6 (No. 127)
2019: 8.5 (No. 126)
2020: 7.3 (No. 104)
2021: 6.7 (No. 97)
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