Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's the line? Part II

Rich from Chant Rant asked for my take on the Badgers' defensive line, now here's his take on the Seminoles' offensive line:

You ask how good are the smallish guys on the offensive line?

Good. Better than they had a right to be, given that they were the youngest OL in D-1 football. We're talking three true freshmen, and two sophs, plus a redshirt frosh who backs up at tackle.

Why so young and so small? Credit goes to OL coach Rick Trickett, a Viet Nam-era Marine vet who, like a D.I. at Parris Island, whipped this kiddie korps into fighting shape. Trickett is a buddy of Head Coach in Waiting Jimbo Fisher. He came to FSU in 2007 from West Virginia, where he was known for turning unheralded youngsters into NFL draft choices.

Trickett likes 'em lean and, with a lot of hard-nosed techniques, mean (here's a great story on how they toughened up: Arriving at FSU, he he told the O-line, "Welcome to Jennie Craig." His guys have the body fat of Michael Phelps after a 1500 meter race. With Trickett, it's all about leverage, quickness and technique to prevail over big defensive linemen. Think Denver Broncos with their svelte OL that over the years that made many a running back wealthy. In fact, Trickett is on the leading edge of the "athleticism over size" trend in college football.

On the plus side, FSU's running game has gone from one of the worst in D-1 to among the top third in NCAA stats. The Noles are scoring nearly ten points per game more than last year. And the OL has often played well against bigger defensive front.

As for negatives, the lean 'n mean approach, coupled with youth, didn't work in a few key games this year. Boston College's big boys -- especially 320 lb. B.J. Raji -- showed that size matters. Said Coach Bobby Bowden, "It's hard to do anything when your defensive tackles are getting pushed into your linebackers or when your offensive line is getting pushed into your quarterback." FSU's OL also struggled with Virginia Tech's and Florida's front.

The tackles include two true freshmen: Andrew Datko (6-6, 278), and Zebrie Sanders (6-5, 280), backed up by redshirt frosh Antwane Greenlee (6-6, 290). Datko was a quick study on Trickett's technique and is tough as nails. But the guy's so skinny compared to the other OL, he almost looks like your paperboy. He'll be a weight room project in the off-season. Sanders shows much promise, but is probably responsible for the most holding penalties this year.

At guard, Rodney Hudson (6-2, 290) is the rock of the OL and a grizzled vet as a sophomore. He was a freshman All-American in '07. David Spurlock (6-5, 287) is another true frosh with enormous potential, yet obviously learning on the job.

At center, redshirt sophomore Ryan McMahon (6-3, 282) is on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the best center in the nation. Last year the converted d-lineman made every offensive snap.

Others? None to speak of. Coach Trickett likes to play his best guys until the final gun or they're carried off the field (that's where the relentless conditioning comes in). But truth be known, he has little choice. Besides Greenlee getting in the rotation at tackle, no other lineman is ready to step in and do the job. Which is why you might see FSU fans lighting votive candles before the game, praying that none of Trickett's starting five are injured.

Thanks Rich. Scott here again, with a question for Badger fans: What letter grade would you give our defensive line this year? A comment on Rich's blog on my breakdown says our D-Line is terrible and one of the smallest in the country. I certainly don't think that's true, but they're also not the Steel Curtain or all 300-pounders.

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