TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State’s biggest question mark going into 2012 is the play of its offensive line.
And the Seminoles will lean on some new players to help this fall, as coach Jimbo Fisher announced Monday that converted defensive end Cameron Erving will start at left tackle and England-born Menelik Watson will start at right tackle.
Erving moved over to the offensive line in spring practice, and Watson played basketball at Marist in 2010-11 before playing football for the first time in 2011 at Saddleback College, a junior college in California.
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Fisher admitted that they will both be nervous when No. 7 FSU opens against Murray State on Saturday, but he also sees both as bookend 6-foot-6 tackles that will protect senior quarterback EJ Manuel.
“Size, speed and athleticism,” Fisher said. “They both are intelligent. They both are very instinctive. Football makes sense to them.”
A year ago, neither had played a game of college football at any level, but now they are starting for one of the top teams in the nation.
Erving had never played on the offensive line — not even in high school — but after a redshirt season and another year as a reserve defensive tackle now starts for the first time at left tackle. He has held his own in daily practice battles against FSU’s star defensive end, Brandon Jenkins.
“Cam looks like a three-year All-American out there,” backup quarterback Clint Trickett said. “And he’s going against a three-year All-American.”
Watson’s story is also remarkable. A native of Manchester, England, he played for a basketball academy in Spain before earning a scholarship offer from Marist in 2009. After a redshirt season, Watson played forward and center, averaging 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds for the Red Foxes.
But Watson, who also briefly tried boxing, was soon introduced to football. He landed at Saddleback College and within a few games was rolling in Division I scholarship offers from FSU, Auburn, Cal, Oklahoma, Oregon and Rutgers.
Watson was in a preseason competition with another junior college transfer — Switzerland’s Daniel Glauser — for the job at right tackle.
“I thought Menelik was the most efficient and has a very big upside,” Fisher said. “It’s amazing how quick he picked things up.”
On defense, FSU’s big question was finding a corner to fill the spot vacated when Greg Reid was dismissed. Fisher and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said going into the preseason that they thought sophomore Nick Waisome was the No. 1 corner, and he won the job.
“He played very well,” Fisher said. “Intelligent. Knows the system. He had a solid camp. I look forward to watching him play on Saturday.”
Waisome is 5-foot-10 and has been compared to a taller version of the 5-8 Reid.
“I do take that as a compliment,” Waisome said. “Greg was a tremendous player. To be compared to someone like him is a good thing for me.”
FSU is also replacing an All-American punter in Shawn Powell, who led the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2011 with a 47-yard average per punt.
True freshman Cason Beatty takes over for Powell.
“I’ve been very pleased with the way he’s kicked the ball in practice,” Fisher said. “Very consistent.”