TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is introducing a new offensive line in Saturday’s opener against Murray (Ky.) State.
The seventh-ranked Seminoles’ hopes for getting back to a BCS bowl for the first time in seven years depend on their younger and bigger offensive front keeping quarterback EJ Manuel healthy.
Protecting the quarterback has an issue in Fisher’s first two seasons at Florida State where injuries have knocked Manuel out of the lineup just like they did his predecessor, Christian Ponder, not to mention limiting the running game.
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Fisher released his depth chart for Saturday’s game and will be going with two tackles making their first college start on the offensive line along with two guards each making their second start. Junior center Bryan Stork is the veteran of the group with 10 previous starts for the Seminoles.
The coach is convinced bigger is better up front not only for protecting Manuel, but giving the QB time to throw to a heralded group of receivers and igniting a dormant running game.
“The size and athleticism, a different group of guys, different cats,” Fisher said Monday. “We have made some really good strides in that area. They’ve got to go do it Saturday.”
The recast unit averages 319 pounds per man with the lightest of the interior offensive linemen (Stork) at 312 pounds.
Sophomore guards Josue Matias and Tre’ Jackson are each approaching 330 pounds. Both made their first, and only, start in Florida State’s 18-14 win over Notre Dame in the Champs Bowl.
In a most closely watched position battle, 320-pound Menelik Watson held off Daniel Glauser in a battle of European athletes at the right tackle position. Watson is from Great Britain, and the 305-pound Glauser, who is penciled in as the primary backup at both tackle spots, is from Switzerland. Both transferred earlier this year from junior colleges.
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Cameron Erving is starting at the critical left tackle spot following his offseason move from defense. He initially rejected the idea making the switch after a lifetime of playing on defense, but embraced the idea when Fisher made a second overture earlier this year.
“Football is football to me,” shrugged Erving. “On defense you can just go for the most part. On offense you know what’s going to happen, but you have to react to what’s going on.”
Manuel said Monday he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from the rebuilt line during practices.
“They’re going to be confident,” Manuel said. “I think they’ll do a great job.”
Offensive line coach Rick Trickett has some experienced depth too. Austin Baron, Jacob Fahrenkrug, Garrett Faircloth and Bobby Hart combined to make 30 starts for the 2011 Seminoles.
In another tight competition, sophomore Nick Waisome edged freshman Ronald Darby at the cornerback position which was up for grabs after Greg Reid was kicked off the team a month ago for repeated violations of team rules.
The rest of the team is comprised almost solely of returnees although senior tailback Chris Thompson regained the starting job at tailback after missing most of last season with a back injury.
Trickett’s son, sophomore Clint Trickett, will be Manuel’s backup with redshirt freshman Jacob Coker the third team quarterback.
Dustin Hopkins will handle field goal and kickoff duties, Rashad Greene takes over from the departed Greg Reid on punt returns, freshman Caso Beatty inherits Shawn Powell’s punting role while Karlos Williams and Lamarcus Joyner will be deep on kickoffs.
Starting defensive tackle Anthony McCloud will likely to miss the opener with a pectoral muscle tear. Sophomore Timmy Jernigan would start in his place.