Tallahassee, FL - Precision. Execution. Discipline.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff don’t just use them, but demand what they stand for on a daily basis. While the words resonate team-wide, they collectively have added importance with the offensive line segment; a tight bond of big bodies whose collective efforts are directly linked to the Seminoles’ success.
The Seminoles entered the season with one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation, with all five returning starters bringing 142 starts worth of experience to the team equation.
As the No. 23 Seminoles prepare for Saturday’s game at No. 13 Miami, that unit may well be back together for the first time since the Sept. 11 game at Oklahoma. A shoulder injury has kept junior left tackle Andrew Datko off the field for three games and forced offensive line coach Rick Trickett to come up with an alternative plan.
In Datko’s absence, redshirt freshman Henry Orelus has made two starts at left tackle and one at right tackle, with regular right tackle Zebrie Sanders moving to the left side for last week’s win at Virginia. Despite the juggling, the ‘Noles have strung together three consecutive 200-yard rushing games. That’s something that has not been done by an FSU team since the 2000 campaign.
“It’s been a while since the original starting five have played together and practiced together because of certain injuries here and there,” said senior center Ryan McMahon, a Rimington Award and Outland Trophy candidate, who has made 44 consecutive starts. “That takes a little time for them to get used to, but I feel like we’re getting used to that.”
Cohesiveness along the line is critical to precision and execution, and it is difficult to attain without working side by side regularly
Fisher is pleased with the way the line has performed given the shakeup, but it hasn’t happened by accident. Trickett has consistently worked different players at different positions in an effort to prepare the reserves for times like the Seminoles have recently endured.
“We’ve been hodge-podging back and forth, so hopefully (Datko’s return) will help,” Fisher said. “But it will take a while to get back in the flow of it.”
To get the performance the Seminoles have enjoyed with a juggled lineup is not less pleasing, even if it has not been perfect.
“As far as their effort I am (pleased), but it doesn’t surprise me,” Fisher said. “I’m not saying it because we had a crystal ball, but that’s just the way we do things, because you have to plan for a rainy days.”
Senior guard Rodney Hudson, a candidate for both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, has seen the payoff as a result of the cross-training.
“It helps confidence-wise, playing together another game,” said Hudson, who praised the way Sanders and Orelus have stepped up in Datko’s absence. “It’s always good to have another lineman that can step in and play, so when Datko comes back – if something else happens – they’re ready to play, also.”
Switching sides of the line is not as easy as it may seem. It requires equal parts mental excellence and practice work.
“It’s kind of different, especially when you’ve been playing on one side for so long,” Hudson added. “You just kind of get in the habit of doing that same thing for so long. You’ve got to get out in practice and try and get it done. … It’s always kind of different switching from side to side, just because of the angles you have to run and things of that nature.”
Hudson, however, is quick to share the credit for the Seminoles’ run game production with his teammates beyond the lineman. That’s not to say the big guys haven’t enjoyed the opportunity to hone their run blocking skills.
“We’ve enjoyed it,” Hudson said. “I guess you could say run blocking as a lineman you always like to fire off and hit people.
“I think we’ve blocked collectively, not just the line. The tight ends are doing a pretty good job, the receivers are blocking on the edge, spring those long runs. That’s what people don’t realize. When those long runs happen, someone is always doing something extra to make it happen.”
It’s the kind of collective effort that Fisher, Trickett and the FSU staff hope permeates the team. And it’s something the linemen take special pride in sharing among their segment.
“It’s really important to have five guys playing together as a unit like a phalanx,” McMahon said. “It’s real important to know who you’re playing next to. Even though we’re all coached the same, there are little, small things with each player that just takes practice next to the guy. With the way we practice it really shouldn’t matter who we’re playing next to. We should be ready to go.”
ESPNU provides All-Access look at Seminoles
ESPNU will provide football fans with a behind the scenes look at a day with the Florida State football team. The network will air a 30-minute All-Access: Florida State program, Thursday at 7 p.m., which takes viewers inside the meeting rooms and on to the practice field as the Seminoles prepared for their Sept. 25 game with Wake Forest.