TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Derrick Nnadi noticed the difference a few weeks before the start of fall camp. It was last month at Florida State’s annual Lift for Life event, where offense competes against defense in feats of strength to raise money for charity. Nnadi, a junior defensive tackle, sized up his competition among the FSU offensive linemen and something caught his eye: For the first time in a long time, there were a lot of them.
Make that an awful lot.
“They had an army,” Nnadi said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Yo, this ain’t fair.’”
Nnadi’s loss on that day could be a big gain for Florida State this fall. Because after returning all but one lineman from last year’s team, and then signing six more in February, the Seminoles finally have depth on the offensive line. Maybe more than any team in the country.
Even with the departure of fifth-year senior Chad Mavety due to a medical condition, offensive line coach Rick Trickett still has 19 scholarship linemen at his disposal this season.
That’s enough for three full units with room to spare.
“It’s a great day to be the offensive line coach,” Trickett said on National Signing Day.
Some six months later, his players agreed.
“Trust me, it’s tremendous,” junior right guard Wilson Bell said. “Practice is always going to be a hard practice … but having those guys that go in and take those reps rather than you having to play with the ‘1s,’ play with the ‘3s,’ play with the ‘4s,’ it’s good to get that rest for your body.”
Given what Bell and a few of his fellow linemen went through a year ago, it’s easy to see why he’s so appreciative.
FSU entered the spring of 2015 looking to replace four senior starters on the offensive line, a tall task that was made even more difficult when four linemen went down with injuries during camp.
By the time the Garnet and Gold Game rolled around, the Seminoles were left with just eight available offensive linemen.
It led several linemen to pull double- and triple-duty, both at different positions and on first-, second- and third-team units.
“It was horrific,” junior left tackle Roderick Johnson said. “We came down to eight guys – the elite eight. But now we’ve got a lot of depth.”
Through one week of practice, the Seminoles can tell a clear difference.
Perhaps the biggest benefit – and the most obvious – is physical. Fewer reps in the sweltering heat means less wear and tear on individual bodies, and higher energy levels as practice wears on.
But the lineman surplus provides a break from mental exhaustion, too, and it allows each player to absorb a bigger picture while catching a breather.
“When you’re always playing, you kind of get locked in to what your job is because you never get a chance to see what everybody else is doing,” Bell said. “I can’t see what the quarterbacks and running backs are doing. But when I actually get a chance to take a step back – because we have other guys going in – I can really figure out what’s going on.”
Just don’t mistake that newfound luxury for satisfaction.
Eberle said that, even with a overstuffed roster, Trickett is still as fiery and intense as ever. He just has more protégés to boss around.
“Not much changes with Coach Trickett,” junior center Alec Eberle said. “Whether you’ve got eight guys, nine guys or 20 guys, he’s going to push us, no matter what.”
Contributing in practice, of course, is one thing. Contributing during games is something else entirely. And where FSU’s new crop of linemen fit in this fall remains to be seen.
The most likely candidate for playing time might be Rick Leonard, the junior who switched from defensive end to offensive tackle this spring.
After getting off to a strong start in March and April, Leonard showed up for fall practice 30 pounds heavier – a good thing, in this instance – and started taking first-team reps just a few days in to camp.
“He’s gotten big. He’s gotten thick,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Even though we haven’t been able to teach him (as long as some other players), when those gray areas come up, nine out of 10 times he falls in, doing the right thing.”
It’s a little early to project the rest, although they won’t need to spend much time getting up to proper size.
Each of FSU’s six freshmen on the line stands at least 6-foot-3 inches tall, and all but one weighs more than 300 pounds. That would be Josh Ball, who at 6-8 is the tallest of the group.
“We’ve got a bunch of good guys,” Trickett said. “I don’t have a problem with them. It’s just, are they ready yet?”