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FSU’s offensive line sees improvement despite injuries

Florida State’s offense struggled last season in third-down-and-short-yardage situations.

The Seminoles were 78th in the FBS in third-down conversion percentage (38.1) and scored a touchdown on just 26 of 46 red-zone trips. While FSU had one of the nation’s top tailbacks in Dalvin Cook, an inexperienced offensive line frequently fell short and led to possessions that resulted in punts or field-goal attempts.

“We weren’t the best at short-yardage and goal-line so the emphasis is on that,” left tackle Roderick Johnson said. “Getting stuffed at the line, that’s frustrating. But we’re working it out to not make that happen.”

Linemen have said there is better communication this spring. The results haven’t been ideal, especially against a first-team FSU defensive front that is one of the ACC’s best, but coach Jimbo Fisher said the line cleared holes for some physical runs by Jacques Patrick in Saturday’s scrimmage and that the group allowed for some sustained drives.

Going into 2015, Johnson had five starts under his belt and anchored a group that featured four first-year starters. FSU’s pass plays often fell apart, and quarterback Everett Golson had to run early in the season to escape pressure and find open receivers.

The Seminoles struggled on the road, losing to Georgia Tech and Clemson, then struggling for a half at Florida before pulling away from the Gators. Now linemen say they will be in a better position this fall.

“Coming off that season I was young and I am trying to get my overall knowledge of the game up,” center Alec Eberle said. “Not just be a guy out there trying to just do my job. Look past the linebackers and read the whole field. Playing center is more than reading guys in front of you. It is the overall aspect.”

Johnson is FSU’s best lineman but Fisher has implored him to be more vocal this spring, especially with the underclassmen in a group that has been limited by injuries.

“He gets on me about being more verbal and getting out of my comfort zone,” Johnson said. “Pick guys up when they are down.”

It’s been a challenge with three linemen out this spring due to injury: guard-tackle Chad Mavety (heart), center Ryan Hoefeld (shoulder) and right tackle Derrick Kelly (knee). But FSU is moving linemen around and cross-training at various positions.

One long-term option could be Rick Leonard, who moved over from defensive end this spring and has spent practice time at right tackle and right guard. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound Leonard had just five tackles in 2015 but could be in the mix as a starter on the right side of the line this fall.

“Ricky’s going to be a really good player,” Fisher said. “He’s an athletic, big body. He can help us.”

Fisher in crash: Fisher was involved in a car accident about one mile from Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday and was uninjured.

Fisher’s vehicle collided with another in a busy intersection, according to a Tallahassee police report. Fisher was on his way to Florida State’s scrimmage. He was present at the scrimmage and seemed fine when speaking to the media after the workout.

Two people from the other vehicle were taken to a hospital to be checked; the driver after complaining of shoulder, hip and back pain and one of two passengers because of neck, head and back pain.

Police were not able to determine who was at fault as roads were wet and contributed to the accident.

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