Aug. 24, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Cameron Erving has never started a game in his collegiate career. He's also never played left tackle.
Next Saturday against Murray State he'll do both.
After switching from defensive tackle to the offensive line before the start of spring practices, Erving has been the Florida State football team's biggest off-season story because of his seemingly flawless transition.
The 'Noles lost veteran tackles Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders to graduation and thus had huge holes to fill on an offensive line that didn't create enough holes a season ago. Despite having never played on offense, Erving's position switch to left tackle has provided much-needed stability following those personnel losses because of his natural athletic ability, his attention to detail and eagerness to be great.
"I know I can be good but I am just trying to take it day-by-day," Erving said this week. "I am taking the same approach now that I did the first day I became a left tackle. I'm taking it day-by-day and trying to be coachable and listening to what Coach [Rick] Trickett says and if I listen to him and do what he tells me to do, all the good stuff will come in time."
FSU's players and coaches have seen some of that good stuff already.
"Cam looks like he's a three-year All-American out there," backup quarterback Clint Trickett said.
Erving's success at his new position is surprising simply because he had no prior experience on the offensive side of the ball -- both in college and in high school. But the feel-good story of his move from reserve defender to starter at one of the game's most important positions is a microcosm of Florida State's offensive line as a whole.
FSU is expected to be much better in the trenches than it was a year ago because of the capabilities and size of the top players at each spot on the line.
Next to Erving, sophomore Josue Matias has used a strong fall camp to entrench himself as a player that could be a long-time and effective player at left guard. The same is true for Tre' Jackson at right guard, who, like Matias, was one of the freshmen offensive linemen that was thrown to the fire in the 'Noles' bowl game against Notre Dame when four rookies all started.
"That bowl game, you can't put into words how much that helped them," Clint Trickett said.
The invaluable experience of playing in that game, coupled with starter's repetitions throughout spring practice and fall camp has prepared FSU's second-year guards for a potentially breakout year. Perhaps most importantly, it has afforded Matias and Jackson the opportunity to show Fisher, Rick Trickett and the quarterbacks that they can be trusted at such a demanding position.
"Usually guard is much harder than tackle because the combinations come from both sides whereas a tackle, it's one to two guys," Fisher said. "You're assignments are much easier as a tackle. The farther you go away from the ball, the less assignments there are but the more talented you've got to be. Better space player you've got to be. The closer you go, the smarter you've got to be and the more physical you've got to be.
"From that standpoint as a guard it's hard sometimes ... both things are very hard as an offensive linemen and that's why we were very blessed that those guys were physically pretty good size when they came in."
While Erving, Matias and Jackson will all more than likely be listed as starters when FSU's first official depth chart is released in the near future, there are no guarantees at center and right tackle.
Fall-camp practices have seen Austin Barron and Bryan Stork working at center and junior-college transfers Menelik Watson and Daniel Glauser competing at right tackle. Stork, who has also practiced at right tackle, may have the upper hand in the middle because of his experience but the Watson-Glauser competition could be one that lasts throughout the season.
"We feel very comfortable with either one of them at right tackle," Fisher said.
As the only returning upperclassman, Stork's experience and ability to be a "utility man," as quarterback EJ Manuel called him after the team's Thursday scrimmage, is important for a squad with so many young and unproven but potentially impactful players.
It also helps that FSU has beefed up in the trenches. The 'Noles top nine linemen -- Erving, Bobby Hart, Matias, Stork, Barron, Jackson, Garrett Faircloth, Glauser and Watson -- average nearly 311 pounds per player.
The added weight and strength has helped lead to better production matching up against the Seminoles' vaunted defensive line every day at practice.
"They are blocking us," FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. "Everybody wants to talk about how great we are on the d-line; they block us and that's no joke. I've been very impressed with how far they have come and their abilities and the way the offensive coaches are coaching them up and believe me we feel it."
"They are much better than they were last year," Carradine added. "They have developed, as well as some of the freshmen coming up. Overall, being athletic and pass [block] better than run block, they've been great."
FSU is trying to bounce back from a 2011 season that saw the offensive line allow 3.15 sacks a game, which was bad enough for 110th in the country. FSU also ranked 104th in the nation with a little more than 112 yards rushing per game.
Sobering numbers for sure. But it was a season that provided motivation for a group of blockers that have used a season struggles as motivation to get bigger, badder and better leading in to 2012.
"I see a tremendous improvement with them boys," running back Devonta Freeman said. "They work hard. They have been grinding and working all summer every day and now in camp. They are creating major holes for us right now."