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FSU's Fisher looks to see improved offensive line

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jimbo Fisher is preparing for his third season at Florida State in dire need of an offensive line that can protect his quarterback and create enough space for a running game.

And while several of the names have changed, the need remains the same heading into the Seminoles' annual Garnet and Gold spring scrimmage on Saturday.

Fisher had hoped he had those issues were addressed a year ago, but injuries and inexperience resulted in the Seminoles' front scrambling all season. The running attack was never a real threat with long odds on even short gains in crucial situations. And that doesn't include the toll it took on quarterback EJ Manuel, who suffered 33 sacks and an untold number of hits delivering the ball or trying to run out of trouble.

"It stunts anybody's" development, Fisher conceded. "When you get hit, it makes a difference. I don't care who it is, when they get to you enough it does."

Manuel missed the Clemson loss with a shoulder injury and played rest of the season with it and other nagging nicks before breaking a bone in his left leg during an 18-14 Champs Bowl win over Notre Dame.

But he's fully recovered and confident that a rebuilt line will give him adequate protection this fall.

"Those guys are doing a good job," Manuel said. "It's not just on the O-line, it's on all of us."

Offensive line coach Rick Trickett is counting on a batch of fresh, if not baby, faces to help bolster his unit.

"We're nowhere near where we need to be," Fisher complained earlier in the week after a ragged scrimmage session. "We're going to find guys who are going to play winning football."

Fisher explained intricacies on the offensive line on behalf of veteran assistant Rick Trickett, who is off limits to reporters along with the other assistant coaches.

Their revamped OL includes Cameron Erving, who has moved over from defense to learn the critical left tackle position where Zebrie Sanders played last season.

"I've just been trying to take it (switch) day-by-day," the 6-5, 300-pound (at least) Erving said. "If you know defense, you can play offense. Just trying to fine tune things."

Sophomores Austin Barron, Josue Matias, Tre' Jackson and Bobby Hart figure to see plenty of playing time along with Bryan Stork, who is being tried at tackle this spring after spending last season at center and guard.

Jacob Fahrenkrug didn't live up the his coaches preseason hype last year after coming in from a junior college in the northern Plains, but hopes to rebound this fall. Florida State also lost Zebrie Sanders, David Spurlock and the oft-injured Andrew Datko to graduation.

Seminole fans will also get their first look at freshman running back Mario Pender, who enrolled in January. He has benefitted from the absence of injured running backs Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson this spring. Senior Debrale Smiley has also seen more action at running back.

And for the final time in spring, Dustin Hopkins is back to showcase that reliable right leg that has him on the verge of smashing virtually all of the Florida State and Atlantic Coast conference records for placekickers. Hopkins, who was the star of last year's otherwise somewhat lackluster spring affair, made 5 of 5 field-goal attempts - including a 60-yard attempt as time ran out in the first half.

Fisher just hopes that an improved offensive line will result in more touchdowns and less dependence on his reliable kicker.