The Daily Nole

FSU Football: Examining Starter Changes and Notable Lineup Shifts

Phil Kelly/FSU athletics

Florida State fans knew after the 63-20 loss at Louisville on Sept. 17 that changes would have to be made to the Seminoles’ lineup. At one point, the defense was expected to be the backbone of the team. Instead, it’s become the main hindrance to its success.

A veteran offensive line seemed prime to become one of the most improved in the nation. In reality, it had a terrible start that was only fixed when two starters were finally replaced. The corps of linebackers was supposed to have some semblance of continuity as well, but the shuffling of starters and backups has made it apparent that this was asking too much.

The list could go on of weaknesses that are readily apparent for Florida State. For many of these weak spots, the coaching staff has already begun to look for solutions within the depth chart. It is often times said that a big draw for many recruits is when they are assured that the staff will play the best option and not necessarily who has been around the longest. 2016 then should work in favor of the Seminoles, as they are clearly employing this mantra in an attempt to salvage the season.

Below is a list of the changes to both starting positions and notable backup spots. This recounts those changes that have happened so far, but an updated version of this article might appear at a later date. After Saturday’s contest against Miami, there may even be more changes to come.

Offensive Line

Landon Dickerson over Wilson Bell: The change at right guard was an attempt to find consistency. Bell, for all the talent and flashes of it he showed, couldn’t string together great performances. One game, he would be dominant, the next a liability. Dickerson was a true freshman who was already impressing coaches in fall camp, and at some point he was able to outplay Bell in some capacity.

So far, it’s been a decent change. Dickerson makes freshman mistakes, like a terrible personal foul in the last minutes of the North Carolina game, but he has yet to be truly knocked around in games. The fact that he is a true freshman is encouraging, because it’s very clear that he has room to grow, whereas Bell is a redshirt junior that hasn’t figured it all out quite yet. This was the right call for FSU and sets Rick Trickett’s bunch up nicely for the future.

Brock Ruble over Rick Leonard: There really isn’t much to discuss with this shift at right tackle. Leonard was by far the weakest link up front through the first three games. There’s no sugarcoating it — Leonard was bad. Ruble has fared much better in two starts, and while the offense is still shying away from running to that side of the line, it isn’t the disaster that it was at the beginning of the season.


Nate Andrews over A.J. Westbrook: Derwin James started at free safety before his injury, and Florida State’s first option for replacement was sophomore A.J. Westbrook. So far, he has been an unmitigated disaster. He has struggled in coverage, often losing track of where plays are developing, and generally doesn’t seem up to the challenge of playing the position.

Luckily, the Seminoles have a veteran in the secondary that can step in now that he’s recovered from a calf injury. Andrews, a senior, might never have the physical talents or ceiling that younger players do, but he’s disciplined and knows the system. He was getting more reps by the Sept. 24 contest at South Florida and the recent depth chart released for the Miami game, has him penciled in at starter.


Dontavious Jackson over Delvin Purifoy: It’s not a change to the starters, but freshman Dontavious Jackson securing the No. 2 middle linebacker spot does give two major indications. The first is that the coaching staff is confident enough in Jackson to start giving him major reps. He lived up to the expectations against North Carolina with a crucial fourth down stop on Elijah Hood at one point. The second is that Delvin Purifoy is getting lost in the depth chart. At one point he was a 4-star, top-200 recruit in the nation. Though injuries have been a factor, he’s now getting beat out by a true freshman.

Wide Receivers

Keith Gavin Now Second String: Technically, Keith Gavin didn’t really “surpass” anybody on the depth chart. Auden Tate was listed behind Travis Rudolph to start the year, but he is currently listed at the spot behind Jesus Wilson. Ja’Vonn Harrison was the other receiver behind Rudolph; he is now suspended and rumored to be looking to transfer. Gavin was the only wide receiver recruit of the 2016 class for FSU, and looks to be every bit of the 6-3 and 225 pounds his bio says. He could conceivably make an impact down the stretch for the Seminoles this season.

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