A late-season decision to move one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best blockers from tackle to center and insert a freshman to protect Jameis Winston’s blindside has boosted Florida State’s offense.
The Seminoles (13-0) have become more diverse offensively going into their New Year’s Day College Football Playoff date against second-seeded Oregon (12-1).
Cam Erving, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound winner of consecutive ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy awards, has helped seal the middle of the line and create big gaps for freshman tailback Dalvin Cook, who needs 93 yards against the Ducks to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
Coach Jimbo Fisher replaced Erving at left tackle with 6-7, 330-pound Roderick Johnson, a freshman from Florissant, Missouri, for the Miami game on Nov. 15.
“It’s not just his athletic ability,” Fisher said. “He understands the game.”
“I keep seeing young guys developing,” Fisher said. “When you have those runs [winning streak] like we’re able to have those young guys’ contributions, their development, it’s a tribute to our coaches.”
In addition to Cook and Johnson, freshmen receivers Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane have played key roles on the offense while several other first-year players have seen significant playing time defensively.
Florida State players noticed Johnson in August and knew it was only a matter of time before he’d be ready.
“You don’t really drop off when you put Rod at left tackle,” said Bobby Hart, a senior tackle on the other side of the offensive line. “So of course that’s going to make it better.”
Winston has been sacked only twice since the move, and Florida State running backs — with Cook leading the way — have averaged better than 6 yards a carry during the span.
It has also made it easier for Florida State’s receivers.
“It’s opened up things a lot,” said Rashad Greene, Florida State’s career leader with 264 catches for 3,771 yards. “Three rush guys are not going to cut it with our run game.”
Erving, who was recruited out of high school as a defensive tackle, said he’s enjoyed the position switch.
“We’ve just come together,” Erving said. “It’s all about chemistry.”
And not being embarrassed when the quarterback is flat on the ground.
“We weren’t doing what we were capable of,” Erving said. “We’ve definitely taken on a new identity.”
With 330-pound All-American guard Tre Jackson between Ewing and Hart, the offensive line has played closer to the potential that was expected going into the season. They’re healthy as well going into the Oregon game.
Except for Johnson, all are experienced seniors with 325-pound Jose Matias at left guard and 240-pound All American tight end Nick O'Leary also a capable blocker as well as one of Winston’s favorite receiving targets.
They'll know soon if it’s good enough to get them back to the national championship game.