BamaInsider - FSU Offensive Line vs. Alabama Defensive Line
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FSU Offensive Line vs. Alabama Defensive Line

There is no bigger season opener in college football than Alabama vs. Florida State which will take place on September 2, 2017, at the brand new Mercedes-Benz-Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the next few remaining days, BamaInsider.com and Warchant.com will continue to preview the #ATLShowdown with a seven-part series. Today we look at the Florida State Offensive Line vs. the Alabama Defensive Line.

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6/15 - Florida State passing game vs. Alabama pass defense

6/14 - Alabama Offensive Line vs. Florida State Defensive Line

6/13 - Alabama Pass Game vs. Florida State Pass Defense

6/12 - Alabama vs. Florida State - Overall Outlook Of The Atlanta Showdown

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Alabama Defensive Line Overview 

Those No. 1 recruiting classes Alabama head coach Nick Saban signs every year are paying off for the Crimson Tide once again. Despite losing two of its three starting defensive linemen to the NFL, Alabama looks ready to reload at the position by bringing in a pair of former five-star recruits.

Alabama will need to make up for the loss of Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson this season. Allen won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award, Ted Hendricks Award and Lombardi Award last season after leading the team with 15 quarterback hurries and 10.5 sacks, while Tomlinson was one of the Tide’s most underrated players and a steady force in run defense. Fortunately for Alabama, it can plug in two ready replacements

Senior Da’Shawn Hand, the No. 1 overall recruit in 2014, will finally get a chance to start, while JUCO transfer Isaiah Buggs, the No. 1 overall JUCO player in the 2017 class appears likely to fill the other open slot on the line. Those are the breaks you get when you finish with the No. 1 recruiting class five out of the past six years.

Florida State Offensive Line Overview 

One year after signing perhaps the greatest offensive line class in Florida State history, the Seminoles may call upon three of those second-year players to start this fall. Redshirt freshmen Jauan Williams and Josh Ball appear to be the frontrunners to replace All-ACC pick Rod Johnson at left tackle, and two more redshirt freshmen – Baveon Johnson and Andrew Boselli -- are expected to challenge junior Alec Eberle at center. On top of that, true sophomore Landon Dickerson almost certainly will start at one guard spot if he’s fully recovered from a torn ACL sustained last season.

The good news for FSU is that the coaches are very high on all of those young linemen. The bad news is they will be put to the test by an Alabama defense that seems to reload every year, no matter how many players they lose to graduation or the NFL.

The only Seminole lineman who is just about guaranteed to start is senior right tackle Rick Leonard. Sophomore Cole Minshew is expected to start at the other guard position. They both played well late in the 2016 season and should provide some stability up front.

Alabama Key Players

Due to his position, Da’Ron Payne might not get the same recognition as other Alabama defensive linemen. Playing in the middle of the Tide’s three-man defensive front, the 6-foot-2, 308-pound defensive tackle is perhaps the most athletic defensive lineman to play at Alabama under Saban. Payne bench presses 545 pounds and squats 635 pounds and uses that strength to push around offensive lineman, oftentimes drawing double teams to free up other pass rushers.

Hand should also be key for the Tide. The 6-foot-4, 282-pounder has been pegged for a breakout season heading after serving as a backup in his first three years at Alabama. Last season he tallied two sacks, 3.5 tackles for a loss and five quarterback hurries while appearing in all 15 games.

Florida State Key Players

It would be big for this group if Rick Leonard could make a nice leap in his second season on the offensive line, and if junior Alec Eberle could show enough improvement to fight off the challenge from FSU’s talented younger centers.

Leonard, a former defensive end, switched sides during the spring of 2016 and had a rough transition at first. When he got a second chance in the second half of the season, though, he looked like a completely different player and seemed to settle things down on that side of the line. Eberle has been inconsistent as a starter, but one would think his experience would be invaluable, especially early in the season against a team like Alabama.

Key Matchup For Alabama 

Da’Shawn Hand against Florida State left tackle Josh Ball. Both players figure to be making their first career starts, although Hand will have three years of experience on his side. Listed at 6-foot-8, 287 pounds, Ball has elite size at the position, but asking him to block a player of Hand’s caliber in his first collegiate game might be too much to ask. If the redshirt freshman is unable to step up to the occasion it could be a long day for Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois.

Key Matchup For Florida State 

FSU’s starting center – whoever wins the job -- against Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne. While Payne not be known for making plays in the backfield, he is an intimidating physical presence, and FSU has struggled with blocking quality interior linemen in recent seasons.

When Jimbo Fisher talks about pass protection, he often says he would prefer pressure to come from either side of the quarterback, if it has to come at all. The worst type of pressure, he says, is the kind that comes up the middle because it not only affects the quarterback’s vision, but it also can prevent him from stepping into his throws. Of FSU’s top three center candidates, redshirt freshman Baveon Johnson is likely the most physically capable of handling the 6-foot-2, 300-plus-pound Payne. If he is ready to handle the line calls and is consistent with his snapping, it wouldn’t be a shock if he earned the start for this game.

BamaInsider On Who Wins This Matchup

Even with two new starters, Alabama should dominate this battle. Offensive line figures to be Florida State’s biggest weakness heading into the game, and the Tide has enough talent across the line to fully take advantage. Just how much Alabama is able to exploit this matchup should go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.

Warchant On Who Wins This Matchup 

If Rod Johnson had returned for his senior season, this might have been a very intriguing battle, especially since Alabama is reloading on its defensive front. But the Seminoles are likely going to be using a first-time starter at left tackle and they could be using another first-time starter at center. That’s probably not a great recipe against a Nick Saban defense.

The truth of the matter is the strength of the Seminoles’ offensive line the last two seasons has been the left side, and Johnson and left guard Kareem Are have both moved on. As bright as the future is with FSU’s young linemen, it will be a lot to ask them to be ready for prime time on Sept. 2. If Fisher can’t help them out a lot with his playcalling, this could be a decisive matchup victory for the Tide.

What's Next 

Tomorrow we preview the containment of both quarterbacks

6/15 - Florida State passing game vs. Alabama pass defense

6/14 - Alabama Offensive Line vs. Florida State Defensive Line

6/13 - Alabama Pass Game vs. Florida State Pass Defense

6/12 - Alabama vs. Florida State - Overall Outlook Of The Atlanta Showdown

ATL Showdown 

Alabama vs. Florida State

Saturday, September 2, 7 PM

TV: ABC

Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The Line: -5 1/2 Alabama

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Da’Ron Payne (Left) has bench press of 545 pounds and squats 635 pounds. 6-foot-7, 306 pound Rick Leonard started 6 games at RT in 2016.
Da’Ron Payne (Left) has bench press of 545 pounds and squats 635 pounds. 6-foot-7, 306 pound Rick Leonard started 6 games at RT in 2016.