TAMPA — Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden's eyes were focused on the offense this offseason. Rather than fix his gaze on the glitzy positions like running back or quarterback, he cast it toward the trenches.
If those guys don't get it done, it knocks the sparkle off the other high-profile spots.
The offensive line is Bowden's main concern entering his 31st season at Florida State. He told reporters Sunday at the Florida Sports Writers Association's Media Days that those linemen, their health and their development, will be the key to restoring balance to the Seminoles' hit-or-miss offense.
The hits came with quarterback Drew Weatherford, who broke former N.C. State quarterback Phillip Rivers' ACC freshman record with 3,220 yards passing last season. The misses came with an anemic running game ranked at the bottom of the ACC.
That won't get the Seminoles to where they're expected to be, contending not just for the ACC championship they won in 2005, but for the national championship as well. Bowden said the offensive line's growth, both in number and maturity, will help that.
"It's a concern over numbers," Bowden said. "I think most coaches probably want within 16 or 18 offensive linemen in their program. We'll, we've got six on scholarship and we've got six more signed — that gives us 12 when they come in.
"When you stay healthy, it don't make no difference," Bowden continued. "You only play five of them at a time."
Bowden and his players have seen a marked improvement, especially in run blocking. At last week's ACC Kickoff press conferences, running back Lorenzo Booker said offensive coaches instilled an intensity that got the line blocking harder and allowed Booker to make his cuts farther down the field.
Intensity isn't Bowden's worry. It's health.
"I was reading last year one of the pro teams had a pretty good offensive line, they were averaging 4.1 yards a rush," Bowden said. "All of a sudden, they lost their quick-side tackle. He got hurt and all of a sudden their running game went down to 1.1. One guy. We've lost as many as three. We lose a first-teamer one game and our next best guy gets hurt and out for the year.
"I've learned that you can replace runners and you can replace wide receivers and you can replace linebackers," he added. "You can't replace them dadgum offensive linemen."
Bowden is expecting good things from former Lehigh High School standout Mario Henderson. Henderson, a mammoth senior tackle, is penciled in as a starter and Bowden said it's his time to shine.
"Mario had a good spring and I think Mario has had a good summer from what I hear," Bowden said. "He played good last year at the end of the year. We played against three All-American ends last year. They didn't get any sacks. They might have had one. That's Henderson or (David) Overmeyer or (Cory) Niblock, so that was a pretty doggone good sign.
"He's had a pretty good spring," Bowden added. "He's a senior, he ought to be about ready to step it on up."