Line change: FSU’s Leonard switches from defense to offense


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – While Rick Leonard has only been part of Florida State’s offensive line for a limited time, he has impressed coaches and teammates with the progress he has made during spring practices.

The junior, who has been a defensive end the past two seasons, decided to make the change during the offseason. He has played right tackle and right guard, in addition to seeing some snaps at center.

“It is what I thought it would be. Maybe a little more difficult,” Leonard said about the switch. “It is one thing drawing it on a white board but getting bodies in front and stuff starts flying around is different.”

Leonard hasn’t played offensive line since youth football. He was a tight end in high school but noted that he hardly did any blocking.

During Leonard’s first two seasons at Florida State, offensive line coach Rick Trickett told Leonard that he thought Leonard could make a successful transition. Leonard played in all 13 games last year but most of his plays came on special teams. At defensive end he had five tackles, including two for loss.

With the core of the Seminoles’ defensive line returning, Leonard made the switch after talking to his parents and coach Jimbo Fisher.

While Leonard has been his toughest critic, left tackle Rod Johnson said that Leonard has made the transition look easy.

Center Alec Eberle, who is Leonard’s roommate, said the adjustment has also been easy because he was usually hanging around the offensive line even when playing defense.

“He’s trying to be a sponge and learn as much as possible,” Eberle added. “The best thing you can do when switching positions is come in dumb, take what they give you and go with it.”

Leonard said the biggest adjustment so far has been with footwork because it is a more technique-based position. He added that getting time at guard has also helped with learning the offense because he knows what the person next to him is doing.

Leonard has been able to work at various positions due to three starters from last season not practicing – center Ryan Hoefeld (shoulder), tackle Derrick Kelly (knee) and guard-tackle Chad Mavety (heart).

With spring practices concluding on Saturday with the Garnet and Gold game in Orlando, Leonard said the biggest things he needs to work on before preseason practices in August is improving lower body strength and getting up to 308 pounds (he is currently at 295).

Kelly will go into preseason practices as the projected starter at right tackle.

Under Fisher, Florida State has had success when defensive linemen have switched to the offensive line. The greatest example was Cameron Erving, who switched prior to his sophomore season in 2012 and ended up being a first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“Ricky’s going to be a really good player. He’s an athletic, big body. He can help us,” Fisher said.

Leonard isn’t the only player who has made a position switch that has impressed the coach.

Ryan Green, who played cornerback last season, has switched back to running back and should see plenty of carries on Saturday since Dalvin Cook is sidelined after shoulder surgery on Tuesday.

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