TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher considers center to be the hardest position on the offensive line. That player makes the line calls and is in the middle of the trenches.
It is also the most physically demanding position which makes it even the more surprising that Alec Eberle didn't miss a start last season despite two labral tears in the hips.
Eberle played all 13 games with a labral tear to his right hip. Things got worse during the Nov. 18 game at Syracuse when he suffered another labral tear, this time to the left hip - but Eberle still played in the final two games.
The 6-foot-4, 294-pound junior had offseason surgery and didn't participate in spring practices. Eberle said he has been pain-free during preseason practices as the Seminoles prepare for their Sept. 2 opener against Alabama in Atlanta.
''I knew going into camp last year that I was a little messed up already,'' Eberle said. ''When you're playing not to the best of your ability that stinks. This year knowing I am healed up, stronger than I ever been you can see the differences.''
Eberle said he didn't think about the pain while he was playing. It wasn't until he was filling out a pre-surgery questionnaire, where he checked off that even a simple task like putting on socks was painful. That was when he realized how bad the pain was affecting him.
''All year whenever I got in my stance imagine having two knives in each one of your hips,'' he said. ''Offensive line is naturally an uncomfortable position. It is definitely something you don't want to go through knowing the hips are your main source of movement and strength.''
Quarterback Deondre Francois, who was on the receiving end of his share of hard hits, said watching Eberle last year made him play through his injuries.
Despite not practicing in the spring, Eberle said being able to observe line drills and watch offensive line coach Rick Trickett gave him a better understanding of what was needed from him and the unit.
''I think the biggest thing as a college athlete is you think you're buying into what the coaches are teaching and doing the right things. But until you sit back and watch your team and watch your coaches do what they do, you don't really realize what you're doing wrong,'' Eberle said.
A healthy Eberle, who was a preseason All-ACC selection, could bolster an offensive line that has struggled the past two years. Pro Football Focus graded the line 95th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams due to its struggles protecting Francois.
Eberle enters the season as the only Seminoles' lineman with double-digit starts (19). Junior Derrick Kelly and senior Rick Leonard have the edge at the tackle spots while Landon Dickerson and Cole Minshew are projected to be the starting guards.
For Trickett, Eberle and everyone on the offensive line, the 36 sacks by opposing teams last year are a constant reminder of how much they struggled.
Fisher believes Eberle's experience will be important this season and expects him to be a better player.
''He's a little bit quicker than he was last year. I was happy with his strength numbers in his lower body when he came back,'' said Fisher. ''He's really grinded and allowed the fluidity of his hips to move and all the things in general. I also think he is more mature and that the game has slowed down for him.''
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Follow Joe Reedy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/joereedy