|Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports|
|Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary has shown great improvement as a blocker during the 2013 season.|
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State center Bryan Stork now regards tight end Nick O'Leary as part of the offensive line, provided no one actually tells him that Stork would bestow such a compliment.
"He comes out there, no tape on his wrists, no gloves. He's a football player. He's a throwback, old-school football player," Stork said Friday.
O'Leary, the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, even looks like an offensive lineman these days, sporting a messy red-tinged beard that makes the 6-foot-3, 248-pound junior look even more imposing and ferocious.
Long known as a dominant weapon in the passing game -- O'Leary was a finalist for the John Mackey Award presented to the top tight end in college football after catching 33 balls for 557 yards and seven touchdowns this season -- it has been the steady improvement as a blocker that has allowed him to be a more complete part of the offense. Stork credits the addition of new assistant coach Tim Brewster for O'Leary's progression.
"We knew he had the skills to do it," wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey said. "Becoming a better blocker, that made our whole offense better. The year before we used him for passing, but now we can keep him in and run and pass."
It will be O'Leary's value as a receiver that will be most coveted by NFL teams, likely to be in the top tier at the position alongside fellow juniors Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jace Amaro should he declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. Dawsey says O'Leary "has probably some of the best hands on the team," high praise for a group that also features steady veterans Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw and physically gifted redshirt sophomore Kelvin Benjamin.
But O'Leary told College Football 24/7 he has yet to receive his grade from the Draft Advisory Board, before adding, "I'm not really worried about it too much."
O'Leary is more concerned about getting rid of that beard first. Stork, O'Leary and freshman offensive lineman Ryan Hoefield all stopped shaving last summer, and the inadvertent playoff beard goes away following the BCS national championship against Auburn on Monday night.
Said O'Leary: "I get it off my face right after the game."
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.