Practice notes: Wilder's role expanding

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
9:21
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Chris Thompson is the starting tailback for Florida State. That much, Jimbo Fisher made clear. Devonta Freeman will get his share of touches, too, after the sophomore proved to be a valuable asset down the stretch last season.

But it's the No. 3 runner on the depth chart that has impressed Fisher the most lately, and he thinks James Wilder Jr. might be on the verge of a breakthrough.

James Wilder Jr.
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreRunning back James Wilder Jr. is showing his versatility in practice.
"I really see him coming on," Fisher said. "He's feeling really comfortable, and that body's getting big. He's starting to take off, and that gives you another dimension."

That other dimension is power, and Wilder has plenty of it.

At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Wilder is a load to bring down, playing the position the way a linebacker rather than a running back. That's a big weapon, and in short-yardage situations he expects to be the centerpiece in the FSU offense.

"With the goal line, that's my bread and butter; that's my time," Wilder said. "That's when the whole team is depending on me. When it's fourth-and-2, if somebody misses a block, they're still depending on me getting those two yards. I need to make sure I capitalize."

But what might set Wilder apart, what could be the difference between a small step forward from his 35-carry freshman campaign and a far bigger role this season, is Wilder's versatility.

His frame suggests he's a good between-the-tackles runner. But he's expecting to sneak up on a few people, too.

"We try to not set it up like, 'Oh, Wilder's in so he's going to run it up the middle,' " Wilder said. "Coming out of the backfield, they can throw me in there. The defense will think I'm a power back, but I'll go out on a wheel route. … We want to set it up where we're comfortable in different situations."

Wilder had just two receptions last season -- both coming against Notre Dame in Florida State's bowl game -- but Fisher said he's seen enough in practice to be comfortable using Wilder coming out of the backfield, too.

"He catches the ball so dadgum well, and he runs really good routes," Fisher said. "You don't think about it, but I've been very pleased."

McCloud iffy for opener: Defensive tackle Anthony McCloud was in full pads and running through early drills at practice Monday, but Fisher said he hasn't decided whether the senior will play against Murray State on Saturday.

McCloud missed nearly three weeks of practice with a small tear in his pectoral muscle, and while the recovery process has gone smoothly, Fisher wants to be careful not to push McCloud to return too soon.

"Anthony may be this week or he may be next week," Fisher said. "That can be one that if you try to come back too early, you can really set it back. But if you wait to make sure it's healed, then you should be fine. We're making judgments on that daily."

While the time away from practice has allowed the injury to heal, it hasn't kept McCloud from getting his work in.

Fisher said the veteran tackle, who checked in at nearly 325 pounds last season, has been doing conditioning workouts three times a day since the injury, dropping 12 pounds in the process.

"He's kept himself in tremendous shape," Fisher said. "That's one thing you worry about when big guys get injured is staying in shape. I think he went from about 324 to about 311 or something like that."

If McCloud is not available Saturday, Timmy Jernigan is expected to start in his place, with Nile Lawrence-Stample likely serving as the top backup.

Staying in the pocket: EJ Manuel has racked up more than 500 rushing yards in his career at Florida State, but judging by the early practices, the senior quarterback might be doing less damage with his legs in 2012.

Manuel said Florida State has only run a handful of option plays and QB runs in practice, and given the wealth of receiving targets he has at his disposal this season, he's expecting to spend far more time in the pocket and far less time as a runner.

"I think Coach Fisher wants a lot of those other guys to make plays," Manuel said. "I don't think he's going to need me to do it as much because we have so many horses now. Granted, if the situation comes, I'm sure he'll trust me to make a first down. I know we haven't been practicing it a whole lot, though."

Hunter maturing: The man at the center of Florida State's Twitter ban has made some big strides on and off the field, Fisher said.

Two months after sophomore Tyler Hunter tweeted rap lyrics promoting violence against police officers -- tweets that got the entire team banned from using the social network -- Fisher said there's been a noticeable change in Hunter's attitude.

"He's had a very good camp," Fisher said. "He's been very, very disciplined. Never any issues anymore. I think he realizes he made a critical mistake that's not indicative of who he is as a person. But he knows he was wrong -- and majorly wrong. He's really done a nice job of trying to change his image and what he's trying to be about."

Hunter has dealt with an in-house punishment, and he's participated in ride-alongs with local police. Fisher said that assuming Hunter completes his punishments this week, the sophomore will be on the field Saturday, likely as Florida State's No. 1 nickel back.

"He'll be playing," Fisher said. "He'll be ready to roll."

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