FSU Notes: Tough week for Freeman

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
11:03
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It might have been the most spirited practice in nearly a year for Devonta Freeman, and that was good to see, Jimbo Fisher said.

The sophomore tailback didn't get a touch in Saturday's win over Clemson, which came just days after his brother was murdered near Miami. The emotional toll was immense, and Freeman was absent from the team's meetings Monday to attend the funeral. But Fisher said Freeman returned Tuesday with renewed focus.

"He's doing as well as can be expected," Fisher said. "It's a very tough situation....It's a tragedy and sometimes people don't realize what's going on in these kids' lives....They're 17, 18, 19, 20-year old kids. It's devastation."

The off-field issues certainly sidetracked Freeman's game Saturday, but his role had been reduced even before that.

After leading the team in rushing a year ago, Freeman entered the season as part of a three-man rotation at tailback. In the first two games of the season, he had 18 touches on offense, tops among the running backs. In the past two games, however, Freeman has just six carries and one reception.

Meanwhile, Chris Thompson and James Wilder Jr. have taken off. Thompson has back-to-back 100-yard games, while Wilder has become a second-half workhorse.

The shift in playing time isn't meant as a knock on Freeman, Fisher said, but it's also not guaranteed to change any time soon.

"The other guys are playing really good," Fisher said. "(Thompson and Wilder) are really cranking it up. We had a hot hand going and we didn't want to break the rhythm. It has nothing to do with Devonta doing anything wrong. The other guys are just doing some things really good."

Fisher said he hopes the increased workload for Thompson and Wilder will serve as a springboard for Freeman, too.

"I think that's why you saw him really pick it up (in practice) today," Fisher said.

While the competition has tightened up among the running backs however, Wilder said the group has rallied around Freeman off the field.

"He's been going through a lot of off-the-field issues, and we're his brothers, too, so we're making sure we comfort him," Wilder said. "But he's back and he's ready to go. He's feeling better."

Not easy being Greene: For the second time in four games, Rashad Greene coughed up a fumble while fielding a punt, and that's a major concern for Fisher.

Greene has two touchdowns, too, which makes him a dangerous weapon -- but those fumbles are equally dangerous. Thus far, Fisher said he's not prepared to make a change -- backup Tyler Hunter fumbled a punt against Savannah State -- but he wants to see marked improvement.

"We've got to fix that," Fisher said.

Fisher said Greene's fumble against Clemson was due in part to a missed block at the line of scrimmage, meaning two players were in Greene's vicinity as he tried to make the catch. So Fisher's warnings haven't been aimed strictly at his return men, but the entire unit.

Nevertheless, the onus remains on Greene, and Fisher said he expects to see a better effort moving forward.

"There's no reason to put the ball on the ground," Fisher said. "You run in there, and if they hit you, it's a penalty on them. You've got to put your nose in there and make a play."

Looking for 1,000: Thompson topped 100 yards on the ground for the second straight game against Clemson, and after four weeks, he's second in the ACC in rushing with 386 yards.

It's a stark contrast from a year ago, when Thompson had just 81 yards on the ground in FSU's first four games and the ground attack remained stuck in neutral. In fact, it's been such a strong start for Thompson that some fans are dreaming of a big finish.

No FSU rusher has topped 1,000 yards in a season since 1996 -- the longest streak in the nation -- but if the Seminoles make it to the ACC championship game, Thompson would need to average just 64 yards each game the rest of the way to end that run.

While it's still far from guaranteed, his quarterback is a believer.

"He'll do it," EJ Manuel said. "I think he'll get that done, but I don't think it's something he's going to be thinking about. He just wants to win."

Haggins returns: Jared Haggins returned to practice Tuesday after missing Saturday's game. "He had a great day today, running around, catching balls," Fisher said. "He looked good."

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