2013 Spring Preview: Running Backs

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
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From the impending quarterback competition to finding replacements for departing juniors, Jimbo Fisher will have his work cut out for him during the next few months as he lays the groundwork for 2013.

With that in mind, we're going to go position by position looking at Florida State's strengths and weaknesses as the Seminoles prepare for the start of spring practice.

Previously: Cornerback, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends, Defensive Tackles

[+] EnlargeJames Wilder Jr.
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireCan talented RB James Wilder Jr. make the leap to superstardom in 2013?
Next up: Running backs

2012 recap: It's tough to overstate how much Florida State's ground game improved from 2011, with the Seminoles nearly doubling their total rushing yards and finishing the season with five players who averaged better than 5 yards per carry. Overall, Florida State finished fourth nationally, averaging 5.62 yards per rush. Chris Thompson was well on his way to becoming the first FSU runner to top 1,000 yards since 1996, but his season ended in Week 9 with a torn ACL. James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman teamed up to handle the job the rest of the way -- usually successfully -- and figure to do the same again in 2013.

Departures: Thompson toyed with the idea of appealing the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility after his Week 9 injury, but he eventually abandoned that plan and is focused on rehabbing his knee and making a go of it in the NFL. His loss is big, but Freeman and Wilder proved to be able substitutes. At fullback, things aren't quite so clear cut. Lonnie Pryor departs after four seasons as a starter, and there's no obvious replacement waiting in the wings.

Arrivals: FSU figures to finally get its first look at Mario Pender, who redshirted in 2012 after undergoing groin surgery at the start of fall practice. Pender's rehab went smoothly, but he still won't be a regular practice participant until spring workouts get going. Meanwhile, FSU added another dynamic weapon to its backfield on national signing day with four-star athlete Ryan Green. Like Thompson, Green is a home-run threat with great speed. In what should be something of an unsettled backfield, he could see action immediately.

Biggest question mark: There are no questions about Wilder's ability, but it's still unclear whether he'll ever blossom as a superstar runner. Wilder had a productive 2012 season, rushing for 652 yards and 11 touchdowns, but even after Thompson's injury, he didn't emerge as an every down back. Wilder's size and strength make him a weapon, particularly in short-yardage situations, but his affinity for contact also means the bumps and bruises can accumulate over the course of the season. Add a myriad of off-field issues, and the question marks continue to pile up. The most likely scenario for 2013 is that Wilder again splits time with Freeman as co-starters, but there's also the chance that Wilder blossoms into a star -- and maybe even managed to put an end to that ongoing drought of 1,000-yard backs.

Breakout star: The backfield is probably a bit too crowded for any one runner to become a superstar, but Wilder may be the best bet to make the leap. Of course, Freeman has had two straight solid seasons and won't have to worry about taking a backseat to Thompson this time around, while Pender and Green certainly possess the talent to take the job and run with it, too. In other words, there's a ton of talent, but just one football to go around.

Projected 2013 starter: Freeman and Wilder

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