Depth at receiver a concern for Noles
August, 20, 2013
By David M. Hale | ESPN.com
Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Getty ImagesWith nine pass catchers from last season out of commission, Florida State needs veterans such as Kenny Shaw to pick up the slack in the passing game.TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- About 20 minutes before Florida State wrapped up the first practice of its final two-a-day session of the fall, wide receiver Rashad Greene trudged off the field alongside a trainer, who held held his hand aloft and inspected a taped-up finger.
It's the latest in what seems like a daily addition to the injury report for the Seminoles passing attack.
"We don't need nobody [hurt]," Jimbo Fisher said afterward, "but it's part of camp."
It's a part of camp Florida State has become all too familiar with of late. The receiving corps figured to be among the deepest areas of the Seminoles' roster just a few months ago, but one by one the depth chart has been pared down, and only a few veterans and a trio of untested rookies remain.
The good news is that Greene's injury appears minor. Fisher said the finger wasn't broken, and he expected Greene to return to practice in a few days. The bad news is that, even with Greene, Florida State has just three receivers on its roster who recorded more than three catches last season.
The casualties thus far include seniors Greg Dent, who is suspended indefinitely after an offseason arrest on sexual assault charges, Willie Haulstead -- who didn't qualify academically -- and Jarred Haggins, who is out with a fractured knee. Freshman Marvin Bracy also departed the program to pursue a track career. To make matters worse, three of the four tight ends FSU had on its roster last season have left the program or are done for the season with an injury.
Nine of the 16 Seminoles who caught a pass in 2012 won't see the field in 2013.
"It's a big deal experience-wise," Fisher said. "You always want that experience because that's the thing you can't simulate. You've got to go through those situations."
Greene and Kenny Shaw figure to pick up some of the slack. The pair combined for 90 catches and nearly 1,300 yards last season and have made a point to show the younger receivers how it's done.
"We've put an emphasis on them watching what we do when we go with the ones," Shaw said. "We tell them just to watch, because usually we're doing the right things."
But the two veterans can't be expected to carry the entire load, and further down the depth chart there are plenty of questions.
Start with Kelvin Benjamin, who has been pegged as a future star for two straight seasons without living up to the hype. He opened last year strong, but his final five games produced just seven catches, 52 yards and no touchdowns.
Benjamin insists he's finally turned a corner. He stuck around Tallahassee all summer, working out twice a day to shed excess weight. He's dropped 15 pounds from his 2012 playing weight and is checking in at just 8 percent body fat.
"I feel like I'm jumping higher, coming out of my breaks faster," Benjamin said. "I feel much better."
Benjamin's potential is obvious, but for junior Christian Green, his future is something of a mystery. He flourished as a redshirt freshman in 2011, finishing third on the team with 450 yards receiving on a shaky offense. He all but disappeared last season, though, catching only three passes. That won't suffice this season.
"He needs to get back in that flow," Fisher said. "He had a chance to make some plays [in the scrimmage] and made some. He had a good year two years ago, and hopefully he comes back to the same level -- and I think better."
The real wild cards in the mix, however, might be the freshmen.
AP Photo/Phil SearsIsaiah Jones (right) is one of three freshman wide receivers FSU hopes will step up quickly.
Fisher inked three receivers in this year's signing class, and all three have made strong first impressions. Levonte Whitfield has world-class speed and could easily fill the role Fisher had expected Bracy to play, running reverses, working in the slot and helping on special teams. Jesus Wilson was the star of the summer, earning rave reviews from teammates on both sides of the ball. He worked extensively on the field and in the weight room with Greene and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, and both admit to being fans. Isaiah Jones might need the most work of the trio, but at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, he's also the biggest.
Fisher has praised the group throughout camp, though he admitted Monday he was beginning to see signs of fatigue.
"You can see it's starting to wear on them a little bit," he said. "They did some good things, but had a couple mental muffs when they got tired that they have to learn to grind through."
Ups and downs from freshmen are be a fact of life, but a big season from at least one of them wouldn't be unprecedented. Greene led the team in receiving as a true freshman just two seasons ago, and this group should have a much better supporting cast.
"I'll just be honest with them," Greene said. "The opportunity is here. It's our job to help you out, but you also have to let us know when you need help, and they're doing a fantastic job with that."
That opportunity extends all the way down the depth chart. Greene has been Florida State's best receiver for two straight seasons, but he'll need more consistent production this season. Benjamin has star potential, but he needs to deliver the results. The freshmen can make an impact, but they'll need to avoid the growing pains.
The pressure is higher on those who remain, but Benjamin insists they're ready for the opportunity.
"Losing players that were going to be a big factor in the offense, we need to bring it," Benjamin said. "Every practice we're going to go hard, trying to be dominant, be elite."