FSU using big bodies for short yardage

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- On the line, Florida State checks in at an average of 317 pounds. In the backfield, James Wilder Jr. cuts the frame of a linebacker and delivers hits accordingly. For good measure, the Seminoles have even moved 280-pound former defensive end Giorgio Newberry to tight end.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Don Juan Moore Jimbo Fisher is looking for Florida State to become more physical in its short-yardage offense this season.
Even with all that heft bearing down on defensive fronts in 2013, Jimbo Fisher isn't satisfied. He's toying with the idea of adding a few more big bodies to the mix in the form of defensive linemen Jacobbi McDaniel (6-0, 295) and Mario Edwards Jr. (6-3, 278), who have both gotten reps at fullback this fall.

In other words, Fisher isn't playing it safe when it comes to moving the pile on short yardage.

"Just because they're big doesn't mean they'll block people," Fisher said, "but we have a chance to be very physical at the point."

That's a sizable understatement, but Fisher realizes the significance of success on those short-yardage plays, and it's an area where he sees room for improvement in 2013.

It's not that the Seminoles were bad in short yardage last season. In fact, they made some dramatic strides from a dismal performance in 2011.

Overall, FSU converted 57 percent of it's short-yardage plays (2 yards or fewer to go) last season, good for seventh in the ACC and up 14 percentage points from the year before, when the Seminoles were dead last in the league. Florida State averaged 4.6 yards per rush in short-yardage last year, which led all ACC teams.

The momentous improvement from year to year ought to be cause for celebration, but there is some gray area to the numbers.

Yes, Florida State made a big leap forward in its short-yardage success in 2012, but the improvement in those situations was far less dramatic than the overall running game, which nearly doubled its production from 2011.

FSU scored 40 touchdowns on the ground last season, second-best in the ACC and ninth in the nation, but its goal-line conversion rate was just fifth in the league.

On third-and-short last season, FSU converted a woeful 54 percent -- ninth-best in the conference. Fisher's crew wriggled out of trouble by converting all three of its fourth-down tries, including a game-saving run by Wilder against Virginia Tech, but there's no doubt that was a bit too close for comfort.

But perhaps most importantly, Florida State had a legitimate size advantage at the point of impact in most games, and Fisher expects his unit to take advantage. With that in mind, he's doubling down on that idea this fall by bringing McDaniel and Edwards over from the defensive line.

"With those other guys, you've got to have some heart to stand in front of that and actually stand it up," Wilder said. "Jacobbi, what's he, 280, 300? Boy, you've got to have some heart to hop in front of that. It definitely opens up holes."

That's the plan anyway. Of course, size isn't everything, as Florida State has learned in the past.

The move from defense to offense isn't exactly rocket science, Fisher admits, but there is some nuance to the job. McDaniel and Edwards both have the athleticism to complement their heft, but they'll also need a little seasoning in the role.

"It's a lot harder on offense than it is on defense," Fisher said. "You've got to find [the opposition]. On defense, they're coming to you. It's a little different, but they're both very athletic and fluid, so they do it pretty natural."

The concept isn't entirely new for Florida State either. Former defensive end Bjoern Werner handled the job a handful of times in the past few seasons, too. What's different about this year is that longtime fullback Lonnie Pryor has moved on, and the backfield shakeup at least offers some room for innovation.

In fact, McDaniel hasn't even ruled out a little change-of-pace in the role, saying he hopes to grab a pass or two when the defense is least expecting it.

"I'm going to take full advantage of that," McDaniel said. "I'm going up for it, and I'm bringing it down. I still have it. Every day before practice we're playing catch. It's still there."

That may be pushing the limits of Fisher's grand experiment, but the bottom line remains the same. Florida State figures to have a distinct advantage when it comes to sheer bulk this season, and the Seminoles want to make sure that translates into an elite short-yardage offense.

"Those boys just want to go back there and hit something," Wilder said of his new backfield mates. "[They're] like me. They need that contact, and they can open up a hole for me and the other running backs."

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