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Wednesday, February 13, 2013
State of the Noles: Tight Ends

By NoleNation Staff

Florida State
Florida State ight end Nick O'Leary is the clear starter for the next two seasons.

When it comes to recruiting, coaches must think long-term. It's not just about which holes must be filled immediately, but rather where the needs might be in two or three years.

With that in mind, NoleNation writers David Hale and Corey Dowlar are going position by position, looking at what FSU has on its roster now and who might provide reinforcements down the line, projecting starters and evaluating the depth through 2015.

Up next, a position that could become a much bigger part of the offense in 2013: Tight end.

Current scholarship TEs (5): Nick O'Leary (Jr.), Kevin Haplea (Sr.), Christo Kourtzidis (So.), Dan Hicks (RSr.), Jeremy Kerr (Fr.)

Potential early departures: O'Leary arrived in Tallahassee as the nation's top tight end recruit, so he certainly has the talent to garner the attention of NFL scouts -- but it would require a big step forward in his junior season in 2013.

Predicted starters (Hale's pick/Dowlar's pick)
2013: O'Leary/O'Leary
2014: O'Leary/O'Leary
2015: Kourtzidis/Kourtzidis

Why they'll start: Few positions appear as straightforward looking ahead as tight end, where Florida State has a clear No. 1 in O'Leary, who figures to wrap up his career as a four-year starter. Kourtzidis projects as the clear heir apparent. The bigger question is just how significant the role of tight end will be as Jimbo Fisher tweaks its offense without longtime starting fullback Lonnie Pryor.

O'Leary took a small step forward in his sophomore campaign in 2012, catching 21 passes -- the most by a tight end during Fisher's tenure calling plays at FSU -- but even with that increased production, the tight ends accounted for just 7.5 percent of the Seminoles' receiving yards.

With Pryor gone, however, Fisher has said O'Leary could be featured as a half back, and FSU could employ more two-tight end sets. Add a first-year starter at quarterback still getting used to the offense and it stands to reason there could be a bigger role than ever for the tight ends.

EJ Manuel raved about O'Leary's potential before the 2012 season, and there were flashes of just how dangerous a weapon he could be. In the end, O'Leary's shortcomings were just as evident. But with two more years left to improve, the best is likely still to come, and the next few seasons could provide far more opportunity to showcase his skillsw.

Who might FSU add: Florida State only signed one tight end in the 2013 class, and Kerr might not even stay at the position. At 6-foot-6 and nearly 260 pounds, Kerr could potentially find himself growing into a massive offensive tackle. Though, it must be said, there wasn't a huge need at tight end this cycle because of the numbers at the position.

The Seminoles have only offered a pair of prospects at the position for 2014 -- Kevin Crosby (Bamberg, S.C./Bamberg) and Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Marida) -- so it is hard to say how they look going forward. Moral Stephens (Perry, Fla./Taylor County) could eventually grow to tight-end size since he's already pushing 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds.

Long-term grade: C-plus. The position is in good hands for 2013 with O'Leary, Kourtzidis and veteran Penn State transfer Haplea, along with a healthy Hicks. But the latter two are gone at year's end, and there's at least the possibility O'Leary could depart, too, if he enjoys a breakout season. That would leave FSU is a tight spot for 2014 and beyond and put plenty of pressure on the coaching staff to nab some depth in next year's signing class -- particularly if the position continues to evolve into a bigger part of the offensive scheme.