Thursday, April 11, 2013
FSU Notes: Limited options on punt returns
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- No position on Florida State's roster spent so much of the 2012 season in flux, and yet as this spring draws to a close, Jimbo Fisher insists he's sufficiently comfortable with the status quo at punt returner -- at least for now.
While punt return practice amounted to only about a week of work this spring, the two primary candidates to see work were the two players who bookended last season with the job -- Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw. Both remain in competition for the role this season.
"You've still got other guys that will be in there, too, but punts are more about catching the ball than running," Fisher said.
His caution comes with ample evidence, as FSU fumbled away a myriad of punts last season, eventually costing Greene and, later, Tyler Hunter the job. That left things up to Shaw to close out the season, and he proved to be relatively effective. His 12.4 yard average trailed both Greene and Hunter, who both averaged better than 15, but Shaw never put the ball on the ground.
"When they gave me the job, I tried to do my best, and the coaches say I did a heck of a job," Shaw said.
But whether it's a job Shaw keeps remains to be seen. He's got a leg up now, but aside from Mario Pender, he's had little competition.
That may change in the fall when a bevy of potential return men join the fray. Hunter and Ronald Darby will both return from injuries that cost them the spring and could join the mix, along with speedster Marvin Bracy and incoming freshmen Ryan Green and Jalen Ramsey.
Perhaps the most intriguing candidate, however, is Lavonte Whitfield, whose combination of game-breaking speed and soft hands make him a good fit as FSU's next great punt returner.
"He's very natural at punt returns," Fisher said. "That sucker, punts will come down and lay right as his feet, and he'll scoop them up and go. He's got some tenacity to him."
For all of FSU's miscues in the punt return game a year ago, matching the production of 2012's return men may not be easy.
Florida State's average of 14.49 yards per return ranked eighth in the nation, and the Seminoles were one of just five teams to return three punts for touchdowns for the season.
Early progress: It's been a lost spring for freshman defensive end Demarcus Walker, who enrolled early in January but had his practice time nixed due to an NCAA eligibility concern. He's remained on the sidelines throughout spring practice, and Fisher still believes the issue will eventually be resolved, but Walker missed out on a chance to establish himself on the defense ahead of the arrival of his fellow freshmen this summer.
The same isn't true for linebacker Freddie Stevenson, FSU's other early enrollee, however. While Jeremy Pruitt's complex defensive schemes and an adjustment to college practices have left Stevenson guessing on occasion, senior Telvin Smith said he's been amazed by how quickly the freshman has picked things up.
"That guy is going to be the future of Florida State linebackers," Smith said of Stevenson. "He's really shown me a lot."
Stevenson is the first of a hefty crowd of linebackers set to join the Seminoles this summer, as Fisher reeled in five in this year's signing class. That means some stout competition among the young linebackers -- including, also, sophomore Reggie Northrup and redshirt freshman Markus Eligwe -- but this spring has been the ideal learning experience.
"What you want when they come in -- he came in as a young freshmen early and he's studying," Smith said. "I came in my freshman year, I was just trying to get out there and play. That's all I wanted to do was run around and make a play instead of learning what I had to do. That's what he's showing me. He's trying to learn the system before he just runs out there to make a play."
Karlos is coming: With Lamarcus Joyner's move to corner, Karlos Williams became the heir apparent at safety -- much to the delight of fans eager to see the talented junior finally get a lion's share of the reps on defense. But while Williams still figures to blossom into a star, his counterpart at safety said the new scheme and new roles haven't made the job easy.
"He still has to learn and get a feel for it," safety Terrence Brooks said. "He's doing alright but they mix him up a lot. They keep him down in the box some, and he's still picking up the safety spot. In due time, he should get it, but he's got to keep moving."