Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Under Pressure: TE Nick O'Leary
By David M. Hale
Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 Florida State players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.
Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary caught 21 passes in 2012.
2012 performance: Those expecting a marked improvement from O'Leary's freshman season in which he caught 12 pass were disappointed as the talented sophomore managed just 21 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns. It's not that those totals were awful -- O'Leary, in fact, enjoyed one of the most productive seasons by an FSU tight end in a while -- but they certainly didn't match rather lofty expectations. O'Leary also seemed to disappear for long stretches.
Pressure point: O'Leary arrived amid much hype, and for good reason. He's got the size to be a solid blocker, but his athleticism and pass-catching ability should make him a major mismatch against linebackers and defensive ends. Through two seasons, however, FSU hasn't enjoyed many fruits of those mismatches. The pressure to find more success as a junior will be ratcheted up even further in 2013. With fullback Lonnie Pryor gone, Jimbo Fisher has said he plans to use O'Leary at halfback and will scheme numerous sets with two tight ends. That's a potentially successful wrinkle to the FSU offense -- but only if O'Leary blossoms into the star he's been projected to become.
If he succeeds: Several potential stumbling blocks for FSU's offense could be instantly solved if O'Leary puts together an all-conference-caliber season. If O'Leary's blocking improves, he could help ease the loss of Menelik Watson on the right side. If he becomes a more consistent threat in the passing game, he could provide a valuable safety valve for a young quarterback. If he can avoid making dumb mistakes -- such as fumbling while trying to hurdle defenders -- he could supply the same type of consistency that made Pryor such a valuable part of FSU's offense. Those are all big ifs at the moment.
If he fails: Fisher raved about the progress of senior Kevin Haplea this spring, and the Penn State transfer at least provides FSU with a solid Plan B at tight end. Haplea will never be the receiving threat O'Leary already is, but after a year in the program, he's at least consistent as a blocker and can do enough in the passing game to be an asset. Still, Haplea is the safe option. O'Leary is the potentially explosive one. If O'Leary fails to develop, FSU misses out on a major weapon who could be even more valuable with a young quarterback running the show. More importantly, struggles from any of FSU's tight ends ties Fisher's hands in terms of scheme.
Projection: The first step in meeting expectations for O'Leary would be to simply stop making so many ugly plays. It's one thing to disappear in the offense (something O'Leary has done at times) but it's another to turn a potentially big play into a disastrous one (something O'Leary has become known for among frustrated fans). New tight ends coach Tim Brewster knows he has a potential gold mine in O'Leary, though, and those struggles in 2012 might have served to light a fire under a player who was No. 20 in the ESPN 150 in the 2011 class. O'Leary will be given plenty of chances to shine, and a solid step forward -- 30 catches, more looks in the red zone -- would be a welcome addition. Anything more, and FSU's offense could become a lot more dynamic than many are projecting.