Wednesday, September 18, 2013
FSU freshmen get early work
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher knows better than to make any suppositions before he actually has seen his freshmen get to work. He has been around long enough, seen enough five-star recruits fail and enough two-star afterthoughts emerge to know it's all just an educated guess until the games begin.
Jalen Ramsey is different. All he knows is what he has done before and what he expects to do again. He wasn't making guesses about his production. He knew.
"He came in saying it," Fisher said. "We all said, 'OK,' but when you're around him, you see a different guy. He's a mature guy."
Jalen Ramsey is at the head of FSU"s 2013 class, but he's not the only one playing a major role.
Ramsey backed up his talk, turned in a dominant fall camp and became the first true freshman cornerback to crack the starting lineup for Florida State since Deion Sanders.
Now that, Fisher said, is a lofty standard, even for Ramsey.
"He's a heck of a player now, but let's give him a break before we put him in Deion's category," Fisher said. "But size, speed, athleticism and very mature, very hard-working and very intelligent. He has a drive to be good, and he's very mature above his years. That's what allowed him to be able to do that, and he's done a tremendous job. He's going to be a heck of a football player."
But it's not just Ramsey exceeding early expectations. With an interception in his first game and five tackles -- including snuffing out a fake field-goal try -- in his second, he has made the biggest impact, but 12 other true freshmen have seen action for Florida State this season.
Defensive end Demarcus Walker started the opener along with Ramsey, meaning more true freshmen got starting nods in just one game in 2013 than did so in all of 2012.
Five true freshmen have recorded a tackle so far, led by Ramsey's nine. That's just one fewer than did so in all of 2012.
Two more have caught passes, two others have seen work on the offensive line. For a team with sights set on a national championship, that's a lot of youth. In all, a higher percentage of Florida State's 2013 freshman signing class (65 percent) has seen action than in any other year since Fisher took over as head coach.
The way Fisher sees it, getting that group early playing time is a necessity.
"You can explain it to them a thousand ways," Fisher said, "but until they go out and make a mistake or make a play, it doesn't matter."
Last week's blowout win over Nevada gave a handful of the freshmen a chance to shine. Levonte Whitfield's circus catch along the sideline earned praise from Fisher. Green made the most of his late-game opportunities, racking up 78 yards on just five carries. Jesus Wilson worked in on punt-return duties, racking up 29 yards on two tries.
Two easy wins to open the season and an early bye week have helped Fisher ready his freshmen for battle. A date with an FCS foe this week should allow for additional playing time for some of the backups, too. The hope, Fisher said, is that the early experience will mean none of the 13 freshmen who has seen the field so far will be playing like freshmen by the time Florida State hits the meat of its schedule.
"That will help out a lot," receiver Christian Green said. "Them coming from high school to this level is definitely different. They're getting used to the game speed, how things go in a game."
Of course, not all freshmen are created equal, and there have already been some casualties. Stevenson practiced this spring at linebacker, but Fisher believes his future could be at fullback. Wilson Bell was FSU's most advanced freshman on the offensive line, but he went down with a knee injury against Nevada and could be headed for a medical redshirt. Seven other members of Florida State's 10th-ranked signing class appear destined for a redshirt, too.
But the bulk of the group already has dipped its toes into the water, and that's a crucial bit of early development in case Ramsey isn't the only one Florida State needs to throw into the deep end as the season progresses.
"They get that out of their system -- the nerves, the jitters," Fisher said. "Once they get out there, they realize it's football."