Florida State Seminoles: Greg Dent

The news was hardly a surprise, but Florida State nevertheless could breathe an immense sigh of relief when Rashad Greene announced he’d be back for his senior season in 2014. There are more talented, more highly regarded players from the Seminoles’ national championship team departing for the NFL, but perhaps no one on the current FSU roster was more crucial in 2014 than Greene. He was practically irreplaceable.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsRashad Green had a team-high 76 catches in 2013, including 9 in the national title game.
The run-up to the start of the 2013 season was a disaster for Florida State’s receiver group. Greg Dent was expected to blossom into a consistent threat, but instead spent the year awaiting a trial for sexual assault. Willie Haulstead figured to return from more than two years saddled with the lingering effects of a concussion, but academics ended his season before it began. Jarred Haggins was poised for a far bigger role, but a knee injury relegated him to the sidelines.

What was left for Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense was essentially a three-man show: Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. Of Winston’s 384 pass attempts in 2013, he targeted his big three receivers 279 times (73 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The tight rotation actually proved to be a benefit. Greene, Benjamin and Shaw all enjoyed breakout seasons, with the former two topping 1,000 yards for the season. But as Florida State looks to 2014, the lack of established depth at the position means a massive rebuilding project must begin, with Greene providing the foundation.

Shaw is graduating. Benjamin departed early for the NFL. Winston’s top three targets out of the backfield all moved on as well. Aside from Greene, the current Florida State roster accounts for just 44 of Winston’s completions, the bulk of those to tight end Nick O’Leary.

So as the enthusiasm builds for a repeat performance by the Seminoles’ high-flying offense thanks to the return of the Heisman Trophy winner and four-fifths of his offensive line, the obvious question is: Who will be catching all of those throws?

Greene’s 76 catches last season were the second-most in Florida State history. It seems likely that number will increase in 2014. Even with tempting options in Shaw, O’Leary and Benjamin, Winston targeted Greene on more than 30 percent of his throws last year.

Greene was fond of telling the story of Florida State’s receivers meeting last summer to discuss the new quarterback running the offense. It would be up to them, Greene said, to make Winston comfortable, to do their jobs so well it made his job easy. In 2014, Greene’s role will be similar, except he’ll now be mentoring a young group of receivers around him, too.

Kermit Whitfield is electric with the ball in his hands, one of college football’s fastest players. He figures to be a nice fit to replace Shaw as the team’s top slot receiver, but he caught just five passes in 2013 -- none from Winston.

Benjamin’s loss provides an even bigger hole. Receivers who are 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and can run and jump effortlessly are rare gems. Still, tall receivers have been a cornerstone of Florida State’s offense, from Greg Carr to Rodney Smith to Benjamin. The last time the Seminoles didn’t have a receiver taller than 6-4 record at least 30 catches and 400 yards was 2005. That role in 2014 figures to fall to 6-4 Isaiah Jones, who caught just two passes for 31 yards as a freshman last season. And while he offers height similar to Benjamin, he checks in almost 40 pounds lighter and is hardly the same matchup nightmare as his predecessor.

Teammates raved about Jesus Wilson’s work on the practice field in 2013, and he’ll get his share of reps, too. Christian Green will be back again, but after a solid freshman campaign in 2011, he’s all but disappeared in the past two seasons. Haggins returns from the knee injury, too, but since Oct. 13, 2012, his combined stat line looks like this: 1 catch, 1 yard.

All of that is simply to underscore the importance of Greene in FSU’s 2014 passing game. His fellow receivers have potential, but Greene is the established weapon. And while the losses of Shaw and Benjamin are big, it’s worth remembering that Winston’s favorite weapon remains.

On third down last season, Winston targeted Greene 27 times -- nearly twice as often as any other receiver on the team. His 18 third-down catches doubled the next closest receiver, and all 18 went for first downs. Winston’s other returning star, O’Leary, converted 8 of 9 third-down targets, too.

In the red zone in 2013, Greene was again Winston’s top target (14 throws) and receiver (eight catches), and he and O’Leary accounted for nearly half of Winston’s red-zone targets.

In short, few receivers made more catches when it mattered most. Fifty of Greene’s receptions went for a first down, tied for third among ACC receivers. And no player on Florida State’s offense has been as consistent. Greene has led the team in receiving in each of his first three seasons in Tallahassee. He needs 41 more catches and 1,133 more yards in 2014 to match FSU’s career receiving marks.

Of course, as good as Greene has been, the onus will still fall to his emerging teammates to draw the attention of safeties away from him and provide Winston with a wider variety of weapons at his disposal. That development remains a work in progress for the next seven months, but Greene’s ability to handle double coverage, to make the big plays when it matters most, to set the standard for game day on the practice field during the week -- that makes the jobs of everyone around him much easier.

For an offense that returns so many stars in 2014, Greene will again be the cornerstone.

FSU offense poised to make history

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
1:00
PM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — They know the numbers, but none of Florida State’s offensive playmakers wants to vouch for just how significant 1,000 would be.

The refrain was established even before the season, and it has been repeated again and again each time another Seminoles star gets within striking distance.

“I don’t feel like anyone is really focusing on that,” said Rashad Greene, Florida State’s leading receiver with 981 yards. “We want that crystal ball. That’s the goal, and individual stuff will take care of itself.”

It’s the same answer given by Kenny Shaw, now 71 receiving yards shy of 1,000.

It’s the same answer given by Kelvin Benjamin, who needs 43 receiving yards to crack 1,000.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
AP Photo/Richard ShiroRashad Greene is one of three FSU receivers who's less than 75 yards from the 1,000-yard mark this season.
It’s the same answer given by Devonta Freeman, who can top 1,000 rushing yards with just 57 in the VIZIO BCS Championship Game.

And, of course, the national championship is exactly where their focus should be, but the proximity of all four players to that elusive mark is nothing to shrug off.

At Florida State, getting to 1,000 has been a remarkably rare accomplishment for anyone. In the school’s history, only 12 players have reached that mark, and only once have multiple Seminoles cracked 1,000 in the same season.

For Freeman, getting to 1,000 would end the longest -- and one of the most inexplicable -- streaks in the country. No Florida State back has topped 1,000 yards since 1996 thanks to a confluence of injuries, depth, performance and bad luck. To end the streak in a national championship game would be a perfect conclusion.

“That would be great,” Freeman said. “But we’ve got to win it. We’ve got to win, then get these 1,000 yards.”

Freeman figured to have plenty of competition from his teammates in Florida State’s backfield, but Karlos Williams (705 yards) was developed slowly after moving from safety in Week 2, and James Wilder Jr. (542 yards) was hobbled by injuries in the early season, opening the door just enough for Freeman to approach that elusive mark.

When the season began, the depth at receiver actually appeared to be a concern. Senior Greg Dent was suspended after being charged with sexual assault. Senior Willie Haulstead was ruled academically ineligible. Jarred Haggins suffered a preseason knee injury and was lost for the year, too. That left Florida State with just four veteran receivers, but the lack of depth actually proved to be a blessing.

The tight rotations meant Greene, Shaw and Benjamin were on the field more often, and for Benjamin in particular, that made a marked difference in his performance. In 2012, Benjamin withered down the stretch, but this season, his last two games have been his best. He has caught 14 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns in his last two contests, pulling him into position to crack 1,000 yards, too.

Only once has Florida State had two receivers top 1,000 in a season -- 1995, when E.J. Green and Andre Cooper did it with a combined 9 yards to spare. That Florida State might have three this year would put the Seminoles’ offense in rarefied company.

Only four other teams in college football history have had three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. Three of those teams -- 2009 Houston, 2007 Hawaii and 2003 Texas Tech -- hardly offer apt comparisons. They combined to throw the ball on 69 percent of their plays. Florida State, meanwhile, has thrown just 46 percent of the time this season.

The 2007 Tulsa Golden Hurricanes are really the only good comparison to what Florida State has done on offense this year. They had a 50-50 split on play-calling, and they are the only team in the last 10 years to have four players top 1,000 yards in one season.

It’s not a record that established Tulsa as an all-time great, of course. It’s simply just an interesting bit of trivia. And that’s why Florida State’s mantra is so significant.

One thousand yards would mean something. Four players topping 1,000 would mean even more. But four 1,000-yard players sharing a national championship would assure the Seminoles of their place in history.

“To me, if it’s in the context of winning and being successful, then it’s a great accomplishment,” Jimbo Fisher said. “Still, 1,000 yards is 1,000 yards, and that means a lot.”
Kenny Shaw Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Getty ImagesWith nine pass catchers from last season out of commission, Florida State needs veterans such as Kenny Shaw to pick up the slack in the passing game.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- About 20 minutes before Florida State wrapped up the first practice of its final two-a-day session of the fall, wide receiver Rashad Greene trudged off the field alongside a trainer, who held held his hand aloft and inspected a taped-up finger.

It's the latest in what seems like a daily addition to the injury report for the Seminoles passing attack.

"We don't need nobody [hurt]," Jimbo Fisher said afterward, "but it's part of camp."

It's a part of camp Florida State has become all too familiar with of late. The receiving corps figured to be among the deepest areas of the Seminoles' roster just a few months ago, but one by one the depth chart has been pared down, and only a few veterans and a trio of untested rookies remain.

The good news is that Greene's injury appears minor. Fisher said the finger wasn't broken, and he expected Greene to return to practice in a few days. The bad news is that, even with Greene, Florida State has just three receivers on its roster who recorded more than three catches last season.

The casualties thus far include seniors Greg Dent, who is suspended indefinitely after an offseason arrest on sexual assault charges, Willie Haulstead -- who didn't qualify academically -- and Jarred Haggins, who is out with a fractured knee. Freshman Marvin Bracy also departed the program to pursue a track career. To make matters worse, three of the four tight ends FSU had on its roster last season have left the program or are done for the season with an injury.

Nine of the 16 Seminoles who caught a pass in 2012 won't see the field in 2013.

"It's a big deal experience-wise," Fisher said. "You always want that experience because that's the thing you can't simulate. You've got to go through those situations."

Greene and Kenny Shaw figure to pick up some of the slack. The pair combined for 90 catches and nearly 1,300 yards last season and have made a point to show the younger receivers how it's done.

"We've put an emphasis on them watching what we do when we go with the ones," Shaw said. "We tell them just to watch, because usually we're doing the right things."

But the two veterans can't be expected to carry the entire load, and further down the depth chart there are plenty of questions.

Start with Kelvin Benjamin, who has been pegged as a future star for two straight seasons without living up to the hype. He opened last year strong, but his final five games produced just seven catches, 52 yards and no touchdowns.

Benjamin insists he's finally turned a corner. He stuck around Tallahassee all summer, working out twice a day to shed excess weight. He's dropped 15 pounds from his 2012 playing weight and is checking in at just 8 percent body fat.

"I feel like I'm jumping higher, coming out of my breaks faster," Benjamin said. "I feel much better."

Benjamin's potential is obvious, but for junior Christian Green, his future is something of a mystery. He flourished as a redshirt freshman in 2011, finishing third on the team with 450 yards receiving on a shaky offense. He all but disappeared last season, though, catching only three passes. That won't suffice this season.

"He needs to get back in that flow," Fisher said. "He had a chance to make some plays [in the scrimmage] and made some. He had a good year two years ago, and hopefully he comes back to the same level -- and I think better."

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Jones
AP Photo/Phil SearsIsaiah Jones (right) is one of three freshman wide receivers FSU hopes will step up quickly.
The real wild cards in the mix, however, might be the freshmen.

Fisher inked three receivers in this year's signing class, and all three have made strong first impressions. Levonte Whitfield has world-class speed and could easily fill the role Fisher had expected Bracy to play, running reverses, working in the slot and helping on special teams. Jesus Wilson was the star of the summer, earning rave reviews from teammates on both sides of the ball. He worked extensively on the field and in the weight room with Greene and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, and both admit to being fans. Isaiah Jones might need the most work of the trio, but at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, he's also the biggest.

Fisher has praised the group throughout camp, though he admitted Monday he was beginning to see signs of fatigue.

"You can see it's starting to wear on them a little bit," he said. "They did some good things, but had a couple mental muffs when they got tired that they have to learn to grind through."

Ups and downs from freshmen are be a fact of life, but a big season from at least one of them wouldn't be unprecedented. Greene led the team in receiving as a true freshman just two seasons ago, and this group should have a much better supporting cast.

"I'll just be honest with them," Greene said. "The opportunity is here. It's our job to help you out, but you also have to let us know when you need help, and they're doing a fantastic job with that."

That opportunity extends all the way down the depth chart. Greene has been Florida State's best receiver for two straight seasons, but he'll need more consistent production this season. Benjamin has star potential, but he needs to deliver the results. The freshmen can make an impact, but they'll need to avoid the growing pains.

The pressure is higher on those who remain, but Benjamin insists they're ready for the opportunity.

"Losing players that were going to be a big factor in the offense, we need to bring it," Benjamin said. "Every practice we're going to go hard, trying to be dominant, be elite."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State had 10 players finish in the top four at their position in preseason All-ACC balloting, which should underscore the significant amount of talent Jimbo Fisher is bringing back for the 2013 season. But while Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan and Christian Jones provide a strong foundation, and Karlos Williams, Mario Edwards Jr. and Jameis Winston offer ample potential for the future, the most interesting portion of the Seminoles' roster might be the players in the middle -- established veterans whose potential still far outweighs their production.

As FSU gets set to open fall camp next week, we're looking at five players approaching a make-or-break season. Another marginal year could mean they're labeled career disappointments, while big seasons could push the Seminoles to a second straight conference championship.

Nick O'Leary (Jr./TE)

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Elsa/Getty ImagesNick O'Leary has considerable talent, but mental mistakes have held the junior back.
O'Leary arrived as perhaps the best tight end prospect ever to attend Florida State, but his first two years have been rather pedestrian -- 33 catches, 416 yards, three touchdowns and a handful of bone-headed miscues. With backup Kevin Haplea done for the year with an ACL injury and Christo Koutzidis' decision to transfer, there's no margin for error for O'Leary in his junior season. He'll be a crucial part of both the running game as a blocker and a valuable asset for a new quarterback as a safety valve in the passing game.

Giorgio Newberry (RS So./DE)

At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds with good athleticism and mobility, Newberry is a physical beast that has tantalized coaches and fans for two full years. What he hasn't done is provide much actual impact on the field. He opened last season as part of FSU's rotation at defensive end, but even after two starters succumbed to season-ending injuries, his playing time remained limited. He showed some flashes of improvement this spring, but still appears to be behind Dan Hicks on the depth chart.

Kelvin Benjamin (RSSo./WR)

Perhaps no player on Florida State's roster has enjoyed as much hype and excitement as Benjamin through the past two seasons. He's been a practice-field star, making acrobatic catches and using his sizable frame to push defenders around downfield. The problem, Fisher said, is that Benjamin has worried too much about making those same highlight-reel plays on game day rather than focus on doing the little things right. Coaches and teammates have assured Benjamin is making strides this offseason, and that could be crucial for a receiving corps in need of a viable No. 3 option with senior Greg Dent suspended indefinitely.

Bobby Hart (Jr./RT)

Hart's mental lapses have been well documented, and he spent virtually all of 2012 in line coach Rick Trickett's dog house. That trend might have continued into 2013 had Menelik Watson not bolted for the NFL, but as it stands, Hart appears the heir apparent at right tackle -- for better or worse. He showed good signs of improved play and, perhaps as important, improved maturity this spring. If he can live up to his recruiting pedigree as a junior, Florida State could have one of the top lines in the country.

Terrance Smith (RS So./LB)

Florida State appears in good shape at the top of the linebacker depth chart, with Jones and Telvin Smith both among the ACC's best. Beyond the two seniors, however, there's virtually no experienced depth. That's where Terrance Smith steps in. He's entering his third season on defense and has played in 15 games already -- though largely on special teams. He spent the spring working with the first-team defense on the strong side, and while he might not be the most talented of the young linebackers, he's the oldest and can help set the tone for the rest of the group.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 5 Rashad Greene

Position/Class: WR/Jr.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesRashad Greene has proven to be dynamic in many different ways on offense.
What he's done: Greene has been Florida State's most prolific receiver almost from the moment he set foot on campus in 2011. Despite missing four games as a freshman, he led FSU is virtually every receiving category, then topped those numbers as a sophomore by staying healthy all year. Combined, he's already recorded 95 career catches for 1,337 yards and 13 TDs. What's been missing for Green thus far has been consistency. While he's had five career games with 98 or more receiving yards, he's also had seven games of 30 yards or fewer.

Where he's at: While Greene has clearly been atop the pecking order at receiver in his first two seasons, he was always flanked by a deep supporting cast. In 2013, he's still got talent around him, but the leadership role is clearly his. With Rodney Smith gone and Greg Dent suspended indefinitely, Greene is the established veteran with the biggest expectations. He'll also be responsible for making life a bit easier for a new starting quarterback after spending the first two years of his career working with veteran EJ Manuel. Whether or not Greene gets another crack at punt return duties after an up-and-down 2012 performance in the role also remains to be seen.

What's to come: A large portion of Greene's inconsistency over the past two years can be chalked up to injury or the depth around him. When Greene was targeted in 2012, he was exceptional, catching 75 percent of the balls thrown his way -- second-best on the team -- and converting a team-high 34 first downs. He finished the season strong, too, recording at least five catches in five of his final seven games. All of that leads to some ramped up expectations for 2013 that Greene won't just occasionally be great, but will consistently affect games. He's more than capable, and in a year in which FSU has a bit less depth at receiver and needs a bit more reliability around its quarterback, Greene will be at the forefront. It's unlikely he'll suddenly match Duke's Jamison Crowder or Clemson's Sammy Watkins in terms of the glamor numbers because FSU's offense simply won't ask him to do so, but Greene should post career highs across the board again in 2013 and be well on his way toward climbing the upper echelon of the Seminoles record book.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When the ACC's preseason all-conference team was announced last week, Rashad Greene finished fourth among wide receivers, which represents both a modest increase in the appreciation he's been afforded by outsiders and a still-marked lack of appreciation of his actual impact on Florida State's offense.

He's good, the ranking suggests, but he's not elite.

The argument is easy enough to make, since Greene finished 16th in the ACC in receiving yards last season, averaging just 53 yards per game. His numbers have been the best Florida State could offer in each of his two seasons with the Seminoles, but they're hardly enough to stand out in a conference that boasts Sammy Watkins, Michael Campanaro, Jamison Crowder and Stefon Diggs.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesRashad Greene has proven to be dynamic in many different ways on offense.
Appreciating Greene's impact requires nuance, depth. Ranking him among the elite requires context, a more refined argument.

And, of course, Greene has no interest in making that argument.

"He's a humble kid," said Lamarcus Joyner, Greene's teammate since high school. "Rashad comes from a program where you have to make the most of your opportunities because you're surrounded by a bunch of good players. We're Florida State and we have a lot of great guys to pick from."

It's not that Greene revels in the opportunity to toil among the shadows. It's that he understands the value of opportunity, and he's built his career on exploiting each one he gets.

Last year, Greene was targeted 76 times and hauled in 57 catches. His 75-percent completion rate was easily the best among FSU's receivers. His 34 receptions that resulted in first downs were 12 more than the next highest by a Seminole. In his career, he's been given 128 touches and 16 of them have resulted in touchdowns. In other words, one out of every eight times he touches the football he scores, which makes him perhaps the most efficient playmaker in the country.

"It's been like that since high school," Greene said. "At St. Thomas [Aquinas high school], the type of program it was, you don't get too many opportunities to get the ball. When your play got called, either you were going to make the play and make it a big play, or you were going to give up the opportunity. I took that when I came to college. I might not get the opportunities, but I'm going to take advantage of the opportunities I can."

The question now might be whether those opportunities will increase for Greene in his junior season. There are numerous reasons to believe that may be the case.

At quarterback, Florida State will be breaking in a new starter -- likely redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. While his arm strength and decision making have already been praised by coaches, it's clear Jimbo Fisher wants a reliable downfield option who can make life easier for his new quarterback. Greene is the obvious choice.

"It's our job to make him comfortable and be behind him 100 percent," Greene said. "That's our job."

There's still plenty of talent on FSU's depth chart, too, but the receiving corps has been thinned a bit. Senior Greg Dent -- likely the Seminoles' most versatile receiver after Greene -- is suspended indefinitely after an offseason arrest. Speedster Marvin Bracy left the program to pursue a track career. Running backs Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor, the two most reliable options out of the backfield a year ago, have graduated. Tight ends Kevin Haplea (knee injury) and Christo Kourtzidis (transfer) are gone, too.

That leaves Greene as the standard bearer of the receiving corps, the established veteran of a passing game in flux.

"He'll get his chances," Fisher said. "He's going to get the ball. … He's very dynamic. He wants it. He accepts that role. He'll take it every time."

It's been rare that Florida State has treated Greene to a heavy dose of targets, but look at the Seminoles' toughest games in 2012 -- NC State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida and Georgia Tech -- and Greene's targets were up in each one.

When the situation calls for a big play, Greene is always a favorable matchup.

"He's a tremendous talent," NC State cornerback Dontae Johnson said. "He's got really great hands, he's got the confidence to run across the middle and catch the ball, he's elusive, good speed on the outside. He's just a great all-around receiver."

While Greene likely deserves a few more of those all-conference votes, it's the respect he's earned from the opposition that likely speaks highest of his ability. They know, better than anyone, where Florida State's junior stands among his peers.

"He's probably one of the fastest guys I've covered," Duke's Russ Cockrell said. "His speed is top-notch, and he should be mentioned alongside Jamison Crowder, Sammy [Watkins], Stefon Diggs. All those guys that are big names in the ACC, he's one of them."

Joyner has spent the offseason working one-on-one against Greene nearly every day. As a cornerback, he said there's no test in the ACC that will be tougher than what he faces during those practice sessions.

There are other elite receivers in the conference, but Greene stands out.

"He's definitely on that level, but I think he can be better," Joyner said. "To do special things, you need more opportunities. Other receivers that are on the national stage, could they come to Florida State and do the same thing? Maybe not. Maybe they can't do what Rashad does, turning two balls he gets in one game to 60-yard touchdowns. They get the ball thrown to them 12 times."

Still, humility doesn't show up in a box score, and Greene isn't shying away from the obvious.

He's spent the offseason refining his skill set, working against Joyner. He's hit the weight room to add bulk, hoping to open the season nearly 20 pounds heavier than where he ended 2012. He sees the opportunity to make a statement about his game without the need for context, and he never misses an opportunity.

"Just like any other receiver," Greene said, "yeah, I want the ball a lot more."
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The buzz at Pittsburgh began as soon as the schedule was announced, and Panthers coach Paul Chryst said he knows he'll have his handful when the Panthers make their ACC debut against Florida State.

"They're a well-coached team with good players," Chryst said. "They're worthy of the praise and the accolades they're getting."

Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the ACC this year after moving from the Big East, and Chryst said he's already begun work breaking down his 2013 conference opponents -- with Florida State first up.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston's lack of experience makes it tough for season-opening opponent Pittsburgh to prepare for him.
Of course, the learning curve is made even tougher because Florida State will head to Pittsburgh with a new starting quarterback and a new defensive scheme. That makes preparation nearly impossible.

"You know there's some stuff you won't be prepared for, but you try to do the best you can," Chryst said. "As a coach you try to prepare for the unknown -- but that's kind of, how the hell do you do that? I don't know."

On the other side, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said he expects his team to benefit from the tough start to the schedule.

"You have a better summer, a better fall camp, more attention to detail quicker," Fisher said. "Ideally you'd like them in a non-conference situation with a significant opponent, but I think it's good."

This marks the first time Florida State has opened its season against a team from a power conference since 2009, when it lost to Miami 38-34.

Benjamin improving: For all the buzz that's surrounded him for two years in Tallahassee, receiver Kelvin Benjamin still hasn't fully realized his potential. But it's that hype that may have hurt him, Fisher said, and Benjamin finally appears ready to turn a corner.

"People thought he had to do the spectacular thing, and he always felt pressure he had to do something special," Fisher said. "You run that drag route, that curl route -- you'll do more by just doing normal, it'll happen for you. That's the thing that's emerged. You see that pressure off him a little bit. He's really relaxing now and playing within the offense and it's getting more consistent."

Benjamin finished fourth on the team with 30 catches and 495 yards last season, but he mustered just 52 yards total in his final five games.

But fellow receiver Rashad Greene said he's seen a more focused version of Benjamin this summer, and he's expecting better results when the season begins.

"I can see that he's taken it a lot more serious," Greene said. "He's working a lot more. He's focused. A guy like that with so much ability and that big, you know you've got to respect him."

Coming and going: Fisher said he doesn't anticipate any significant injury issues when camp opens in two weeks.

Tight end Kevin Haplea will miss the season, but Fisher said every other player who underwent surgery this offseason should be ready to go, including Christo Kourtzidis, who is likely to take Haplea's spot on the depth chart.

Fisher also said the team is preparing as if receiver Greg Dent will not be available. Dent is suspended indefinitely after being charged with sexual assault last month.
Throughout the summer, NoleNation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 16 Kelvin Benjamin

Position/Class: WR/RSSo.

Kelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Phil SearsPhysically gifted at 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has yet to translate that into consistent production in FSU's offense.
What he's done: In his first year of action, Benjamin finished fourth on FSU's offense in catches and receiving yards, second in receiving touchdowns and had the highest yards-per-catch average of any receiver on the team -- and yet it's hard to look at his 2012 campaign as anything other than a mild disappointment. The hype surrounding Benjamin was immense, and he opened the season showing plenty of flash. But by midseason, his lack of focus became clear, and he mustered just four catches for 23 yards in FSU's final four games.

Where he's at: Benjamin's potential hasn't dipped any, and his 16.5 yards-per-catch average last season only solidified the notion that he can blossom into one of the most dangerous receivers in the country in time. The question is, when will his time come? There's ample opportunity now for Benjamin to establish himself. With Rodney Smith gone, Jimbo Fisher would love to find another big-bodied receiving target, and with Greg Dent suspended indefinitely, there's a major need for someone else to step up. Benjamin insists his head is in the game now and he's learned the lessons he needed to learn, but questions linger.

What's to come: Through two years at Florida State, Benjamin has earned an immense amount of hype, and perhaps that's been his biggest downfall. He knows he's good, and too often he's relied on that natural ability to carry him. Sometimes it's worked, but too often he's disappeared from the offense. Where Benjamin was a luxury for FSU in years past though, he's an integral cog in the offense this season, and the Seminoles can't afford another year of growing pains. Benjamin must be aware of that, and last year's struggles should be a reminder of how much farther he has to go. He may not blossom into the superstar some have projected in 2013, but if he can become a more consistent threat without the problematic ups and downs, Florida State would be thrilled.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 17 Kenny Shaw

Position/Class: WR/Sr.

[+] EnlargeKenny Shaw
AP Photo/Phil SearsFSU senior receiver Kenny Shaw should be a reliable target in the slot this fall.
What he's done: A contributor at Florida State since he first arrived on campus, Shaw has seen his role grow each year. After busting out with 418 yards and four TDs as a sophomore in 2011, Shaw became one of EJ Manuel's most reliable targets last season, catching 33 passes for a career-best 532 yards. His 16.12 yards-per-catch average was the eighth-best mark in the ACC, and he had four catches of 40-plus yards on the season. Shaw also put a merciful end to FSU's merry-go-round at punt returner, stepping into the starting job for the final four games of the season, finishing with 99 return yards.

Where he's at: With Rodney Smith gone and senior Greg Dent suspended indefinitely, Shaw is now the Seminoles' most experienced receiver and the clearcut starter in the slot. He showcased his skills to dramatic effect during this year's spring game in which he racked up a whopping 12 catches for 205 yards and a TD. His role on special teams remains a bit more of a mystery, as FSU figures to give several speedsters a look at punt returner, but Shaw's ability to stabilize the volatile position late last season provides a strong argument to keep the job.

What's to come: At 6-foot, 170 pounds, Shaw fits nicely into the slot for FSU, but that's also part of the problem. After years of trotting out tall, physical receivers, the Seminoles now have a wealth of players who can handle the slot but may be overmatched against more aggressive corners. Still, Shaw stands out as the best of the lot, and his veteran experience will only serve as an additional security blanket for new QB Jameis Winston. Shaw has seen his numbers increase each season -- from 36 yards to 418 to 532 -- and there's a good chance that happens again. He'll work in the shadow of Rashad Greene and potentially Kelvin Benjamin, but that could be a boon for FSU if opposing defenses overlook his skill set. Expect career highs once again from Shaw.
This week, Nole Nation is digging into the most hotly debated topics of the summer at Florida State in an effort to separate fact from fiction as the Seminoles get set for the 2013 season.

Next up: The quarterback

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston seems like he's ready to handle big expectations from Day 1.
Fact or Fiction: With talented freshman Jameis Winston at quarterback, Florida State's offense can be even more dynamic than it was under EJ Manuel.

The case for: Even before he has taken a snap in a college game, there's little need to make a case for why fans should be excited about Winston. The redshirt freshman already has the college football world buzzing after entering the spring third on the depth chart and ending it as a niche choice for a Heisman.

Winston has a big arm, good speed, a strong physique and obvious leadership skills. In other words, he's everything a coach like Jimbo Fisher could want in a quarterback. He sizzled during FSU's spring game, completing 12 of 15 passes against a first-string defense while throwing two touchdown passes. In the aftermath, Fisher was asked to compare Winston to his old quarterback, and the answer was intriguing.

"Jameis is a very talented young man," Fisher said. "He and EJ are different. EJ might run a little better and be a hair bigger. I think Jameis throws the ball a little better overall."

In other words, from Day 1, Winston might be a better pure passer than his predecessor, who just so happened to be the first quarterback taken in this year's NFL draft. It's no wonder fans are already so excited.

Of course, there was plenty of hype surrounding Manuel when he arrived at Florida State, but he ended his career amid a reasonable amount of criticism, because he so frequently failed to come up with the big play when FSU needed it most. He won a lot more than he lost, but he never threw more than 23 touchdown passes in a season, and he had only four career 300-yard passing games against FBS opponents.

But as Fisher said, Winston is different. He's more accurate already, and while Manuel's confidence appeared shaken at times under the weight of a demanding head coach, Winston seems to relish the expectations. And more importantly, Winston might have a better supporting cast in 2013 than Manuel ever did. A veteran, healthy offensive line and a cast of skill-position players that includes Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. should make the job a lot easier.

The case against: The obvious concern in 2013 is that, for as much talent and potential as Winston clearly has, the bottom line remains that he's still a freshman. There's a big difference between chucking a few long passes in a spring game and doing the same against Florida's defense in November, and even last season's Heisman-winning freshman, Johnny Manziel, had a few growing pains along the way (against Florida, for example).

Moreover, expanding the offense isn't so much about Winston's ability as it is about Fisher's play calling. For all the criticism of Manuel at times, only three other teams in the country averaged more yards per play last season than Florida State. The reason the results weren't more impressive overall is because the Seminoles ran just 67 plays per game offensively -- nearly 12 fewer plays per game than Texas A&M. That's Fisher's game plan -- a pro-style, methodical approach -- and it's not likely to change regardless of who is under center.

And while the talent surrounding Winston is impressive, the versatility of FSU's offense has taken a hit this offseason. Tight end Kevin Haplea will miss the year with an ACL tear. Speedster Marvin Bracy left to pursue a track career. Veteran receiver Greg Dent is suspended indefinitely while facing sexual assault charges. Those losses will only make the offense less dynamic.

In the end, Manuel was among the top 15 quarterbacks in the country in completion percentage, yards per attempt and QB rating in 2012, and that's an awfully high bar to exceed.

Verdict: Fiction

There's no denying Winston's star potential, but projecting he'll exceed Manuel in Year 1 is a bold call. Manuel was very good, and while Winston eventually might be great, there's a learning curve to the game.

More importantly, perhaps, is this is Fisher's offense, no matter who is under center. He's going to call his game, and while Winston's skill set may allow Fisher to dig deeper into the playbook occasionally, it's unlikely he's planning to rewrite any of it. And perhaps as significant, in every other instance that Fisher has had a new starter at quarterback since he's been at FSU, the team has run the ball more and thrown less. Comparing Winston to Manziel might be fair when it comes to talent, but the systems in which they'll work are completely different.

It would be a surprise if Winston does't end the season with an impressive highlight reel -- but compiling one that's even better than Manuel's 2012 performance would be a huge accomplishment.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 30 Levonte Whitfield

Position/Class: WR/Fr.

What he's done: Whitfield just arrived at Florida State last week, but he's already among the fastest players in the nation. A track star in high school, Whitfield was a state champion in both the 100 and 200, and he's shown he's capable of translating that speed onto the football field, too. As a senior in high school, he caught 38 passes for 520 yards while excelling in the return game.

Where he's at: Wide receiver is still relatively deep for Florida State in 2013, but the recent arrest of senior Greg Dent and the departure of redshirt freshman Marvin Bracy for a pro track career have created some opportunities, and Whitfield could be in the best position to capitalize. Jimbo Fisher suggested this spring that Whitfield could be a weapon in the slot from Day 1, but that remains to be seen. What's more likely is that Whitfield will get an early crack at return duties, where Fisher said he's a natural fit.

What's to come: FSU struggled with consistency in the punt-return game in 2012, shuffling three different players into the role throughout the season. Whitfield could easily win the job in fall camp and ensure an electric presence in 2013. And even if that's all he does this season, it may be the biggest impact of any of FSU's true freshmen. But there's still a good chance he'll find his way into the offensive game plan -- both as a potential mismatch in the slot and with the ball in his hands on reverses, end-arounds and other trick plays. Of course, much of the same was predicted for Bracy a year ago, and he never played a down, so it's incumbent upon Whitfield to prove he's up to the job immediately, then continue to develop throughout the season. If he does, he has the potential to follow more closely the path of Fisher's former track stars like Trindon Holliday and Devery Henderson, who ended up in the NFL.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 31 Jarred Haggins

Position/Class: WR/Sr.

What he's done: For three seasons, Haggins has quietly established himself as a reliable, consistent weapon in Florida State's passing game without ever blossoming into a routine contributor. He's upped his receiving yards each season, including 108 as a junior in 2012, but has never been able to break through into a more pronounced role.

Where he's at: In his senior season at Florida State, Haggins may finally have the opportunity he's been waiting for. With the offseason arrest of fellow senior Greg Dent, and the subsequent questions surrounding Dent's eligibility in 2013, there's a major void on the receiver depth chart. While others, including incoming freshman Levonte Whitfield, should factor in to that competition, Haggins' mix of experience, knowledge of the system and impressive athleticism could vault him to the top of the heap.

What's to come: For a player with just 20 receptions in his three-year career, it's hard to predict a breakthrough in 2013. While Dent's absence could be significant, there are bigger, stronger receivers like Kelvin Benjamin and Willie Haulstead who could also step in to fill that void. Haggins would share slot duties with Kenny Shaw regardless, and Whitfield brings incredible potential to the position, too. Still, Haggins has paid his dues and bided his time, and while an injury kept him off the practice field this spring, he figures to play a big part in the competition this fall. He may not produce huge numbers in his senior season, but it would be surprising if he didn't set career highs across the board.
It is pretty clear college football guru Phil Steele things Florida State is mighty talented, considering he has the Noles sitting at No. 3 Insider in his preseason rankings.

Here is a glimpse at how talented he thinks this team is headed into 2013: He has Florida State ranked among his Top 15 teams in the nation at: running back Insider, receiver Insider and defensive line Insider. That means Florida State is featured in three of the four position rankings Steele has unveiled on ESPN.com so far.

Of those three groups, he has receiver rated highest of all, which surprises me quite frankly. Florida State has talent, yes, but there is no true national headliner among them. Steele admits as much, writing, "Although there are not a lot of household names in this group, the Noles could have some by the end of the year, including Kelvin Benjamin, who is 6-foot-5, 242 pounds."

No doubt Benjamin is a freak of an athlete, but he has got to be more consistent this season to really strike some fear into the heart of the opposition. Greg Dent is suspended indefinitely following his arrest this week, but Florida State has plenty of talent to make up for his loss. This is pretty high billing for a group that has a bunch of players that still need to prove themselves. We'll see if the Noles receivers can live up to these expectations.

One more ACC team to note in the receiver rankings: Maryland at No. 15, thanks to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

As for the other rankings, Steele has Florida State ranked No. 12 at running back and No. 8 at defensive line. Interestingly enough, he has the Florida State running back group ranked ahead of Miami, which checks in at No. 13. I understand the reason for that. Florida State returns two very solid backs in Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., and they add Mario Pender.

Miami counters with ACC Freshman of the Year Duke Johnson and Eduardo Clements, along with spring surprise Dallas Crawford. The Canes get the nod in the headliner category with Johnson; but Florida State has more depth.

There is one ACC team ranked ahead of Florida State on the defensive line -- No. 7 Virginia Tech. No arguments here on that ranking. The Hokies should have a pretty solid front, with seven of their top eight linemen back from a year ago, including end James Gayle. Clemson also made into the rankings at No. 15. Vic Beasley is on course to have a huge season.
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 FSU players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.

No. 10: WR Kelvin Benjamin

2012 performance: As a redshirt freshman, Benjamin showed flashes of meeting his immense potential, but overall it was something of a disappointing season. Benjamin finished the year with 30 catches for 495 yards and four TDs, but he averaged just 10 yards per game over his final five contests of the year.

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreAs a redshirt freshman in 2012, Seminoles receiver Kelvin Benjamin's production didn't match his size and potential.
Pressure point: Odds are, FSU's receiving corps is deep enough that a down season by Benjamin wouldn't wreak havoc on the passing game, but a breakout season from the highly touted sophomore could be the difference between a solid unit and an elite one. Rodney Smith is gone, leaving a major vacancy on offense for a receiver with size -- something Benjamin has in spades -- to help out a first-year starting quarterback. But Benjamin has suffered from maturity issues in his first two years in the program, and the jury is still out on whether he can figure it all out.

If he succeeds: Jameis Winston -- or whoever lands the starting QB job -- will have a huge target to work with, opening the door for a potentially explosive offense. While Rashad Greene, Greg Dent and Kenny Shaw offer some sure-handed options in the receiving corps, Benjamin's combination of size and speed are a unique weapon few defenses can handle. He's a deep threat, but he's also got the height and strength to be one of the top red-zone targets in the country.

If he fails: Greene still figures to be one of the ACC's top receivers, so FSU won't be bereft of talent even if Benjamin falters. Still, it would be incredibly frustrating to see a player with so much obvious talent languish for another year. And while Benjamin would still have two more seasons to develop, it's hard to envision the same enthusiasm from fans following him into 2014 if he doesn't show some immense signs of improvement.

Projection: Consistency is really the key for Benjamin, who readily admitted he'd lose focus often last season. What's more concerning is that, as Jimbo Fisher entrusted him with more and more big-play opportunities in crucial moments, Benjamin struggled more and more. Can a guy grow up that much during one offseason? It's certainly possible, and Benjamin now has the luxury of a year on the field under his belt. He knows what it'll take to succeed, but the question is whether he'll put in the work. Regardless, he's got the talent to be a solid receiver, even if he never develops into the superstar so many projected. A reasonable improvement on last year's numbers -- say, 40 catches and 700 yards -- would be a solid season, but FSU would much prefer Benjamin do a better job of maintaining a higher level of play rather than occasionally contributing monster outings.

FSU's spring winners and losers 

April, 15, 2013
4/15/13
7:37
AM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- While Jimbo Fisher won't be etching anything into stone after Saturday's spring game, there were clearly a few players who took big leaps forward during the past month and a few more who saw significant opportunities slip away.

WINNERS

Jameis Winston, QB

The performance: Winston entered the spring third on the depth chart, but tops in potential. He didn't disappoint. By spring's end, he was splitting first-team reps with Clint Trickett and dominated FSU's spring game, solidifying his place as the fan's choice for the starting job even if Fisher hasn't made anything official.

What comes next: Heisman? National championship? The Hall of Fame? With Winston, there doesn't appear to be such a thing as setting the bar too high. Fisher might be trying to temper expectations, but that's likely a lost cause. Winston still has plenty of work to do before he reaches the vast heights predicted for him, but he's only burnished his resume during the past month. What comes next for him though? "It's baseball season," he said after Saturday's spring game.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Week 14 Picks: Florida-Florida State
Trevor Matich and Brad Edwards make their selection for the winner of the Sunshine State rivalry, when Florida State puts its unbeaten record on the line against Florida.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

ACC SCOREBOARD

Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29