Florida State Seminoles: Jarred Haggins
So far, we’ve looked at Jameis Winston’s second act, Karlos Williams’ emergence, transitions on the defensive front and the spring’s breakout stars.
Last up: What will be the biggest question mark still lingering for Florida State once spring practice ends?
Jared Shanker says the potential for complacency could haunt FSU throughout the summer.
JS: There is no question Florida State has the talent to repeat. Barring anything unforeseen, the Seminoles will be the preseason No. 1 team, and quite possibly a unanimous selection. The Heisman winner returns and is in his third year in the program, and outside of mentor Nick Saban no coach has recruited better than Jimbo Fisher since 2010.
Sure the Noles lose key skill players on offense and arguably their best player at every level of the defense, but Florida State has established itself as a reload-not-rebuild type of program. Questions at receiver, defensive tackle and linebacker are not going to be completely settled by the end of spring practice, but the biggest question mark will be whether the Noles carry that same hunger into 2014 as they did a season ago.
Florida State has the talent to go 12-0, win another ACC title and go wire-to-wire as No. 1 through the regular season and playoffs. For the next nine months, the Noles will need to look in the mirror and honestly assess their effort, because what ultimately could derail FSU’s chances at a repeat is itself.
David Hale wonders how the receiving corps will fill out in fall camp.
DH: Entering spring practice, the biggest question in my mind is on the defensive line, where the absence of Timmy Jernigan means a major hole for Florida State to fill. But there are solid options in Nile Lawrence-Stample, Desmond Hollin, Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks and Derrick Mitchell -- all of whom will be competing for reps this spring. We may not have a definitive answer there when it’s all over, but we’ll have a better idea of what the Seminoles have to work with.
The second biggest question I have entering the spring is at receiver, where Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin are moving on to the NFL, taking 43 percent of Winston’s 2013 targets with them. Who’s going to fill that void? Unlike at defensive tackle, there’s virtually no chance we’ll have a definitive answer to that question by the time FSU wraps up its Garnet and Gold game.
Yes, we’ll get a better look at last year’s new arrivals. Kermit Whitfield has the speed to be a star (and after his kick return in the title game, he might already be one), but can he be as reliable in the slot as Shaw? Will Jesus Wilson or Isaiah Jones (five combined catches last season) step up as a reliable option on the outside? Can Christian Green or Jarred Haggins break through as seniors? Will Nick O'Leary play more of a role as a receiver as FSU employs more two-tight end sets? (For what it’s worth, Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary get 40 to 50 catches in 2014.)
Even if Florida State finds answers to all those questions this spring, the most intriguing options in the receiving corps don’t arrive until the fall. FSU inked three ESPN 300 receivers on national signing day -- Ja'Von Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph -- who will bring a massive talent influx to the depth chart. All are in the 6-foot-1 to 6-2 range, adding some height to a receiving corps that, for the first time since Fisher arrived, lacks a true big man. All have ample ability to blossom quickly, though receivers tend to have among the hardest times adjusting from high school to college. In other words, the big mystery at the position is tabled until the fall, which is why I expect it will be one of the hottest talking points among FSU fans throughout the summer.
We’ve already looked at DT Demarcus Christmas.
Next up: Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison.
The need: Winston benefited from a small but veteran group of receivers in 2013, connecting routinely with Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw -- all of whom finished with at least 930 yards and 50 catches. In 2014, however, Greene is the only holdover of the group. Shaw was a wizard in the slot, averaging better than 17 yards per catch. Benjamin was a rare mix of size (6-5) and speed who was adept at grabbing jump balls and turning them into big plays.
The competition: FSU has two returning veteran receivers, but neither has done much in the past two seasons. Redshirt senior Jarred Haggins missed all of 2013 with a knee injury, and it remains to be seen how much he’ll participate in spring drills. Christian Green showed plenty of promise with 26 catches as a redshirt freshman in 2011, but he has just 16 receptions in the past two years combined. The real depth might come from last year’s signing class, led by speedster Kermit Whitfield. Tight end Nick O'Leary also figures to carry a larger load in the passing game in 2014.
The prediction: The expectations are immense for all three new members of FSU’s receiving corps, but it’s worth remembering that receivers often take time to develop, and there will be only so many balls to go around. Odds are at least one member of the trio finds a sizable role this season, while the others get their feet wet and, ideally, show good progress as the season continues. That’s how Fisher played it with last season's trio of receivers, but the needs figure to be bigger and the talent level better for this year’s incoming freshmen. None project to match Benjamin’s big-play ability, but if Lane, Rudolph and Harrison can combine to offer something close in Year 1, FSU will be pleased.
This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.
Next up: Receivers
Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.).
Greene’s decision to return for his senior season was crucial for Florida State. He has led the Seminoles in receiving each of his three years in Tallahassee, and he was Winston’s most reliable target in 2013, catching 76 passes (second most in school history) for 1,128 yards. The problem is, there’s not much in the way of established talent surrounding Greene. Whitfield figures to be a suitable replacement for Kenny Shaw in the slot, and he showed ample gamebreaking ability in the return game in 2013. Finding someone to step in for the departed Kelvin Benjamin, however, remains a far bigger question mark.
Strength in numbers: Jarred Haggins (RS Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.), Isaiah Jones (So.).
Haggins’ return at least provides some veteran depth for a group that has little in the way of experience, but coming off a season-ending knee injury, Haggins hasn’t caught a pass since the 2012 ACC title game. Wilson and Jones each got a taste of action last season, but both have plenty of growing still to do.
New on the scene: Travis Rudolph (Fr.), Ermon Lane (Fr.), Ja'Von Harrison (Fr.).
Florida State might have landed the best recruiting class at wide receiver in the nation, with Rudolph, Lane and Harrison all making the ESPN 300. It wouldn’t be a shock if all three freshmen make an instant impact, and given the lack of depth at the position currently on the roster, all will surely get a chance to prove they deserve playing time.
What to watch: FSU fans won’t get a glimpse of the super trio of freshmen until fall camp, which puts the spring focus squarely on last year’s class. It’s not uncommon for a receiver to make a big leap developmentally from Year 1 to Year 2, and Wilson and Jones certainly have the talent to do so. Whitfield is electric, but it remains to be seen if he can use his world-class speed as well at receiver as he did in the return game. Green is an intriguing figure this spring, too. After a solid 2011 season, he’s all but disappeared from the offense the past two years, and he could find himself behind the youngsters on the depth chart in 2014, too, if he doesn’t turn in a solid spring.
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.
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.”
Here's a quick rundown of what's left on Florida State's preseason to-do list:
Developing receivers: A knee injury will keep Jarred Haggins on the sideline all season, meaning Florida State is now down three senior wide receivers. Add in a finger injury that has limited junior Rashad Greene for the past week, and a position that figured to be among the deepest on the Seminoles' roster is now a major concern. Greene should be fine for the start of the season, but it's apparent that Florida State will still need to rely on a trio of freshmen to step up. Fisher has raved about Jesus Wilson throughout camp, and Levonte Whitfield and Isaiah Jones have talent to spare, but the transition to the college game is rarely a seamless one.
Depth at tight end: Fisher tried to put a happy face on the situation when camp opened, but the lack of depth at tight end remains a major concern. Giorgio Newberry made the switch from defensive end just a week before camp began, and while he's got the size to do the job, he's definitely a work in progress. Freshman Jeremy Kerr remains sidelined with a knee injury, and Fisher continues to tinker with options, using freshman defensive end Davarez Bryant at tight end during practice last week. While Fisher is eagerly toying with his options, the fact remains that starter Nick O'Leary is going to need to shoulder the burden for a thin group behind him.
Two for six: It's perhaps the silliest debate of camp, but the implications could be significant. When defensive end Dan Hicks switched from tight end this spring, he kept his old uniform number. The problem, however, is that cornerback Nick Waisome was already wearing the No. 6 jersey. Since then, neither player has been willing to give it up, meaning FSU can't use Hicks and Waisome -- both projected starters -- on the field at the same time. Fisher said he's leaving it up to the players to decide, likely in hopes one would be mature enough to choose playing time over a jersey number, but thus far neither player has caved.
Playing time for rookies: The freshman receivers figure to be necessities on offense this season, but beyond that, it's tough to tell where the rest of the newcomers fit in. Running back Ryan Green, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end DeMarcus Walker are among the most impressive freshmen of the fall, but Fisher said he wouldn't be surprised if the great majority of this year's class avoids a redshirt. Aside from Kerr, quarterback John Franklin and a couple of the offensive linemen, virtually every member of the Class of 2013 remains in the mix for playing time.
Secondary shake-up: It's a good problem to have, but Florida State's logjam of talent in the defensive backfield still leaves some question marks as the season approaches. When Lamarcus Joyner shifted from safety to corner, the questions about playing time began, and Pruitt has been quiet about potential answers. Joyner, Waisome, Ramsey, Ronald Darby and a slew of others are in the mix for regular reps, and Fisher has hinted that the Seminoles' defensive backs will be rotating early and often.
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."
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."
The candidates: Mario Edwards Jr. (So.), Dan Hicks (RSSr.), Giorgio Newberry (RSSo.), Chris Casher (RSFr.), DeMarcus Walker (Fr.), Davarez Bryant (Fr.), Desmond Hollin (Jr.)
The situation: Florida State lost three top pass rushers to the NFL from last year's team, leaving a major void in a key area. Edwards appears all but certain to earn one of the two starting jobs after closing out 2012 in that role. On the opposite side, however, things are up for grabs. Newberry figured to be the top candidate entering spring practice, but Hicks -- nine months removed from ACL surgery -- made a big push. Walker might have been in the mix, too, but NCAA eligibility issues kept him on the sideline after he enrolled early.
The projection: Hicks' strong spring vaulted him to the top of the depth chart for now, and it's clear he's ready to play a sizable role after being shuffled to tight end a year ago. Odds are, however, this will be an area of some mixing and matching early on, with Hicks, Newberry and Casher all likely to see playing time alongside Edwards.
The candidates: Terrance Smith (RSSo.), Reggie Northrup (So.), Ukeme Eligwe (RSFr.), Nigel Terrell (RSJr.) and five incoming freshmen
The situation: Seniors Telvin Smith and Christian Jones offer a formidable pairing atop the depth chart, but the rest of the linebacker position remains in flux. None of the candidates have any significant experience, and while Terrance Smith looked to take an early lead as the starter on the strong side throughout the spring, there are endless possibilities on how the two-deep at each position might shake out.
The projection: Because FSU will run a majority of its defensive plays in nickel and dime sets, there may not be a need for a third linebacker routinely. Still, the coaching staff knows it needs to develop depth behind its two seniors, and identifying a pecking order is crucial. Northrup, Smith and Eligwe are likely the top contenders for regular playing time, but freshman Freddie Stevenson was an early enrollee who impressed this spring, and freshman Matthew Thomas might have more upside than anyone at the position.
The candidates: Jameis Winston (RSFr.), Jacob Coker (RSSo.), Sean Maguire (RSFr.)
The situation: What was a wide-open, four-man race this spring now looks to be Winston's job to lose. He was impressive throughout spring practice, dominated the spring game and has enjoyed immense hype and enthusiasm from the fan base ever since. Still, Fisher has been quick to point out that nothing is set in stone at the position yet, and Coker, who endured a foot injury that limited him this spring, figures to keep the pressure on Winston as fall camp begins.
The projection: In spite of Fisher's pronouncements, it would be a shock if anyone other than Winston got the starting nod in Week 1. By all indications, the redshirt freshman has continued to develop this summer, has handled all the publicity with aplomb, and his potential is undeniable.
The candidates: Lamarcus Joyner (Sr.), Nick Waisome (Jr.), Ronald Darby (So.), Tyler Hunter (Jr.), P.J. Williams (So.) and others
The situation: This falls under the category of good problems to have, but FSU's wealth of talent in the secondary is causing at least some confusion on the depth chart. Joyner switches from safety to corner this year, leaving five talented and experienced corners vying for limited playing time alongside presumptive starters at safety Terrence Brooks and Karlos Williams. The versatility of the group -- particularly Joyner, Hunter and P.J. Williams -- offers some options for new DC Jeremy Pruitt, but finding enough playing time for all the talent on the roster may be a tall order.
The projection: There is likely to be a healthy dose of mixing and matching this year, with Karlos Williams getting reps at linebacker, Joyner, Hunter and P.J. Williams shifting between corner, nickel and safety, and other options like Keelin Smith and Colin Blake vying for reps, too. Still, Joyner is the unquestioned leader, so his playing time should be secure, and Darby, Waisome and Hunter will likely grab the lion's share of what remains.
The candidates: Kelvin Benjamin (RSSo.), Christian Green (RSJr.), Willie Haulstead (RSSr.), Levonte Whitfield (Fr.), Jarred Haggins (Sr.), Isaiah Jones (Fr.), Jesus Wilson (Fr.)
The situation: Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw have a firm grip on starting jobs, but injuries, defections and suspensions have seriously limited FSU's depth in the passing game. Fisher needs at least one or two more receivers to step up into bigger roles, with none looming larger than the uber-talented Benjamin. Green and Haulstead -- afterthoughts a year ago -- are aiming for comeback seasons, while Whitfield's speed makes him an immediate threat, and Wilson has garnered early praise for his work in summer seven-on-seven drills.
The projection: Benjamin is perhaps the biggest wild card on Florida State's roster. His talent is immense, but he's had difficulty showing consistency during his first two years in Tallahassee. If he blossoms into a star in 2013, it would be a huge boon to the Seminoles' offense, but don't be surprised if at least one of the freshmen manages to make some noise, too.
Next up: No. 31 Jarred Haggins
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.
Up next, the final position in the series: Wide receivers.
Scholarship receivers (12): Kenny Shaw (Sr.), Rashad Greene (Jr.), Christian Green (RSJr.), Kelvin Benjamin (RSSo.), Jarred Haggins (Sr.), Josh Gehres (RSSr.), Marvin Bracy (RSFr.), Willie Haulstead (RSSr.), Greg Dent (Sr.), Jesus Wilson (Fr.), Levonte Whitfield (Fr.), Isaiah Jones (Fr.)
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Vitals: Wide receiver Jesus Wilson (Miami/Columbus), 5-foot-10, 165 pounds.
Committed: June 15, 2012.
ESPN.com grade: 80, four-star prospect.
ESPN.com rankings: No. 62 wide receiver in the country, No. 221 prospect in the Southeast region and No. 89 player in the state of Florida.
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Vitals: Wide receiver Isaiah Jones (Milton, Fla./Milton), 6-foot-4, 195 pounds.
Committed: July 6, 2012.
ESPN.com grade: 83, four-star prospect.
ESPN.com rankings: No. 18 wide receiver in the country, No. 75 player in the Southeast region, No. 32 prospect in the state and the No. 160 player in the ESPN 300.
Picked Florida State over: Auburn, Georgia, Miami (Fla) and Tennessee.
State of the position: Arguably Florida State's deepest and most talented position on the roster, the wide receivers have a chance to be a special group over the next couple of years. Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Greg Dent and Kelvin Benjamin, Jarred Haggins, Marvin Bracy, Christian Green and Willie Haulstead are all back in 2013. Jimbo Fisher's offense, though, loves rotating players at the position and most, if not all, will see significant time next season.
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Vitals: Athlete Levonte Whitfield, Orlando Fla,/Jones, 5-foot-9, 175 pounds.
Committed: Aug. 13, 2012.
ESPN.com grade: 85, four-star prospect.
ESPN.com rankings: No. 7 athlete in the country, No. 40 in the Southeast region, No. 20 in the state and No. 73 in the ESPN 150.
Picked Florida State over: Ohio State and Florida.
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The case for FSU's receivers was air tight: Rashad Greene would be a year older and healthy for a full season after missing four games in 2012; Kelvin Benjamin would be on the field and his size would make him a huge weapon; Willie Haulstead would finally return from a concussion that kept him out all of 2011 after being the team's leading receiver in 2010; juniors Kenny Shaw, Jarred Haggins and Greg Dent were ready to come into their own.
Really, the only question was how EJ Manuel would manage to find enough footballs to ensure all these weapons were given sufficient opportunities to make plays.
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It was a stark contrast from a week earlier, when Manuel rarely looked downfield and Florida State's offense sputtered in the second half, failing to score as NC State engineered a dramatic, come-from-behind win.
"I wanted to be aggressive as a quarterback, and I told that to Coach Fisher," Manuel said. "I told him I wanted to attack these guys and allow our receivers to make plays. He opened it up for us, and we had a great game."
A week after earning heavy criticism for his conservative approach against NC State, Fisher called easily the most aggressive passing game of the season.
Manuel attempted 10 passes of 20 yards or more in Saturday's win over BC, according to ESPN Stats and Info. If we factor out his final three throws against NC State -- desperate downfield attempts in the final seconds -- Manuel had attempted just 19 throws of 20 yards or more in the first six games of the season combined.
But the difference in Saturday's outcome wasn't just about scheme or play-calling. The big offensive numbers against Boston College were built upon better protection up front and better execution from the quarterback.
"It's going through those reads, being able to take a five-step drop, hitch up and throw the ball downfield," Manuel said. "It takes time. I told those guys in the huddle, 'Give me a second-and-a-half and we'll get this ball down the field.' "
So, why did it all work so well against Boston College after things went so horribly wrong against NC State?
Protection -- particularly from the two tackle positions -- was crucial.
"When you go short corners and you have two guys that can handle the corners, it becomes a much easier task to do things and get the ball more vertical and get the ball down the field," Fisher said. "No matter how you say you want to throw the ball down the field, you have to have time. And you say, well, block them all up -- but then you end up double covered. You have to get your guys out and block."
We wrote last week about how NC State thwarted Fisher's attempts at an effective passing game, and the numbers against Boston College illustrate the alternative.
It's all fairly intuitive in retrospect, but the numbers speak to the importance of the offensive line in aggressive play-calling. The bottom line: Manuel's best games have come when he's faced the least pressure.
(*Courtesy ESPN Stats and Info.)
The big plays early set a perfect precedent, and BC made the rest of the game fairly easy for the offense. There were few blitzes, as BC chose to keep extra players in coverage, and that opened the door for both Manuel and the FSU running game.
Boston College represented something of a perfect storm for FSU -- improved blocking, better throws from the quarterback, a soft pass rush and some aggressive play-calling. Add it all up, and it was a recipe for a huge offensive performance.
The question now is whether Miami -- which has its share of problems in the secondary -- chooses BC's approach or the more aggressive style that worked for NC State. More importantly, what happens to Florida State when it faces a team (such as Florida) that can do both?
The sophomore tailback didn't get a touch in Saturday's win over Clemson, which came just days after his brother was murdered near Miami. The emotional toll was immense, and Freeman was absent from the team's meetings Monday to attend the funeral. But Fisher said Freeman returned Tuesday with renewed focus.
"He's doing as well as can be expected," Fisher said. "It's a very tough situation....It's a tragedy and sometimes people don't realize what's going on in these kids' lives....They're 17, 18, 19, 20-year old kids. It's devastation."
The off-field issues certainly sidetracked Freeman's game Saturday, but his role had been reduced even before that.
After leading the team in rushing a year ago, Freeman entered the season as part of a three-man rotation at tailback. In the first two games of the season, he had 18 touches on offense, tops among the running backs. In the past two games, however, Freeman has just six carries and one reception.
Meanwhile, Chris Thompson and James Wilder Jr. have taken off. Thompson has back-to-back 100-yard games, while Wilder has become a second-half workhorse.
The shift in playing time isn't meant as a knock on Freeman, Fisher said, but it's also not guaranteed to change any time soon.
"The other guys are playing really good," Fisher said. "(Thompson and Wilder) are really cranking it up. We had a hot hand going and we didn't want to break the rhythm. It has nothing to do with Devonta doing anything wrong. The other guys are just doing some things really good."
Fisher said he hopes the increased workload for Thompson and Wilder will serve as a springboard for Freeman, too.
"I think that's why you saw him really pick it up (in practice) today," Fisher said.
While the competition has tightened up among the running backs however, Wilder said the group has rallied around Freeman off the field.
"He's been going through a lot of off-the-field issues, and we're his brothers, too, so we're making sure we comfort him," Wilder said. "But he's back and he's ready to go. He's feeling better."
Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
TBD Wofford Georgia Tech TBD Clemson Georgia TBD Boston College Massachusetts TBD James Madison Maryland TBD Elon Duke TBD Georgia Southern North Carolina State TBD Liberty North Carolina TBD Delaware Pittsburgh TBD UCLA Virginia TBD William & Mary Virginia Tech 8:00 PM ET Florida State Oklahoma State