Florida State Seminoles: Kevin Haplea

The image is now part of Florida State lore, etched into the history books for all time. Jameis Winston lofts a pass into the end zone in the final minute of the national championship game. As he’d done so often in 2013, Kelvin Benjamin -- all 6-foot-5, 240 pounds of him -- overwhelmed his defender and hauled it in for the score.

The touchdown was the capper in the Seminoles’ third national title, but it was also the finale to Benjamin’s career in Tallahassee. He’s off to the NFL, where he’s projected as a potential first-round selection.

Now, Florida State is left to find a replacement, and Jimbo Fisher has a sense of humor about the difficulty of the task, joking with reporters he’d simply stack two of his current receivers atop each other.

At least Fisher can laugh about it, but the truth is, Florida State simply doesn’t have an obvious replacement because, well, players like Benjamin don’t come around very often.

Benjamin wasn’t always the most refined route runner or sure-handed receiver, but his raw physical ability was unparalleled. He was a mismatch every time he was on the field. While Florida State retains its best receiver in Rashad Greene, has some developing talent in Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones, and has three prized prospects arriving this summer, none provide the same physically imposing target that Benjamin did last season.

So, who picks up the slack for the 89 targets Benjamin received from Winston last season (not to mention the 74 for Kenny Shaw or the 38 for FSU’s departed backs)?

Fisher’s answer is probably somewhat accurate. The young receivers will all play their part, but none are likely to replace Benjamin’s production on their own. It will have to be a combined effort, and the new arrivals will need some time to adjust to the college game.

Of the receivers that remain, Jones is the tallest at 6-4, but he’s 50 pounds lighter than Benjamin and perhaps the least refined of the Seminoles’ current receiving corps. No other receiver on the roster -- including the incoming freshmen -- measures taller than 6-2. And size does matter. Since Fisher took over as playcaller in 2007, FSU has always had at least one receiver 6-5 or taller catch at least 30 passes for at least 450 yards. That won’t happen in 2014.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Florida State will be without a physical mismatch in the passing game. It’s just likely that mismatch will come from its tight end.

Last season, Nick O'Leary blossomed to the tune of 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns. It was a breakthrough campaign for the junior tight end widely considered among the best in the nation coming out of high school.

O’Leary’s big season was a necessity, too. Florida State had no other options at the position after Christo Kourtzidis transferred and Kevin Haplea went down with a knee injury. Giorgio Newberry was moved from defensive end to tight end, but he was targeted just twice all year, once resulting in an ugly interception when Winston attempted to force the ball to his makeshift tight end against Wake Forest.

Now, there is some depth. Haplea is healthy. So, too, is redshirt freshman Jeremy Kerr. Two more tight ends arrive this summer. None possess O’Leary’s skill set as a receiver, but all could fit as blockers should FSU decide to run a two-tight end set with any regularity.



But O’Leary (6-3, 245 pounds) again will be crucial this season. He was targeted 42 times last season. Aside from Greene, all other returning receivers were targeted a combined 18 times by Winston last year. Winston routinely referred to O’Leary as his favorite target. That O'Leary caught eight of nine passes thrown his way on third down and had five grabs in the end zone only reinforced Winston's faith in him.

Still, three of O’Leary’s red-zone catches came in Week 1. After hauling in five catches for 161 yards against Clemson, O’Leary didn’t have more than three catches or 55 yards in any game the remainder of the year. He scored just once in FSU’s last seven contests. He was shut out in the national title game.

So why did O’Leary disappear as the year went on? It was likely as much because of FSU’s needs for him to be a blocker and Benjamin’s emergence as the physically dominant downfield target as it was any regression by O’Leary. Neither will be an issue in 2014, and Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary’s receptions reach the 45 to 50 range by year’s end.

“You can do a lot of different things with Nick,” Fisher said. “He’s grown into this offense. I think he will be critical."

No, Florida State won’t have another Kelvin Benjamin this season. The Seminoles would be lucky to get another receiver with that skill set and body type again this decade. But there is talent at the position, as Fisher has made clear, and there is still a player who can provide some brute force in the passing game. It’s just a matter of opening things up for O’Leary and seeing if he can take the next step in an already promising career.

FSU depth chart breakdown: Offense

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
10:00
AM ET
A lot has changed for Florida State in the few weeks since Jimbo Fisher hoisted that crystal trophy above his head in Pasadena, Calif. Stars have departed, several incoming freshmen have arrived and the Seminoles are already at work with an eye toward repeating in 2014.

With that in mind, we’re taking a quick run through the depth chart to see where Florida State stands in advance of spring practice. Up first, the offense.

Quarterback

Projected starter: Jameis Winston (RS-So.)
Backups: Sean Maguire (RS-So.) and John Franklin III (RS-Fr.)

[+] EnlargeWinston Sacked
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKeeping Jameis Winston upright will be a key for Florida State, especially with Jacob Coker transferring.
Storylines: Winston plans to play baseball again this spring, which means at least some concerns about injury. Jacob Coker is transferring, leaving Maguire as Winston’s top backup. He had only limited playing time in 2013 and will need to continue to improve this spring. Franklin has great athleticism, but questions linger about whether he’ll stick at QB for the long haul.

Status: A
Returning the Heisman winner makes life easy for FSU’s offense, but Winston’s health will be watched closely.

Offensive line

Projected starters: Cameron Erving (RS-Sr.), Tre Jackson (Sr.), Austin Barron (Sr.), Josue Matias (Sr.), Bobby Hart (Sr.)
Backups: Sterling Lovelady (Sr.), Ira Denson (RS-Fr.), Ruben Carter (RS-Jr.), Wilson Bell (RS-Fr.), Ryan Hoefeld (RS-Fr.), Kareem Are (Fr.), Stephen Gabbard (Fr.)

Storylines: Barron steps in for Stork in the only noteworthy departure from the line. Barron has starting experience, and if he wins the job, FSU will have five senior starters -- meaning lofty expectations for the unit. Erving and Bell played well on the edges last year, but both could make further strides. The improvement for youngsters such as Bell, Hoefeld and Are will be crucial for both depth in 2014 and managing a massive overhaul in 2015.

Status: A
The starting lineup might be the best in the country, but developing depth for the future will be crucial this spring.

Running backs/Fullbacks

Projected starters: Karlos Williams (Sr.) and Freddie Stevenson (So.)
Backups: Mario Pender (RS-So.), Ryan Green (So.), Dalvin Cook (Fr.), Cameron Ponder (Sr.)

Storylines: Williams was a revelation in his first season as a tailback, but for all his success, 70 of his 91 carries came in late-game, blowout situations. Pender returns after sitting out two years because of injuries and academics, but he provides ample speed and a knowledge of the system. Green showed flashes of potential as a freshman but must improve his blocking and decision-making this spring. Cook could be the wild card. He’s an immense talent, and by enrolling early, he’ll have a leg up on getting touches in the fall.

Status: B
With a ton of talent, this group could easily turn this grade to an A by the end of the spring.

Wide receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS-Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.)
Backups: Isaiah Jones (So.), Jarred Haggins (RS-Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.)

Storylines: FSU must replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, who accounted for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns between them. The current group, aside from Greene, has combined for just 34 catches, 441 yards and no touchdowns in the past two seasons. After a solid 2011 season, Green has virtually disappeared and must show he’s still capable of making an impact. Haggins returns from a knee injury and figures to be limited in spring practice, but he could provide a solid veteran influence. Whitfield is a budding star thanks to his blazing speed, but FSU will need to see marked improvement from both Jones and Wilson in order to make up for the depth this unit lost.

Status: C+
Without any established depth behind Greene, this is the one area of the offense where Florida State has a lot of work to do this spring.

Tight end

Projected starter: Nick O’Leary (Sr.)
Backups: Kevin Haplea (RS-Sr.), Giorgio Newberry (RS-Jr.), Jeremy Kerr (RS-Fr.)

Storylines: O’Leary had a breakthrough 2013, but with two of FSU’s top three receivers gone, he figures to see even more looks this year. Haplea returns from a knee injury that cost him all of 2013 and will likely take it slow entering spring practice. Newberry’s stint at tight end after moving from defensive end wasn’t entirely smooth, and he’s been vocal that he’s not enamored with staying at the position.

Status: A
O’Leary figures to be among the top tight ends in the country this season, and getting the veteran Haplea back for blocking situations adds to the unit’s depth and versatility.
Jimbo Fisher was still on the podium, gazing into the crystal trophy that comes with winning a national championship, when it was suggested that once the team returned to Tallahassee, it was back to work preparing for 2014.

First on the docket for FSU will be identifying which star players will be returning for next season. Running back James Wilder Jr. is entering the draft, according to a source, and more decisions will trickle in before the Jan. 15 deadline. Here are our best guesses at what’s to come — and who might step in for departing underclassmen.

Likely going

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU nose tackle Timmy Jernigan is a force inside, and how well the Tigers do against him could determine how well they run the ball.
DT Timmy Jernigan (junior)

Why he’d leave: Entering the season, Jernigan was Florida State’s top-rated underclassman by most draft experts, and that standing never changed. Jernigan was dominant all season, and his impact was never more noticeable than in the national title game. When he was on the field, Auburn found no running room between the tackles. When he was out of the game, the Tigers moved the ball with ease on the ground.

Next up: Nile Lawrence-Stample took a big step forward this season, gaining valuable playing time in the defensive line rotation. He started six games and finished with 15 tackles. Florida State has five current defensive tackle commitments, so it’s certainly possible one of the incoming freshmen could make a big impact early — as Jernigan did in 2011 — but Lawrence-Stample is the safest bet to step in full time.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (redshirt sophomore)

Why he’d leave: Benjamin was projected as a star from the moment he arrived on campus, but it took him a while to get acclimated. He enjoyed a breakthrough 2013 season, finishing with 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Some of his game could still use some refinement — as evidenced by two big drops vs. Auburn — but his physical skills already peg him as a likely first-rounder.

Next up: Kermit Whitfield certainly projects as Florida State’s next big-play receiver after an electric season as a freshman, but he fits more in the slot. Replacing Benjamin’s size and physicality isn’t an easy task, but 6-4 freshman Isaiah Jones figures to have the best chance. He saw limited playing time this year, catching two balls for 31 yards.

Possibly going

RB Devonta Freeman (junior)

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
AP Photo/David J. PhillipDevonta Freeman became the first Seminoles tailback to gain 1,000 yards in a season since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Why he'd leave: Freeman has been the steadying force for FSU’s running game for three years, and on Monday, he became the first Seminoles tailback to top 1,000 yards in 17 years. Wilder’s role was smaller this year as injuries hampered his production, but that could also have served as a reminder why it’s better to take the big hits with an NFL paycheck. Neither has a ton of early draft buzz which could convince them to return, but both could show out at the combine and work their way into the top three rounds.

Next up: Karlos Williams showed plenty of promise this season after moving from safety in Week 2, finishing with 748 rushing yards in reserve duty. He’s largely a straight-ahead runner, but his combination of size and speed makes him a weapon. FSU will still need to develop depth, likely with Mario Pender or Ryan Green, but could get a boost from four-star commit Dalvin Cook.

LT Cameron Erving (redshirt junior)

Why he’d leave: Erving has hovered near the top of the offensive tackle draft boards since the end of 2012, and in his second season since moving from the defensive line, he showed significant progress. Still, it’s a deep draft at the position, and there were moments — including against Auburn’s impressive defensive front Monday — when he showed some flaws.

Next up: Florida State brought in two potentially strong replacements last year in Ira Denson and Wilson Bell. Injuries hampered the progress for both during the season, however, which makes Erving’s decision potentially crucial for the stability of the line going into 2014.

Likely staying

G Tre Jackson and G Josue Matias (juniors)

Why they’d leave: Matias and Jackson might be among the top underclassmen at the position, but both could benefit from another year working with line coach Rick Trickett.

Next up: Florida State has struggled to recruit on the line the past few years, which makes depth — particularly on the interior — a significant concern. The Seminoles have a solid class coming in for 2014, but the loss of more than one of their underclassmen on the line would be a serious concern.

TE Nick O’Leary (junior)

Why he’d leave: O’Leary made huge strides this season, developing into one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets and a legitimate red-zone threat. He’s an adept route-runner, a sure-handed receiver and his blocking game has developed nicely. But with Florida State's receiving corps in transition, O’Leary could be in a position to post huge numbers in 2014 if he sticks around.

Next up: Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury next year, but he’s more of a blocking tight end than a true replacement.

WR Rashad Greene (Jr./WR)

Why he’d leave: What more can Greene accomplish at Florida State? He’s been the team’s most reliable receiver for three consecutive seasons. He became the Seminoles’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Anquan Boldin this year. He’s quick, a great route-runner, and he has good hands. He does everything well, and his quarterbacks have taken notice. The problem for Greene is that he lacks the obvious physical skills that make scouts drool, so his draft value might not reflect his on-field contributions.

Next up: It would be a surprise if Greene left, but it would also be a huge blow to Florida State’s offense. Winston was a star this season in part because of an exceptional group of receivers, but the group will get a major makeover in 2014. The Seminoles need Greene to help ease the transition.

FSU in position to reload for 2014

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
10:30
AM ET
For the past four seasons, Florida State’s seniors have worked to rebuild a program that was mired in mediocrity when they arrived. The project was a resounding success, but after the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Jan. 6, they’ll be gone. If 2013 gave the seniors a chance to take that final step toward a title, it also offered a glimpse at what’s to come, and Florida State appears well stocked to weather the inevitable losses.

Out: Lamarcus Joyner, CB

[+] EnlargeTyler Hunter
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTyler Hunter could replace cornerback Lamarcus Joyner for the Seminoles in 2014.
After moving from safety to corner, Joyner proved he was one of the nation’s top defenders, leading FSU in sacks and finishing second in tackles.

In: Tyler Hunter, DB

Joyner is a huge loss, but Hunter is well prepared to step into the vacancy. His 2013 season was cut short by a neck injury, but he knows the defense well and his combination of size and speed allows him to fit well at safety, corner and nickel. Replacing Joyner is impossible, but Hunter could be in for a huge 2014.

Out: Terrence Brooks, S

He has been an under-the-radar performer since he arrived at FSU as a three-star recruit, but Brooks has been consistently good at safety for two years.

In: Nate Andrews, S

Brooks found a perfect protégé in the similarly underrated Andrews, and the relationship has already paid dividends. Andrews started just one game, but he leads the Seminoles with seven takeaways (four INTs, three forced fumbles) and is second on the team with eight passes defended.

Out: Telvin Smith, LB

For the past two years, there has been no louder voice in the locker room than Smith, and in 2013, he blossomed on the field, too, leading FSU in tackles.

In: Reggie Northrup, LB

Northrup hasn’t started a game in his two seasons at Florida State, but when he’s been on the field, he has proven to be a big-play defender. He has 46 tackles this season, and he has a skill set to both play the run and in coverage. Terrance Smith is FSU’s only returning linebacker with starting experience, but there’s ample depth at the position, led by Northrup.

Out: Christian Jones, OLB

Jones' move from traditional linebacker to edge rusher was a turning point for Florida State’s defense, helping to seal the edge and add another dynamic pass rusher to the D line.

In: Matthew Thomas, OLB

An injury ended Thomas’ season after just five games, but his potential is immense. He had two tackles for loss in his limited playing time, and his athleticism and strength could make for a smooth transition into the role Jones defined so well in 2013.

Out: Kenny Shaw, WR

Always a reliable option in the slot, Shaw blossomed as a senior and is on pace for 1,000-yard season while also handling punt return duties.

In: Levonte Whitfield, WR

Whitfield may lack Shaw’s consistency, but his big-play potential is through the roof. He racked up 646 total yards and three TDs on just 21 touches (an average of 31 yards per touch) as a runner, receiver and kick returner. It was valuable experience as a freshman, and Whitfield should be an excellent fit in the slot in 2014.

Out: Bryan Stork, C

As Florida State’s line developed from disaster in 2011 to dominant in 2013, Stork was the centerpiece. The veteran leader of the group has been the foundation for the unit’s growth.

In: Austin Barron, C

Losing Stork is big, but Barron is no rookie. He has six career starts already under his belt, and he has worked routinely with the first-team line during practices this season while Stork has nursed a foot injury.

Out: The underclassmen

No one has made it official that they’re leaving, and with so much talent on the roster, plenty of Florida State’s draft-eligible underclassmen could decide to come back for what figures to be another big season in 2014. Of the group, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan -- widely considered a first-round selection -- is the most likely to depart. Beyond that, tailbacks Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., receiver Kelvin Benjamin, tight end Nick O’Leary, and lineman Cameron Erving will all have big decisions to make.

In: The next regime

Replacing Jernigan will be a tough task, but Nile Lawrence-Stample (14 tackles, 2 QB hurries) took some big steps in 2013. Karlos Williams (705 yards, 11 touchdowns) is ready to pick up the slack if either tailback leaves, while Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones will see their workload at receiver increase in 2014. Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury, though he’s unlikely to match O’Leary’s productivity in the passing game. Wilson Bell earned rave reviews before an injury ended his season, but he could step into a vacancy at tackle should one arise in 2014.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Dan Hicks galloped around the practice fields as Florida State opened fall camp Tuesday, no signs of the knee injury that ended his 2012 season a year ago -- almost to the day.

A lot has changed since the injury. Back then, he was a third-string tight end, moved from defensive end after three years because of a logjam of talented pass rushers. In the 12 months since, he's had surgery, recovered and swapped positions again, returning to his original place on the roster after a stampede of talented ends departed for the NFL. His lone mementos to a lost season are the scar on his knee and the No. 6 on his jersey, which now conflicts with the uniform worn by cornerback Nick Waisome.

Dan Hicks
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDan Hicks has played in 27 career games at defensive end, but missed all of 2012 with a knee injury.
A year ago, Hicks was such a luxury that he wasn't needed on the defensive line, and he wasn't missed at tight end. Now, the fifth-year senior would rank as the second-most accomplished player on Florida State's roster at either position.

"Dan's had a tremendous summer," Jimbo Fisher said this week. "His conditioning has no signs of anything that's gone on."

That's good news for Florida State, which finds itself in a remarkably tenuous situation on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

In praising Hicks' physique, Fisher was offering an explanation for moving third-year sophomore Giorgio Newberry from defensive end to tight end -- the same swap Hicks made last year. It was a move Fisher said was first discussed weeks ago, but one that was made a necessity when senior Kevin Haplea succumbed to a knee injury and sophomore Christo Kourtzidis opted to transfer, leaving the Seminoles with just two scholarship tight ends.

But if Fisher was filling a need on offense, he also was robbing from a position on defense that lacked veteran experience to spare.

Newberry was no one's idea of a success story thus far. Physically, he's intimidating and his potential seemed high, but through two full years in the program, he'd yet to develop as a pass rusher. Still, he played in every game last season, which made him a rarity among FSU’s defensive ends.

All-ACC defensive ends Bjoern Werner, Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine were all selected in this year's NFL draft, which meant Florida State would be looking to fill a massive void at the position. Only Newberry and Mario Edwards Jr., who opened last season with a redshirt before injuries eventually forced him into the starting lineup, saw the field in 2012.

And yet Fisher said he's confident there is talent to spare.

"I feel very good about where we're at defensive end-wise," he said. "You've got to play both sides of the ball, and we've got just as many inexperienced guys at tight end. There was no apprehension whatsoever. It's something we would've done either way."

That might be true, but there's no avoiding the obvious numbers. Last season, in just 12 games, Carradine finished with 80 tackles, including 13 for a loss, and 11 sacks -- stats that dwarf the combined career totals of every member of FSU's current depth chart at defensive end.

Only Edwards and Hicks have seen serious game action. Redshirt freshman Chris Casher hasn't played in two full years after sitting out his senior season in high school and going down with an injury in his first game of 2012. Freshman Demarcus Walker figured to get an early start on his career by enrolling this spring, but NCAA eligibility issues kept him off the field during spring practice. Tuesday's start to fall camp represented the first official practice session of his career at Florida State. The same is true for fellow freshman Davarez Bryant and junior college transfer Desmond Hollin.

But Fisher insists he's not worried about the lack of experience.

"You have a great group of guys there that we feel very comfortable with the size and speed and the things we do," he said.

When the games begin though, establishing the pass rush may be more about scheme than personnel. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has implemented a blitz-heavy approach that players have embraced. He also comes from a 3-4 base system at Alabama, and the Seminoles could certainly employ those looks more often in 2013. Pruitt isn't just planning to throw his rookie pass rushers into the deep end of the pool, either. He's mixing and matching, finding alternative options in unlikely spots.

"In the spring we had some packages with me actually playing some D-end and coming off the edge a little bit," senior linebacker Christian Jones said. "And we're blitzing a lot more this year."

Like Newberry's move to tight end, the new approach to the pass rush was likely to a necessity regardless of the surprises Florida State has faced this summer. Werner, Jenkins and Carradine were the backbone to Mark Stoops' highly ranked defenses the past two seasons, and changes were required in the wake of their departures.

Giorgio Newberry
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreGiorgio Newberry's size could make him a valuable asset as a blocking tight end.
"The key to the game on both sides is the guys that put their hand in the dirt, and that's why we could play the way we did last year was the D-line," Fisher said. "But I think we've got just as good a group [in 2013]. I like our group better. I really do."

Optimism is easy to find this time of year, but Florida State has already walked the tight rope that comes with having limited options at key positions.

For now, Newberry fills the Seminoles' biggest hole. Hicks' health and the emerging Edwards, who has dramatically improved his physique from a year ago, offer possibilities in another significant area of concern.

Not all choices are supposed to be easy, and Newberry's move was the best option Fisher had, and FSU’s pass rush will make due with what's left.

"[If we weren't satisfied] we'd have tried to find something else to do," Fisher said, "but I felt very comfortable with those guys."
Kelvin BenjaminAP Photo/Phil SearsJunior wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has shown flashes of potential in his two seasons at Florida State, but the Seminoles need him to truly break out this season.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State is finally set to open fall camp today, and while the enthusiasm surrounding new faces on the coaching staff and the roster has been high, there are some big question marks remaining before Jimbo Fisher's crew takes the field at Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.

Here's a quick look at the biggest storylines to watch during the next few weeks.

Can anything keep Jameis Winston off the field?

While most Seminoles fans have anointed Winston the next big thing, Jimbo Fisher still hasn't officially handed him the starting job. Instead, Fisher said he expects Jacob Coker -- fully healed from a broken foot that hampered him this spring -- to push Winston for reps. Regardless, Fisher raved that both quarterbacks have handled the offseason work -- and the immense hype -- well.

Has progress been made on defense?

The Seminoles got a four-week crash course this spring on the scheme being implanted by new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but that still left plenty of questions. It's a complex attack, and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said FSU's defense -- which ranked among the top three in the nation in each of the past two seasons -- is still learning. The first few days of fall camp should provide some insight as to how far along they are in that process and how many of the incoming freshmen have proven to be quick studies.

Who's playing tight end?

Since the 2012 season ended, Florida State has lost its tight ends coach (James Coley) and three players (Kevin Haplea, Christo Kourtzidis and Will Tye), while the incumbent starter (Nick O'Leary) survived a horrific motorcycle accident. Needless to say, the position will be in flux this fall. Fisher said he plans to shuffle some players around, potentially giving one or more of his defensive ends a crack at playing tight end, to provide some depth.

Are some key third-year players ready to step up?

A lot might be riding on the likes of Kelvin Benjamin, Bobby Hart and Karlos Williams this season. All three members of the 2011 signing class will be stepping into bigger roles this season, and all three have ample talent to get the job done. Still, question marks surround all of them. Fisher specifically praised Benjamin's progress this offseason, but all three will have a spotlight on them as camp begins.

How will playing time be split in the secondary?

Joyner is perhaps Florida State's best defender, but his move from safety to corner this offseason certainly created some waves. He said he hopes to be on the field for nearly every snap this season, but that would cut into playing time for a slew of other talented DBs, including Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome and Tyler Hunter -- all three of whom missed spring practice with injuries.

Is four weeks enough time to prep for ACC play?

The clock is ticking from Day 1 for Florida State this season. Unlike recent seasons, there's no cupcake game against an FCS opponent to kick off the year. Instead, Florida State opens against ACC foe Pittsburgh -- on the road, in prime time on national TV -- meaning there won't be much time for refresher courses early on. FSU needs to hit the ground running to ensure its clicking on all cylinders when the season begins. Luckily for Fisher, he'll finally have the luxury of a new indoor practice facility to ensure the weather doesn't wreak havoc with the schedule for a change.
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.
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, 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.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Elsa/Getty ImagesFSU tight end Nick O'Leary needs to focus on doing the little things well.
Next up: No. 24 Nick O'Leary

Position/Class: TE/Junior

What he's done: In two seasons at Florida State, O'Leary has proved to be the most productive tight end the program has had in a while, catching 33 passes for 416 yards and five touchdowns. Of course, given the immense hype he had as a recruit -- the consensus top-rated TE in the country -- those numbers don't exactly match the expectations most fans had. He's been a two-year starter, but never a star. He's made some big plays, but also some ugly ones. He's been good, but he hasn't been great. Despite all his talent, he finished eighth among ACC tight ends in receptions in 2012.

Where he's at: If numerous questions remain about O'Leary's future, one thing that's certain is that he's in no danger of losing his starting job. He may not have worked his way into as big a slice of the offense as many fans had hoped thus far, but his talent continues to make him a potentially significant mismatch for opposing defenses. And while he missed a chunk of spring practice with an injury, he's got little to no competition on the depth chart now that senior Kevin Haplea will sit out the season with a torn ACL. For O'Leary, it's not about establishing a role in 2013, but rather, he'll be trying to expand the boundaries of the one he's already created.

What's to come: O'Leary's numbers haven't been eye-popping through two seasons, but he's steadily expanded the significance of his position group each season. That figures to happen again in 2013, as Jimbo Fisher has made it clear he'll replace departed fullback Lonnie Pryor by using more two-tight end sets and giving O'Leary work at halfback. But if the junior is going to blossom into the star so many predicted he would become, it's less about building a highlight tape and more about doing the little things well. From dropped passes to costly fumbles, O'Leary has made a habit of making mental errors by being too focused on the big play. This season, FSU -- and freshman QB Jameis Winston, in particular -- simply need O'Leary to become an effective safety valve over the middle, and new position coach Tim Brewster will make it a priority to build that foundation. A breakout season may not be in the cards, but it's entirely possible O'Leary could double his numbers from 2012 (21 catches, 252 yards, 3 TDs) simply by doing all the little things more consistently.
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.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State tight end Kevin Haplea is expected to miss the season with a torn ACL, the school confirmed Thursday.

Haplea suffered the injury during seven-on-seven drills on Monday, according to his father, Gene, and an MRI revealed the extent of the damage. Haplea is a senior, but he can use his redshirt this season and return for 2014.

“He’s a tough guy and extremely hard worker, who will get through this and come back stronger," head coach Jimbo Fisher said in a statement. "He’s an older and experienced guy that we‘ll just have another year, which will be good for the younger guys and our program.”

Haplea transferred from Penn State last summer following NCAA sanctions that allowed all Nittany Lions players to leave without penalty. He joined Florida State just days before the start of fall camp and spent the season learning on the fly, serving as the primary backup to starter Nick O'Leary.

Haplea's role was expected to expand this season. Head coach Jimbo Fisher said he expected to use more two tight-end sets and praised Haplea's improvement in the passing game during spring practice.

"It’s unfortunate for Kevin," Fisher said. "He had a great spring and was going to be a big part of our offense this season.”

Haplea finished last season with three catches for 15 yards and one touchdown, and he has nine receptions for 75 yards and two scores in his career.

With Haplea sidelined, Florida State will likely turn to sophomore Christo Kourtzidis, who underwent shoulder surgery this spring, and incoming freshman Jeremy Kerr to back up O'Leary.
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. 38 Kevin Haplea
Position/class: Tight end/redshirt senior

Haplea
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsKevin Haplea had to adjust to Florida State's offense on the fly last year after transferring from Penn State.
What he's done: After starting his career at Penn State, Haplea was among a group of players who transferred in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions. He arrived at Florida State just days before the start of fall camp, and the 2012 season was largely a whirlwind. Still, when Dan Hicks went down early with a knee injury, Haplea was thrust into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart and he wound up getting regular playing time. His numbers -- three catches, 15 yards, one TD -- didn't add up to much, but the experience was invaluable.

Where he's at: After nearly a year in the program, Haplea is finally feeling comfortable with his surroundings, and that has put him in a position for a much bigger role in 2013. As the only tight end to survive spring practice unscathed, Haplea saw a sizable workload, working far more often as a receiver this spring than he had during the regular season. But it's his blocking that sets him apart. Haplea might be FSU's most accomplished blocking tight end, which makes him a valuable asset behind Nick O'Leary on the depth chart.

What's to come: Haplea's skill set will never match O'Leary's, and its unlikely that even given a year's experience and more playing time that he'd become a regular contributor in the passing game. But with the loss of fullback Lonnie Pryor, FSU figures to run more two-tight end sets and Haplea has established himself as a strong blocker with just enough ability as a receiver to make a few plays. He'll be a valuable contributor in 2013, even if he only catches a handful of balls.
Tight end is an interesting position to watch at Florida State. Though it appears to be a deep group, it's not that far away from being bare.

Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 Florida State players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.

No. 9: TE Nick O'Leary

Nick O'Leary
Rob Kinnan/US PresswireFlorida State tight end Nick O'Leary caught 21 passes in 2012.
2012 performance: Those expecting a marked improvement from O'Leary's freshman season in which he caught 12 pass were disappointed as the talented sophomore managed just 21 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns. It's not that those totals were awful -- O'Leary, in fact, enjoyed one of the most productive seasons by an FSU tight end in a while -- but they certainly didn't match rather lofty expectations. O'Leary also seemed to disappear for long stretches.

Pressure point: O'Leary arrived amid much hype, and for good reason. He's got the size to be a solid blocker, but his athleticism and pass-catching ability should make him a major mismatch against linebackers and defensive ends. Through two seasons, however, FSU hasn't enjoyed many fruits of those mismatches. The pressure to find more success as a junior will be ratcheted up even further in 2013. With fullback Lonnie Pryor gone, Jimbo Fisher has said he plans to use O'Leary at halfback and will scheme numerous sets with two tight ends. That's a potentially successful wrinkle to the FSU offense -- but only if O'Leary blossoms into the star he's been projected to become.

If he succeeds: Several potential stumbling blocks for FSU's offense could be instantly solved if O'Leary puts together an all-conference-caliber season. If O'Leary's blocking improves, he could help ease the loss of Menelik Watson on the right side. If he becomes a more consistent threat in the passing game, he could provide a valuable safety valve for a young quarterback. If he can avoid making dumb mistakes -- such as fumbling while trying to hurdle defenders -- he could supply the same type of consistency that made Pryor such a valuable part of FSU's offense. Those are all big ifs at the moment.

If he fails: Fisher raved about the progress of senior Kevin Haplea this spring, and the Penn State transfer at least provides FSU with a solid Plan B at tight end. Haplea will never be the receiving threat O'Leary already is, but after a year in the program, he's at least consistent as a blocker and can do enough in the passing game to be an asset. Still, Haplea is the safe option. O'Leary is the potentially explosive one. If O'Leary fails to develop, FSU misses out on a major weapon who could be even more valuable with a young quarterback running the show. More importantly, struggles from any of FSU's tight ends ties Fisher's hands in terms of scheme.

Projection: The first step in meeting expectations for O'Leary would be to simply stop making so many ugly plays. It's one thing to disappear in the offense (something O'Leary has done at times) but it's another to turn a potentially big play into a disastrous one (something O'Leary has become known for among frustrated fans). New tight ends coach Tim Brewster knows he has a potential gold mine in O'Leary, though, and those struggles in 2012 might have served to light a fire under a player who was No. 20 in the ESPN 150 in the 2011 class. O'Leary will be given plenty of chances to shine, and a solid step forward -- 30 catches, more looks in the red zone -- would be a welcome addition. Anything more, and FSU's offense could become a lot more dynamic than many are projecting.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Mel Kiper's Big Board
Mel Kiper Jr. discusses his inaugural Big Board for the 2015 NFL draft.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video