Florida State Seminoles: Menelik Watson

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The conventional wisdom a year ago was that Florida State had everything it would take to win a championship except for a decent offensive line. The refrain was repeated again and again among fans and media: If the line doesn't screw it up, the Seminoles should be pretty good.

The mantra was repeated so often, in fact, that line coach Rick Trickett adopted it as the unit's rallying cry. Before each game, Trickett would gather his troops and remind them where they stood.

"He'd come up and be like, 'What are we not going to do?'" guard Tre' Jackson said. "And we'd be like, 'We're not going to mess it up.' We used it as motivation."

Bryan Stork
Sean Meyers/Icon SMIBryan Stork returns to anchor Florida State's line.
The motivation worked, and not only did the line avoid catastrophe, it developed into one of the more productive units in the country.

After a dismal 2011 campaign in which Florida State ranked 105th in the nation in rushing and 110th in sacks allowed, the unit blossomed with new personnel, cutting its sack total nearly in half and opening up running lanes to the tune of 5.62 yards per rush -- the fourth-best mark in the country.

Now, just a year after being labeled the black sheep of the position groups, Florida State's offensive line is a strength.

"That's as good a group as we've had," Jimbo Fisher said. "I've been around a long time, and that's a very good group up front."

It's essentially the same group that worked together throughout the 2012 season, save the right tackle spot, where junior Bobby Hart steps in to replace the departed Menelik Watson.

When that group took the field against Murray State for FSU's opener last season, the starters had just 16 career starts between them -- 14 of which belonged to center Bryan Stork. With Hart, who started nine games as a freshman in 2011, this season's starting five will open the year with 80 starts under their belt. Overall, the FSU depth chart at offensive line has more career starts than all but nine other teams in the country.

Perhaps the most surprising part about the progress made by the line is that, of the five projected starters, Hart is the only member who was highly recruited out of high school. Jackson and Stork were both three-star recruits. Left tackle Cameron Erving was a two-star player who was offered late by FSU and ignored by virtually everyone else. Now, all three -- along with guard Josue Matias -- are working their way up NFL draft boards.

"I think our starting five, athletically and ability-wise, yes, we're probably the most talented we've been since we've been here," Trickett said.

A few injuries have thinned the ranks, but Trickett said he's narrowing in on a depth chart with eight reliable options on the line, and the starting group looks to be firmly established after Hart's strong spring.

Still, there are some concerns.

Florida State ran for a whopping 2,882 yards last season, but critics are quick to point out that the bulk of that total came against severely overmatched opponents. Florida State's offensive line averages 317 pounds, and manhandling undersized defenders was easy. Against more formidable defenses, however, the yards were tougher to find.

In the eight games FSU played against teams with run defenses ranked 60th or worse nationally, the Seminoles averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored 31 rushing touchdowns. In their other six games against better run defenses -- NC State, USF, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Florida and Northern Illinois -- that average dropped to just 4.3 yards per rush and the Seminoles scored just nine times on the ground.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, in the six games against better defensive fronts, FSU had 64 rushes that resulted in no gain or lost yardage. In the other eight games, it had just 50.

Set aside mid-major Northern Illinois and exclude a 22-yard scamper by EJ Manuel on FSU's final play against Florida, and the Seminoles averaged just 1.6 yards before contact against the five best run defenses they faced last season. Against everyone else, that number jumps to 3.6 yards before contact.

None of those numbers are particularly damning, but they serve as a reminder that there's still something for the unit to prove.

"We have the potential to be one of the best O-lines in the country," Stork said, "but that's only going to happen if we put the team on our backs and get yards for our running backs."

Running the ball will be a top priority with a new quarterback taking the snaps, and Jackson said coaches have made it a point of emphasis to run early and often. But protecting a first-year starting quarterback will be key, too, and that's where losing Watson might hurt. In the 10 quarters Florida State played without him last season it allowed 10 sacks. The Seminoles gave up just 16 sacks the rest of the season.

But Hart's emergence this spring after a year in Trickett's doghouse has been one of the bright spots for FSU, and even the irascible line coach is pleased with the results.

"[Hart] still has a tendency to do some things his way technique-wise ... but he's progressed a great deal from last year," Trickett said.

Watson went from a juco transfer with virtually no experience to a top NFL draft pick in just nine months at Florida State, but he wasn't alone in his rapid ascent throughout the 2012 season.

A year ago, even the optimists among Florida State's fanbase recognized the weakness. Now, the offensive line is leading the charge. But if expectations have changed markedly, the mindset of the group hasn't.

"We still get motivated the same way," Matias said. "Last year, we were the group that was supposed to mess it up. That was our motivation. This year's the same. We're going to have the spotlight on us the first time we make a mistake, so we're trying to do the same thing."
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.
Admit it, FSU fans, you love it.

S-E-C! S-E-C!

Many Florida State fans have long clamored to join the big boys next door, but odds are they never thought FSU would actually win the SEC -- without even playing in it.

On Wednesday, former FSU offensive tackle Menelik Watson went to the football building to pick up his ACC championship game ring only to find out the ring deemed FSU “2012 SEC Champions.”

Oops.

“Somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do,” Watson said.

Um, er, sorry, Alabama.

“I couldn’t believe it when I opened up the package,” Watson told ESPN.com on Wednesday night. “I feel privileged, and I feel slighted at the same time, but hey, I’m one in a million.”

More like one in a hundred or so. A school spokesman said that so far, Watson’s ring was the only one with the error. Former players like Watson who had been drafted and were leaving school were able to get their rings early. The rest of the team will get their hardware as a group after Jimbo Fisher returns from his vacation. Florida State beat Georgia Tech (not to be confused with Georgia) last year to win its first ACC title since 2005.

It was the school’s 13th ACC title -- and apparently its first SEC crown, too.

News about Watson’s ring spread quickly after he released the picture of it on Twitter:


Talk about a comedy of errors.

“Someone was definitely sleeping at the ringmaker’s shop,” Watson said, adding it was probably an SEC fan.

Watson said the school has promised to get him a new ring, but don’t expect to find his old one for sale on Craigslist.

“I’m keeping it,” he said. “This is a collector’s item.”

Certainly a priceless mistake.
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. 18 Tre' Jackson

Position/Class: OG/Jr.

What he's done: Part of Florida State's much-needed youth movement at the close of 2011, Jackson and fellow freshman guard Josue Matias got their first career starts in a win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. The momentum carried over into 2012, where Jackson and Matias became fixtures on the O line, starting all 14 games. Jackson's season grade of 84.7 percent was the second-best among FSU's offensive linemen last season, and he topped the list in six different games, according to FSU's Web site.

Where he's at: Like Matias, Jackson's role is solidified, and short of a serious injury, he'll be Florida State's starting right guard for the second straight season. The bigger question at this point is whether he'll be ready to take the next step from solid performer to potential All-ACC lineman, particularly given the relatively significant question mark with Bobby Hart stepping in alongside Jackson at right tackle.

What's to come: The success FSU enjoyed on the ground last season (third most rushing yards in school history) was due in large part to the progress made by Matias and Jackson, but this season presents a new challenge. Former right tackle Menelik Watson missed 10 quarters of action last season, and when he was out, FSU's pass protection fell apart. With Watson now gone and the enigmatic Hart taking over, major questions linger about how well the right side of the line is prepared to protect freshman QB Jameis Winston. But if 2012 was still a learning experience for Jackson, this season, he'll be the established veteran. As much as it is incumbent upon him to progress in his own production, he'll be leaned on to help mentor and motivate Hart, too.

FSU Countdown: RT Bobby Hart

July, 5, 2013
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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. 21 Bobby Hart

Position/Class: RT/Junior

[+] EnlargeHart
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesBobby Hart, FSU's starting right tackle in 2011, looks to reclaim his starting spot in 2013.
What he's done: Hart arrived on campus at FSU when he was just 16 years old, and his rise up the depth chart happened almost overnight. During the Seminoles' disastrous 2011 campaign in which numerous linemen went down with injuries and numerous others struggled in all phases of the game, Hart landed a full-time job at right tackle, starting the final eight games of the season there. It seemed the start of a long, successful career, but by the following spring, Hart had run afoul of line coach Rick Trickett and was promptly benched. Hart's lack of progress, questionable work ethic and problematic relationship with Trickett pushed him into a role with the second-team offense. When transfer Menelik Watson arrived for fall camp, the chances of Hart recovering his job evaporated. He spent the entirety of the 2012 season watching from the bench.

Where he's at: If Watson's arrival signaled an end to playing time for Hart, his departure opened the door to a second chance. When Watson left early for the NFL draft, Hart immediately was thrust back into the starting lineup, but this time, he insists he's learned his lessons. Throughout spring practice, that certainly appeared to be the case. While Jimbo Fisher made noise about shifting Bryan Stork out to the edge rather than handing the starting job to Hart, the now 18-year-old junior didn't flinch. He performed well throughout the spring, and he's still hanging on to his spot on the depth chart as FSU preps for fall camp.

What's to come: There may be no player on FSU's roster as hard to project as Hart. Clearly, his talent is immense. The question has always been maturity, and while he handled himself well during the spring, the real concerns begin now that he appears to be safety atop the depth chart once again. If he backslides, it could be disastrous for FSU's line, which lacks much depth. If he surges forward, it could help make the Seminoles line one of the best in the country. Odds are the real results will be somewhere in between, and matching the production Watson' provided a year ago will be no easy task. But if Hart can simply maintain a consistent mental approach, he should improve as the season goes along.
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. 32 Austin Barron

Position/Class: C/Jr.

What he's done: Barron was among the bevy of freshmen to get playing time during the 2011 debacle on the offensive line, seeing action in nine games and starting three, including the bowl win over Notre Dame. But when FSU added two new tackles for 2012, shifting Bryan Stork back to center, Barron ended up as one of the odd men out. Still, Barron remained FSU's most reliable lineman off the bench throughout the season, getting one start early in the year and working this spring as the top alternative should Bobby Hart not perform at right tackle.

Where he's at: Even with the departure of Menelik Watson for the NFL, Barron again appears to be the sixth man on the offensive line totem poll, but that won't necessarily preclude him from winning a job this fall. Hart turned in a strong spring and remains atop the depth chart at right tackle for now, but few players are so tenuously attached to their spot. If Hart slips up in fall camp, expect Stork to slide out to tackle and Barron to be back in the starting lineup at center.

What's to come: It's probably unfair to suggest Barron's 2013 season will be dictated largely by Hart's success or failure, but it makes sense that Jimbo Fisher won't want to reshuffle multiple positions on the line if he doesn't have to, and Stork is a lock for a starting role -- either at center or right tackle. Still, Barron earned plenty of praise even while running with the No. 2 offense the past year, and the experience -- both as a starter and a reserve -- is incredibly valuable to an FSU team with little depth on the line. Barron may not be a starter from Day 1, but odds are he'll play a few key snaps at some point this season, and when Stork graduates at year's end, he'll certainly be ready to step into the starting job for 2014.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Ryan Hoefeld was a late arrival at Florida State's recruiting camp last June. Still, the 6-foot-3 center was eager to finally meet the Seminoles' infamous offensive line coach.

Rick Trickett was already heading into the film room to watch tape of the day's workouts, but former FSU assistant Dameyune Craig was happy to make an introduction -- with just one, small warning.

"Just count the number of F-bombs he drops," Craig told Hoefeld.

[+] EnlargeIra Denson
Jeff Peoples/IntersportUnder Armour All-American Ira Denson is one of only three offensive linemen to sign with Florida State in the 2013 class.
The grizzled line coach and the prospect watched film, with Trickett breaking down each play, nearly all of his insight emphasized with some language not entirely appropriate for mixed company. And Hoefeld counted.

"It ended up being like 27," Hoefeld said. "That was when I first started really liking him."

Hoefeld is not alone. Trickett pulls no punches, and that's made him a hero for many of the hard-scrabble, blue-collar linemen who have called Florida State home during the past six years. But that gruff personality doesn't always endear him to players with a softer side or fans concerned about Trickett's negative effect on recruiting. In fact, there might not be a more divisive figure in Tallahassee than the diminutive ex-Marine with a penchant for breaking down weak players and building the strong ones into NFL prospects.

"What young guys don't understand is, the way Coach Trickett teaches it, it's a business," said former FSU tackle Menelik Watson, a second-round selection by the Oakland Raiders in this year's NFL draft. "If you don't come with the mindset that you want it, you're going to struggle. … A lot of players don't understand that."

A Vietnam veteran, Trickett began his coaching career in 1973 and in the 37 seasons since, he's coached seven All-Americans and sent nearly three dozen players on to the NFL, with Watson, a junior college transfer with virtually no football experience, his latest success story.

But Trickett’s old-school approach doesn't always play well with 17-year-old prospects. While a handful of players like Hoefeld have been drawn to Trickett's stern demeanor, the overall depth on offensive line has lagged noticeably in spite of Florida State's immense success in other areas on the recruiting trail.

Two seasons ago, FSU's only signings on the line were Watson and Daniel Glauser, both junior college players who have already moved on. Last season, Trickett landed three players -- Hoefeld, three-star tackle Wilson Bell and four-star guard Ira Denson -- but missed out on a handful of top targets. As the 2014 class begins to take shape, there is no bigger area of concern for the Seminoles than finding some much-needed depth on the line.

Before Bell committed in February, he had a long talk with FSU guard Josue Matias. It wasn't a sales pitch as much as it was a warning.

"[Matias] was like, 'If you do come, he's going to be the best coach you've ever had, but he's going to be hard on you, he's going to stay on you, he's going to grind on you.' "

Hoefeld heard similar horror stories, but he was prepared. In high school, Hoefeld's line coach was a mild-mannered religion teacher, but on game days, he was restricted to the press box because his on-field outbursts were a little too explosive. Hoefeld found Trickett to be a kindred spirit.

But for all the advanced warning, Trickett's approach is still jarring. On the practice field, his players tower over him and even Jimbo Fisher cracks jokes about Trickett's small stature, but no one commands more attention.

There's cursing and yelling and zero tolerance for mistakes, and no one manages to escape Trickett's wrath for long. In the midst of it all, however, there are lessons.

"I've had coaches who would scream and yell and curse, but they didn't have a clue how to teach a kid something," Watson said. "He does. People hear the screaming and hollering, but forget he's trying to teach something. I figured that out early."

At 23, Watson had the luxury of maturity. Not all of Trickett's players are so lucky.

Bobby Hart was just 16 when he arrived on campus two years ago. A wave of injuries on the line forced him into a starting job in 2011, and he showed promise, but by the time spring practice began last year, he'd shown little progress and had put forth only minimal effort. This was something Trickett wouldn't tolerate.

Trickett shipped Hart to the bench, where he remained for virtually the entire season. He might have been a backup again in 2013 had Watson not departed early for the NFL, but when his second chance came, Hart knew what he had to do.

"It's hard, but he's just a perfectionist, and he wants you to understand that there's a right way to do everything," Hart said. "He's big on work ethic. He wants you to give 100 percent, and that's all you have to do."

For most high-school sophomores and juniors, however, life with Trickett can be an intimidating prospect -- and that's a concern other coaches are happy to exploit.

"Nobody bashed him for not being a good coach, but I heard he was going to push you, going to yell at you and all of that," Bell said of his recruitment. "Other recruiters said, 'He's going to punch you, he's going to kick you.' And I said, the guy knows what he's talking about. He can do whatever he has to do to get me to the next level. Whatever it takes."

For Bell, he'd heard such horrific tales that he was determined to separate fact from fiction. For other players, however, the negative recruiting works, and Trickett's divisive personality can become a serious liability.

For Florida State, however, there appears to be little obvious concern. Trickett turned a group of players with just 16 career starts between them into one of the ACC's top lines in 2012. FSU finished with the fourth-best yards-per-rush average in the nation, while coughing up 14 fewer sacks than the year before. Trickett was rewarded with a three-year contract extension that will pay him more than $450,000 per season and keep him in Tallahassee through 2015.

There are detractors who worry the deal has doomed FSU’s recruiting prospects for the foreseeable future. So far, the Seminoles' lone offensive line commitment for 2014 is Alec Elerbe, a 270-pound guard from Virginia with only Maryland and Connecticut as his only other BCS offers.

Still, Trickett would be the first to argue with the significance of recruiting results. In their first meeting in FSU's film room, Trickett was quick to shrug off Hoefeld's recruiting ranking.

"I don't care about the stars," Trickett told him.

Not every player wants to play for a coach like Trickett, and Trickett isn't interested in every five-star prospect. The yelling and the cursing are as much a weeding out process as they are a tool for teaching.

Trickett demands that the path be difficult. It ensures the rewards are great for those who survive.

"I felt like I was one of the best prepared offensive linemen [at the NFL combine] just because of who I worked with last year, working with Coach Trickett," Watson said. "I don't believe anyone got coached the way I did or as hard as I did."

Under Pressure: RT Bobby Hart

May, 22, 2013
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Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 FSU players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.

No. 3: RT Bobby Hart

2012 performance: Hart's sophomore season was a huge step back in terms of productivity, but it may have been the most important step of his career. A starter at age 17 in 2011, Hart quickly adopted a lackadaisical attitude toward practice and found himself in line coach Rick Trickett's doghouse. He lost his job to transfer Menelik Watson, didn't start a game in 2012 and saw only limited playing time. The time spent on the sideline may have been a setback on his career path, but it also opened Hart's eyes to the fact that he hadn't accomplished anything yet.

[+] EnlargeHart
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesBobby Hart is looking to replace Menelik Watson at right tackle and return to Florida State's starting lineup in 2013.
Pressure point: With Hart out and Watson in, the offensive line improved markedly in 2012. That's certainly not all due to Hart's limited role. There were big changes all over the line. Still, a new standard was set, particularly from the veteran Watson, who went from football novice to second-round selection in the NFL draft in the span of just nine months at FSU. Those are huge shoes for Hart to fill in his junior season, and with a first-year starter at QB, the Seminoles can't afford more struggles on the O-line.

If he succeeds: An offensive line that was solid if unspectacular in 2012 could make the leap forward to become one of the top units in the country in 2013. Hart's the swing vote in that potential growth. The other four starters from last year return, all expecting to improve after a year in the trenches. But Watson was, in many ways, the glue that held last year's line together, and its struggles when he was hurt underscored that notion. If Hart can become a viable replacement -- on the field and, perhaps as importantly, in terms of maturity off it -- the rest of the group should coalesce nicely, and the star-crossed tackle's career could once again be on an upward climb toward an NFL future.

If he fails: All that experience and growth from 2012 could fall by the wayside if Hart proves incapable of handling the job. If Trickett pulls the plug and sends Hart to the sidelines once again, there are few easy alternatives. Bryan Stork, a steadying force at center last season, would likely slide out to replace Hart on the right side, and Austin Barron would step in at center. FSU already has depth concerns on the O-line, and that makes any major shakeup a concern. But after a year of building continuity for a group that struggled badly in 2011, another major renovation is the last thing the Seminoles need.

Projection: There will be obvious comparisons between Hart and Watson this season, but that's a bit unfair. Watson was 23, and while his football experience was limited, he was a veteran of the ups and downs of life. He was as mature a leader as FSU had on offense, and he had the skill set to develop quickly. Hart is another story. He arrived on campus at 16, and he had a ton of learning still to do -- not just on the field. The trials and tribulations of the past year have taught some valuable lessons, but replacing Watson won't be an easy task. NFL-level tackles don't grow on trees. Hart's ceiling might be nearly as high as Watson's, but he's got farther to go to reach it. FSU will likely be satisfied with marked progress from 2012, and as long as Hart keeps heading in the right direction, he might reach Watson's level by season's end.
Florida State has gone far from home for offensive linemen before.

Jacob Farhenkrug, a junior college prospect playing in North Dakota, was sought out by the Seminoles in the Class of 2011. He has started 16 games in his career and will provide depth in 2013 if he can overcome a shoulder injury.

Then there was Menelik Watson, a recent draft pick of the Oakland Raiders.
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.
When summer workouts began a year ago, players like Menelik Watson, Demonte McAllister and Nick Waisome were flying under the radar with little in the way of expectations. By season's end, however, they were among Florida State's most productive players.

It happens every year that a few relatively obscure names find their way into bigger roles, and as the Seminoles get set to start another summer NoleNation counted down five under-the-radar players who could be in line for breakthrough seasons.

Next up: Reggie Northrup (So./LB)

Career arc: A solid recruit out of Jacksonville, Northrup found his way onto the field in a limited role as a freshman in 2012, shining on special teams while making a few big plays in late-game situations at weakside linebacker. For the season, Northrup finished with 10 tackles, including six in a dominant second-half performance against Boston College.

Why he's overlooked: With two veterans clearly entrenched in starting jobs at linebacker and a massive group of young and untested talent behind them, there's a clear line of demarcation in the group between the big names and the players flying under the radar. And while Northrup is one of the few reserves with playing experience, it's also possible he'll be upstaged by one of the five incoming freshmen, including highly regarded Matthew Thomas.

Why he'll produce: Northrup's game wasn't entirely refined last year, but his athleticism and ability to find the football were obvious. He was a missile on special teams, and his work ethic and energy at linebacker impressed teammates. He's also versatile enough to back up Christian Jones on the weakside or step in on the strongside when FSU is in its base 4-3 set. Considering both Jones and Telvin Smith will be gone after the season, there's ample reason for Jeremy Pruitt and new LBs coach Charles Kelly to make sure a few of those young linebackers get some much-needed experience now.

Projection: Even with the starting strongside job open, Northrup isn't guaranteed much, and there promises to be stiff competition even for backup roles from Terrance Smith, Freddie Stevenson and Thomas. Still, it's in FSU's interest to find ways to get as many of the young LBs on the field as possible, and Northrup's playing experience in 2012 could certainly give him a leg up.
When summer workouts began a year ago, players like Menelik Watson, Demonte McAllister and Nick Waisome were flying under the radar with little in the way of expectations. By season's end, however, they were among Florida State's most productive players.

It happens every year that a few relatively obscure names find their way into bigger roles, and as the Seminoles get set to start another summer NoleNation is counting down five under-the-radar players who could be in line for breakthrough seasons.

Next up: Willie Haulstead (Jr./WR)

Career arc: Haulstead burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2010, finishing second on the team in receptions (38) and receiving yards (587) while hauling in a team-high six touchdowns. He seemed poised for stardom, but a serious concussion suffered during fall camp in 2011 ended his junior campaign before it ever began. Haulstead returned in 2012 overweight and out of shape, and he saw only limited playing time, catching just three passes all year.

Why he's overlooked: It has been two full years since Haulstead was last a productive member of the offense, and by the end of 2012, he was buried on a depth chart that included an ample amount of talent. With established veterans like Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene along with potential stars like Kelvin Benjamin and incoming freshman Lavonte Whitfield, it's been tough to envision Haulstead rebounding as a senior.

Why he'll produce: Haulstead's path to regular playing time still isn't entirely clear, but he might be in for a bigger role than many have assumed. For one, he has shed the extra weight that plagued him last season. Haulstead has dropped 15 pounds and now checks in at a slim 217 -- and he's working to get down to 210. That has helped his speed, and it allowed him to be a much bigger part of the scheme this spring. Add that Benjamin has struggled with consistency and Rodney Smith is gone, and it stands to reason Jimbo Fisher would be looking for a productive receiver who can match up physically with bigger corners, and Haulstead could fit the bill.

Projection: Haulstead might never get back to the numbers he posted as a sophomore, but he won't be an overlooked piece of the offensive game plan this year. While Fisher figures to still spread the ball around, it wouldn't be surprising if Haulstead earned a sizable slice of the pie this year, potentially sliding into a starting role when FSU opens in three-receiver sets. He might not match the numbers Smith posted last year (38 catches, 524 yards) but a 25-catch, 400-yard season is certainly possible.
When summer workouts began a year ago, players like Menelik Watson, Demonte McAllister and Nick Waisome were flying under the radar with little in the way of expectations. By season's end, however, they were among Florida State's most productive players.

It happens every year that a few relatively obscure names find their way into bigger roles, and as the Seminoles get set to start another summer NoleNation is counting down five under-the-radar players who could be in line for breakthrough seasons.

Next up: Nile Lawrence-Stample

Career arc: A well-regarded recruit, Lawrence-Stample played just one season at defensive tackle in high school. That translated to a slightly steeper learning curve upon arrival at FSU. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2011, and he saw extremely limited playing time in 2012, recording 10 tackles for the season.

Why he's overlooked: Despite losing its two starters, Florida State is still deep at defensive tackle. McAllister and Timmy Jernigan are veterans with solid seasons already under their belt, and they figure to step into starting roles in 2013. Meanwhile, senior Jacobbi McDaniel returns from an injury and highly touted sophomore Eddie Goldman looks to take the next step in his career, pushing both Lawrence-Stample and fellow sophomore Derrick Mitchell to the back of the pack.

Why he'll produce: Earning playing time may still be an uphill battle at a crowded position, but Jimbo Fisher was effusive in his praise of Lawrence-Stample following an impressive spring game performance in which he recorded three sacks. Fisher said no player on FSU's defense improved more over the course of the spring, and at 315 pounds, he could be a force in the middle of the defensive line if an opportunity arises.

Projection: With so much talent surrounding him, it's tough to project a significant role for Lawrence-Stample at the moment, but both Jernigan and McAllister missed significant time this spring with injuries, and Mitchell and McDaniel both have problematic injury histories, too. It's not an ideal way to earn playing time, but as the Seminoles learned at defensive end a year ago, depth on the line is tested often, and Lawrence-Stample's progress in Year 3 offers plenty of reason for optimism.
When summer workouts began a year ago, players like Menelik Watson, Demonte McAllister and Nick Waisome were flying under the radar with little in the way of expectations. By season's end, however, they were among Florida State's most productive players.

It happens every year that a few relatively obscure names find their way into bigger roles, and as the Seminoles get set to start another summer NoleNation is counting down five under-the-radar players who could be in line for breakthrough seasons.

Next up: Kevin Haplea (Sr./TE)

Career arc: Florida State ended up No. 2 among Haplea's college choices coming out of high school, and the 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end landed instead at Penn State. After the NCAA sanctions that rocked the Penn State program, however, the doors were opened for players to transfer, and Haplea decided to give FSU another look.

Why he's overlooked: Haplea arrived in Tallahassee just days before the start of fall camp last season, and what followed was a whirlwind. An injury to Dan Hicks opened the door for Haplea to get on the field routinely, but he was never an integral part of the offense. Haplea's blocking was solid, but he caught just three passes for 15 yards.

Why he'll produce: For the past four years, Lonnie Pryor has been a fixture of FSU's offensive game plan at fullback, but his departure after the 2012 season likely opens the door to some different looks, and Jimbo Fisher said he's planning on employing more two tight end sets this season. That's good news for Haplea, who might already be FSU's best blocking tight end. But while the grunt work was always a solid niche for Haplea, he showed some athleticism during the spring, becoming a regular target in passing situations, too.

Projection: After a full year in the program, Haplea has clearly made some major strides, and Fisher raved about his spring performance. While Nick O'Leary and Christo Kourtzidis battled injuries, Haplea kept producing. It's unlikely he'll ever be the offensive weapon that O'Leary could be, but Haplea's consistency at the little things should earn him a hefty slice of playing time in 2013.
FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1
Returning starters: Offense 6, Defense 5, Kicker/Punter 1

Top returners

WR Rashad Greene, LT Cameron Erving, C Bryan Stork, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner, DT Timmy Jernigan

Key losses

QB EJ Manuel, RT Menelik Watson, RB Chris Thompson, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Cornellius Carradine, CB Xavier Rhodes, K Dustin Hopkins

2012 statistical leaders (*returning)

Rushing: Chris Thompson (687 yards)
Passing: EJ Manuel (3,392 yards)
Receiving: Rashad Greene* (741 yards)
Tackles: Christian Jones* (95)
Sacks: Bjoern Werner (13)
Interceptions: Xavier Rhodes, Tyler Hunter* (3)

Spring answers:

1. Changes on D: New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought a slew of new schemes with him from Alabama, meaning the FSU defense won't look all that much like the one that finished second in the nation in 2012. With the loss of five former starters from the defensive line, that's probably a good thing. Pruitt's scheme will be more aggressive and bring a lot more blitzes, allowing FSU to get pressure from other areas.

2. Beating Hart: When right tackle Menelik Watson made the somewhat surprising decision to leave FSU after just a year to enter the NFL draft, all eyes turned to junior Bobby Hart, whose turbulent career with the Seminoles was already well documented. Hart started as a 17-year-old freshman in 2011, but problems with his work ethic derailed his sophomore season and he found himself on the bench. He appeared to work his way back into line coach Rick Trickett's good graces by the end of the spring, however, and he'll be crucial to maintaining the continuity of the line without Watson.

3. Famous Jameis: Jimbo Fisher still isn't calling the contest over, but it certainly looks like redshirt freshman Jameis Winston is in the driver's seat to take over for Manuel as FSU's new starting quarterback. Winston shined throughout the spring and delivered a monster performance in the Seminoles' Garnet and Gold game, completing 13 of 15 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. A week later, junior QB Clint Trickett announced he was transferring.

Fall questions:

1. Winston, Part II: Yes, the spring was impressive for Winston, but as Fisher was quick to point out, he'll need to pick up right where he left off in the fall if FSU is going to make a smooth transition at a position that's been remarkably stable for the past five years. Jacob Coker remains in competition -- and he should be fully healed after breaking a bone in his foot that limited this spring -- but the loss of Trickett puts a lot of pressure on Winston to step up, particularly with a daunting road contest at new ACC member Pittsburgh looming in the season opener.

2. New-look secondary: Lamarcus Joyner appeared to make a relatively smooth transition from safety to corner, but FSU didn't get much of a look at what will constitute the secondary in 2013. Key players such as Tyler Hunter, Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby were all hurt, while promising freshman Jalen Ramsey had yet to arrive. The group will finally all work together during fall camp.

3. Just for kicks: Redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo showed off his powerful leg during FSU's spring game, connecting on three long field goals, including a 58-yarder to close out the game. Still, replacing the NCAA's all-time leading scorer among kickers won't be an easy task. Dustin Hopkins was as reliable as it gets for FSU, and Aguayo still needs to show he can handle the pressure of making a big kick with the game on the line.

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