Florida State Seminoles: cason beatty

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the past two seasons, Florida State has punted 91 times in 28 games. Nationally, only Navy has employed its punter less often since the start of 2012, which is why it’s understandable that the Seminoles’ most glaring weakness has largely flown beneath the radar.

In fact, as Florida State prepared for the national championship game last season, confident fans routinely chalked up the punting game as perhaps the only area where Auburn held a distinct advantage, and how much could punting matter in a game like that anyway?

Of course, the Tigers proved a bit more difficult an opponent than those projections assumed, and as fate would have it, punting mattered a lot.

Had Kermit Whitfield not returned a fourth-quarter kickoff for a score, had Jameis Winston not rallied his troops on the final drive, had Kelvin Benjamin not snagged the game-winning touchdown with just seconds to spare, the one area of Florida State’s championship team that wasn’t talked about all season -- the punting -- might have been the single biggest reason the Seminoles came up short in Pasadena.

With FSU ahead 3-0 in the first quarter, Auburn's Steven Clark came on to punt, booming a kick that the Auburn coverage team downed at the 2. The Seminoles went nowhere on the ensuing drive, and Cason Beatty’s resulting punt was a line drive that Auburn's Chris Davis returned 22 yards to the FSU 22. Auburn took advantage of the field position for a touchdown that started a 21-0 run.

In the game, Clark punted six times. Five were downed inside the 20, none resulted in a return by Florida State. Beatty, meanwhile, punted six times as well. Only one was downed inside the 20.



In the end, punting didn’t cost FSU a national championship, and as the Seminoles get set to open spring practice in 2014, Beatty’s performance is again likely to fade into the background as bigger concerns on offense and defense grab the headlines. And, again, Jimbo Fisher has no obvious alternatives to his two-year incumbent punter in spite of a now-substantive track record of struggles. But as the quest to replace Timmy Jernigan or develop young receivers takes center stage, it's worth keeping an eye on how tied Fisher remains to Beatty and whether the Seminoles might start looking at giving some work to a walk-on.

On national signing day, Fisher was asked about the punting potential of quarterback recruit J.J. Cosentino, who has a big leg to go with his strong arm. Fisher didn’t laugh off the idea, and while it’s unlikely Cosentino’s redshirt would be burned for punting purposes, it’s a telling statement that fans -- let alone Fisher -- would even consider it.

So why should punting be a focus for Florida State in 2014? The numbers are gruesome.

First, in Beatty’s first two seasons as the Seminoles' punter, FSU has averaged 38.9 yards, which is the worst in the ACC and seventh-worst among AQ teams.

But more than simply the short kicks, FSU has looked awful trying to cover Beatty’s boots. Despite fielding a punt coverage unit with as many standout athletes as any team in the nation -- including several veterans -- Florida State allows 14.7 yards per punt return behind Beatty, the fourth-worst average in the nation. The Seminoles are netting just 35.3 yards per punt during Beatty’s tenure, easily the worst by any BCS-qualifying schools. (It's perhaps worth noting that Alabama leads the country in punting and net punting, while also averaging the fifth fewest punts per game.)

Two numbers have kept the Seminoles' punting shortcomings from being a serious issue -- first, FSU has punted so rarely; and second, that a relatively low percentage of Beatty’s (usually short) punts have been returned (24 percent, 20th nationally). But, as Florida State saw in both the NC State game in 2012 and the national championship game in January, a few bad kicks can dramatically change the outcome of a game and, in turn, the outcome of a season.

Beatty did show some improvement as a sophomore, adding roughly 3 yards per punt to his average, but at the same time, FSU’s coverage team surrendered nearly 7 more yards per return. In other words, the added distance on punts likely came at the expense of hang time. Meanwhile, just 28.5 percent of his punts were downed inside the 20 -- nearly half the rate he enjoyed in 2012.

Beatty’s struggles were a minor blemish on an otherwise sterling season in 2013, but the schedule gets tougher this season, and it’s unlikely Florida State will win all its games by an average of 40 points again. And, as last year’s national title game proved, it doesn’t take a season’s worth of bad punts to torpedo a team’s goals. Sometimes, it can come down to one bad kick.

FSU room to improve: Special teams

February, 14, 2014
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The celebration of a BCS championship victory is in the rearview mirror for Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and Co. have already turned their attention toward adding another trophy in 2014. So as Florida State preps for spring practice, we’re digging into the biggest questions, position battles and storylines facing the defending national champs.

This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.

Previously, we reviewed the defensive line, running backs, linebackers and wide receivers.

Last up: Special teams

Projected starters: Roberto Aguayo (K/RS So.), Cason Beatty (P/Jr.), Kermit Whitfield (KR/So.), Jesus Wilson (PR/So.)

[+] EnlargeRoberto Aguayo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State kicker Roberto Aguayo was nearly perfect on field goals (21 of 22), converted on all 94 PATs and could force touchbacks with his kickoffs.
Special teams are something of a broad category, and in several areas, Florida State was a monster in 2013. Whitfield was a revelation in the kick return game, racking up 36.4 yards per return, including two touchdowns. Aguayo was just as impressive in his first year as the team’s kicker, connecting on 21 of 22 field goals. But in other areas, there was an obvious shortcoming. Kenny Shaw handled the bulk of punt return duties, and while he was consistent, he was rarely great. He averaged 9.7 yards per return -- down about 5 yards from the team’s average in 2012. Meanwhile, Beatty continued to struggle in his second year as the team’s punter, finishing last in the ACC in net punting (35.4 yards/punt) in 2013, with his struggles particularly exposed in the BCS title game.

Strength in numbers: Karlos Williams (Sr.), Ryan Green (So.), Rashad Greene (Sr.)

Williams was a fixture in the kick return game throughout the past three seasons, but with his new role as the starting tailback (and only RB with much experience), it remains a question how much Fisher will utilize him on special teams. Greene was a playmaker as a punt returner in 2012 but muffs forced him to the bench. With Shaw gone, he could get another look this year. While there’s a plethora of speed throughout FSU’s roster that could find a role in the return game, Green is among the top options among the younger players.

New on the scene: Ja'Von Harrison (Fr.), Trey Marshall (Fr.)

Fisher’s focus on recruiting speed at the skill positions means there are plenty of options in the return game both on the current roster and among the new faces inked in the Class of 2014. Harrison and Marshall are among the top choices and both figure to get a look on scrimmage downs and coverage teams as well, adding some incentive to forego a redshirt.

What to watch: The battle to replace Shaw as punt returner should make for some interesting battles both in spring and fall camp, but Florida State has so much talent on the roster that the options are plentiful. The bigger question is how much Fisher will rely on veterans in those jobs -- particularly Williams and Greene -- given their significant roles on scrimmage downs. The one area where Florida State has a real concern and, likely, no clear alternative on special teams is at punter, where Beatty showed only minimal improvement in his second full year as the starter. It’s possible Fisher could give a look to a walk-on, and he at least gave some lip service to QB J.J. Cosentino's history punting (a highly unlikely scenario for myriad reasons), but odds are it’s Beatty’s job still, regardless of his previous struggles. In 2013, the punting woes were easily overcome by an avalanche of blowout wins (FSU averaged 3.0 punts per game, fewest in the nation), but as the schedule improves in 2014, that’s a luxury the Seminoles can’t assume they’ll have again this season.
In a game as good as Monday’s Vizio BCS National Championship, there are countless storylines to dissect in the aftermath. And as Florida State soaks in its third national championship, we’re only beginning to fully appreciate the effort it took for the Seminoles to get here. So while the celebration in Tallahassee continues, here’s a brief look at some of the most underrated storylines from FSU’s absurd 34-31 win over Auburn.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State RB Devonta Freeman became the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Seminoles since 1996.
Quest for 1,000, Part I: It was an otherwise uninteresting 4-yard rumble on first down late in the third quarter, but it was one of the most statistically significant rushes in Florida State history. The run put Devonta Freeman at exactly 1,000 yards for the season, making him the first FSU back to reach that mark since Warrick Dunn in 1996 and ending the longest active 1,000-yard rusher drought in college football. Freeman finished the season with 1,016 yards and 14 touchdowns. More importantly, he was a crucial part of the offense when Jameis Winston struggled early Monday, finishing with 94 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

Quest for 1,000, Part II: Freeman’s 1,000th yard came late. Rashad Greene's came early. The junior wide receiver cracked the mark with the second of his nine catches in the title game, finishing the season with 1,128 receiving yards. He’s the first FSU receiver to crack 1,000 since Anquan Boldin did it in 2002. Greene’s impact Monday was huge. He was the only FSU receiver to catch a pass for positive yardage in the first half, and he was responsible for 40 percent of Winston’s targets in the game. Most significant: He had 57 yards on two catches on the winning drive.

Quest for 1,000, Part III: And if Freeman and Greene weren’t enough, sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin became the third FSU player to join the 1,000-yard club with his penultimate grab, a crucial 21-yard catch early in the fourth quarter that set up Florida State’s second touchdown. Benjamin ends the season with 1,011 yards. It was a frustrating game at times for Benjamin, who was shut out in the first half and had two crucial second-half drops that ended drives. His final two catches, however, were essential, including the winning touchdown grab.

Special teams was big: Kermit Whitfield's kick return for a score was obviously a turning point in the game, but it was hardly the only crucial play on special teams. The first half, in many ways, was defined by two momentum-shifting punts. The first, by Auburn’s Steven Clark, pinned FSU at its own 2-yard line. Cason Beatty's punt on the ensuing drive netted just 22 yards, and Auburn scored easily to take a 7-3 lead. Tack on three lucky saves in a row for Auburn after muffed punts, the 15-yard penalty that kept FSU from going for two early in the fourth quarter and, perhaps most significant, a missed 33-yard field goal by Auburn's Cody Parkey early in the second quarter and special teams swung the momentum of the game in either direction again and again. As for Whitfield, the true freshman touched the ball just 25 times in 2013 but racked up 818 yards and four touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception led to a touchdown that pulled the Seminoles within one point.
FSU’s young stars: The three biggest plays in the game for Florida State came from Winston (game-winning TD drive), P.J. Williams (game-saving interception) and Whitfield (game-changing kick return). That trio’s total accomplishments prior to this season: 14 tackles by Williams, largely on special teams. In other words, this veteran team that Jimbo Fisher has been slowly building for years won the national title in large part because of the contributions of three players who’d barely seen the field before the start of 2013. That’s a good sign for 2014 at Florida State, too.

Pruitt’s big adjustment: To open the game, FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought pressure on Nick Marshall often, and it wasn’t entirely successful. The Tigers’ QB burned the Seminoles deep on several big plays. But Pruitt adjusted, was more conservative down the stretch, and it worked. Marshall was just 7-of-17 passing with an interception when Florida State brought four or fewer pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Jernigan’s impact: The stat sheet shows just nine tackles, but anyone who watched Monday’s game knows Timmy Jernigan meant so much more for Florida State’s defense. He was a beast up the middle, shutting down Auburn’s vaunted run game for long stretches and offering next to nothing between the tackles. He clogged gaps and allowed linebacker Telvin Smith to step up and record a game-high 15 tackles. He flushed Marshall out of the pocket repeatedly. Of course, Jernigan was also completely gassed by the end, relegated to the sideline for much of Auburn’s final two scoring drives, and the Tigers’ success without Jernigan in the game was the ultimate proof of what an impact FSU’s under-the-radar defensive tackle actually made.

Winston’s rebound: There were two resounding narratives regarding Florida State entering the game. The first was that Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, would have a field day against an overmatched Auburn secondary. The second was that the untested Seminoles wouldn’t know how to handle a close game in the fourth quarter. It just goes to show that the pregame predictions often don’t amount to much. Winston’s unwavering confidence this season -- particularly on the prime-time stage -- has been Florida State’s hallmark. The “do it big” speech has been played again and again, but Winston was hardly that guy during the first three quarters Monday. His footwork was a mess. He was off target on throws. He was hesitant to release the ball, choosing again and again to tuck and run. He rarely looked downfield in spite of those supposed mismatches for his receiving corps. And yet, when the game was on the line, the QB who’d thrown just 25 fourth-quarter passes all season rebounded by completing 9 of 11 for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the game’s final quarter.

It really was about his teammates: If there was a mantra Winston stuck to this season throughout all the highs and lows, it was that the season -- and his success -- was built on the backs of his teammates. Monday’s national championship proved him right. While Winston struggled early, so many others stepped up. Freeman moved the ball on the ground. Greene provided a reliable target. Fisher called a brilliant fake punt that Karlos Williams managed to execute perfectly. Whitfield returned a kick for a score. The defense held Auburn scoreless on five straight drives -- forcing a turnover along the way -- while Winston slowly chipped away at a 21-3 deficit. Yes, it was the Heisman winner who delivered the winning drive with 1:19 to play, but it was Greene’s spectacular run after a catch and Benjamin’s unparalleled ability to go up for a ball in the end zone that made the difference. For Florida State, 2013 really was about team, no matter how good (or, in Monday’s case, shaky) Winston was along the way.

What we learned: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
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If nothing else, Saturday's 48-34 win over Boston College proved to be a good test of just where Florida State is and how much still needs to be done before the Seminoles take on undefeated Maryland next week. Here's what we learned in Week 5.

Jameis Winston is a miracle worker: There might come a time when Winston has a truly bad game. There might be an obstacle he can't overcome, a contest when mistakes around him put him in a hole he can't climb out of. But Winston sure hasn't shown any signs that will happen just yet. Four minutes into the second quarter, FSU was in a 17-3 hole, and then Winston took over. The FSU QB finished 17-of-27 for 330 yards and four touchdowns, and his 55-yard Hail Mary throw to Kenny Shaw as time expired in the first half drove the biggest dagger of the night through Boston College's heart. Winston was no one-trick pony either. Subtract sacks, and Winston had 10 rushes for 96 yards, both career highs. Through four weeks, Winston has accounted for 14 touchdowns. EJ Manuel didn't reach that mark in 2012 until the eighth game of the season.

The defense has some major holes: Let's start with the positives. With Tyler Hunter out, the new-look secondary looked decent enough. Jalen Ramsey looked good once again in his first start at safety, and P.J. Williams and Nate Andrews each recorded interceptions. Lamarcus Joyner made a handful of big tackles after the front seven had let a ball carrier get deep into the secondary. But that only underscores the bad news. The defensive front struggled mightily. FSU knew Boston College planned to run early and often, and still, it had few answers for Andre Williams, who tallied 149 yards -- the most by a single rusher vs. the Seminoles since 2010. Overall, BC racked up 397 yards of offense, averaging 5.4 yards per play. FSU did record three sacks, but Chase Rettig was also able to escape pressure a number of times. Most troubling, the D opened the game completely flat once again, with BC jumping out to a 17-3 lead.

The special teams could use some work, too: Through the first three games, FSU had won so easily, there was little focus on the special teams. Kicker Roberto Aguayo still hasn't missed a kick, but the rest of the special teams looked bad on Saturday. FSU had surrendered just one punt return all season entering the game but coughed up two long returns to Spiffy Evans. Myles Willis added 114 yards on kick returns, including a 71-yarder. Cason Beatty's first punt was a disaster. BC's average starting field position was its own 34, and it began just two drives inside its own 20.
This week, NoleNation 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: Special teams.

Fact or Fiction: With Dustin Hopkins gone, Florida State can expect to regress on special teams in 2013.

The case for: It's not that a kicker makes or breaks a special teams unit, but if any program understands the significance of the position, it's Florida State -- a school with several seasons defined by kicks, both made and missed.

[+] EnlargeDustin Hopkins
AP Photo/Phil SearsIt would be tough for any kicker to replace Dustin Hopkins at Florida State.
Replacing Hopkins is a nearly impossible task. The four-year starter left FSU as the most prolific kicker in NCAA history, rewriting the record book for the school, the conference and the nation. And Hopkins' senior season was no doubt his finest. Only six kickers in the country with at least 20 tries connected on a higher percentage of field-goal attempts than Hopkins (83.3 percent), and he made the sixth-most attempts as well (30). His 25 made field goals were the second-most in the country.

Stepping into the role will be freshman Roberto Aguayo, who certainly has an impressive enough leg -- he drilled three kicks of longer than 50 yards in the spring game -- but no experience. And even Hopkins wasn't a star as a freshman, converting 70 percent of his tries. The pressure will be high for Aguayo, and that's hardly an ideal situation for a freshman.

Beyond the kicking game, last year's special teams units set an awfully high standard. FSU ranked 16th nationally in kick return average (24.65 yards) and led the nation in total punt return yards (536). The Seminoles were one of just five teams with three punt-return TDs, and their coverage unit allowed the seventh-fewest returned punts in the country.

The case against: From Hopkins' big season to big returns by Lamarcus Joyner or Rashad Greene to the strong coverage units all around, it's easy to applaud the work of FSU's special teams in 2012. But for all the success, there were some glaring failures, too.

Freshman punter Cason Beatty struggled mightily at times, and FSU finished with the 11th-worst net punting average of any team in the country. Worse yet, two of Beatty's kicks were blocked, including a disastrous boot late in the game against NC State that directly contributed to an FSU loss. Beatty showed progress late in the season, however, and it stands to reason that he'll improve dramatically in Year 2. Simply moving to the middle of the pack in the ACC would be a vast improvement.

Those impressive returns in 2012 were nearly offset by some ugly plays, too, including three special-teams turnovers that led to a yearlong carousel of punt returners. Greene lost his job, replaced by Tyler Hunter, who flubbed the gig and was replaced by Kenny Shaw. Add in an astonishing 18 special-teams penalties last season and there were simply too many mental miscues that should be easily corrected in 2013.

Perhaps the best reason for optimism this year, however, is the sheer quantity of talent. All of last year's top return men are back, and speedy freshman Levonte Whitfield will be added to the mix. New special teams coordinator Charles Kelly has top athletes playing on the return and coverage units. After a year of mental breakdowns, special teams will be a focus across the board.

Verdict: Fact

Really, the success and failure of FSU's special teams in 2013 might be a matter of perspective. There's a strong chance that, on the whole, the unit will be more consistent than it was a year ago, with better performances from Beatty and fewer costly mental breakdowns.

But the story of last year's special teams group wasn't about the handful of flubs but the numerous highlights, and FSU will be hard pressed to repeat that success. Hopkins was as reliable as anyone in the country -- he connected on 21 of 22 kicks at one point -- and his ability to successfully kickoff directionally, rather than simply boot touchbacks, was a distinct advantage for FSU.

In the end, the drop-off in production probably won't be overwhelming, but there's little chance the Seminoles will go the whole season without missing Hopkins in one or two crucial moments. Given that the offense will be trotting out a freshman quarterback as well, odds are those special teams plays will loom even larger than they did in 2012.
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. 33 Cason Beatty

Position/Class: P/So.

What he's done: Beatty had big shoes to fill when he took over for All-American Shawn Powell last season as a true freshman, so it's probably not surprising that he struggled noticeably at times. For the season, Beatty's punting average of 38.3 was the worst in the ACC, and his blocked kick against NC State was integral in one of the worst FSU losses in recent years. By season's end though, there were signs of progress. Beatty averaged nearly three more yards per kick in his final three games (40.5) than in his first 11 (37.6).

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The 2012 signing class brought 16 new faces to Florida State, but after a full year on campus, fans have seen only a glimpse of what the group, ranked as the No. 2 class in the nation, can do.

Nine members of the 2012 class saw action last season, and only defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. earned a start. But even Edwards' progress comes with an asterisk. He was slated to redshirt when the season began, and he only worked his way onto the field -- and later, into the starting lineup -- thanks to a series of injuries.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesCornerback Ronald Darby got considerable playing time as a freshman and will compete for a starting position next season.
After a year largely spent on the sidelines, the Class of 2012 is poised to make an impact this season. Here's how we see things shaping up.

The wild card

Marvin Bracy, WR

Bracy skipped spring practice to focus on track, and now it seems entirely possible that decision could be permanent. Bracy has world-class speed, and if he chooses to go pro as a sprinter, he'd wave goodbye to his FSU football career. A decision could come any day.

Waiting their turn

Justin Shanks, DT

Despite FSU losing its two starting tackles, the position is still chock full of talent, which has managed to overshadow Shanks -- something that's awfully hard to do to a player pushing 320 pounds.

Colin Blake, CB

Blake battled injuries early in 2012 and ended up redshirting. He might have had a chance to earn a regular role this season, but Lamarcus Joyner's move to corner likely makes the field a bit too crowded. Blake will see work on special teams, but he'll need a few starters to go down with injuries before regular playing time is available in a crowded secondary.

Sean Maguire, QB

To Maguire's credit, he conceded nothing during FSU's quarterback competition this spring. Still, the writing was on the wall. Maguire has a good arm and solid long-term potential, but the job isn't likely to be his for at least a few more years.


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For all the buzz about new schemes and aggressive tweaks to the defense, odds are Saturday's Garnet and Gold game will feature a relatively vanilla approach as Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt winds down the spring.

The quarterback battle has been the hottest topic in years among Florida State fans, but coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to draw any lines of demarcation on the depth chart, and he insists the four men vying for the job will again rotate reps Saturday.

Kelvin Benjamin
Melina Vastola/US PresswireKelvin Benjamin could be the player to produce the big plays in Saturday's Garnet and Gold game.
And after four weeks of intensity, the battle scars are showing. As many as a dozen key members of the 2013 Seminoles team won't be available for the spring game due to injuries.

So, what's there to be excited about as Florida State's spring practice comes to a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion? Actually, there's still plenty worth watching, even if some of the biggest curiosities will remain just that until fall camp begins in August. Here's a rundown of some of the most noteworthy items of intrigue on display Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The QBs, of course

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Tim Brewster is excited to be at Florida State, and he's not interested in tempering his enthusiasm -- particularly on the recruiting trail.

Just days after taking over as FSU's new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, Brewster took to Twitter to lay the groundwork with some top targets.

[+] EnlargeGophers
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterFormer Minnesota coach Tim Brewster wasted no time introducing himself to recruits in the state of Florida after joining the Seminoles.
"All the ballers in Miami just know I'm coming to getcha," Brewster tweeted as part of a flurry of excitement aimed at south Florida recruits.

It might have been an ostentatious opening salvo in the recruiting battles with his in-state rivals, but Brewster is making no apologies. That's how he does business.

"I'm not bashful, and I'm extremely proud of the university I represent," Brewster said. "I just want to make sure that people understand, we're going to take an extremely aggressive approach to getting the best players in the state of Florida to come to Tallahassee. We're going to recruit relentlessly."

It's an infectious enthusiasm, and it's a big part of what caught Jimbo Fisher's attention after former FSU recruiting coordinator -- and south Florida expert -- James Coley departed to join the Miami Hurricanes.

Still, Brewster knows that all his in-person excitement doesn't always translate well to social media. It's just that when he's excited about something, he just can't help himself.

"If you're not using social media, you're missing the boat. It's a tremendous way to reach out, because young people today, that's how they communicate," Brewster said. "I try not to go overboard, but it's hard sometimes, because I enjoy it."

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State of the Noles: Special teams 

February, 21, 2013
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When it comes to recruiting, coaches need to be thinking long-term. It's not just about which holes must be filled immediately, but rather where the needs might be in two or three more years.

With that in mind, NoleNation writers David Hale and Corey Dowlar are going position by position, looking at what FSU has on its roster now, and who might provide reinforcements down the line, projecting starters and evaluating the depth through 2015.

Up next, we take a look at the key contributors on special teams.


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2013 spring preview: Special teams

February, 15, 2013
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From the impending quarterback competition to finding replacements for departing juniors, Jimbo Fisher will have his work cut out for him during the next few months as he lays the groundwork for the 2013 season.

With that in mind, we're going to go position by position, looking at Florida State's strengths and weaknesses as the Seminoles prepare for spring practice.

Previously: Cornerbacks, wide receivers/tight ends, defensive tackles, and running backs can be found HERE.

Next up: Special teams

2012 recap: Special teams is a pretty broad term, so it's tough to look back on last season and call it a success or a failure for Florida State when, the truth is, it was a little of both. On the plus side, kicker Dustin Hopkins turned in the best season of his remarkable career, setting the NCAA scoring mark for kickers in the process. Lamarcus Joyner and Karlos Williams both were exceptional on kick returns once again, and FSU even accounted for three punt-return touchdowns in its first season without Greg Reid. Of course, the flip side of that was the significant struggles by freshman punter Cason Beatty, including a block against NC State that likely cost FSU the game, a bevy of turnovers on punt returns that resulted in a revolving door at the position, and a truly ridiculous number of special teams penalties (with Williams responsible for a season's worth by himself).

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The final push to add to the incoming Class of 2013 is on, and Jimbo Fisher and his plethora of new assistant coaches have been hard at work trying to hold on to the commitments they already have while adding a few late surprises, too.

The final results should all be known Wednesday. But really, that's just the beginning.

Once national signing day is over, the focus again turns to the field. Since Fisher took the helm at FSU in 2010, there haven't been too many incoming freshmen to make a particularly big impact on game days.

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Top 5 moments: Late collapse

December, 11, 2012
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With 2012 winding to a close, we're counting down the five biggest moments of the past season for Florida State -- those plays that defined 2012. Coming in at No. 4: Bryan Underwood's game-winning touchdown that ended FSU's hopes for a national title.

Perfection ended for Florida State in the most painful way possible.

In early October, the Seminoles left for Raleigh, N.C., with a sterling 5-0 record, but their only road test had been a short trip to USF, where nearly half the stadium was packed with FSU fans. The trip to NC State would be different -- far more hostile. But few players were concerned.

[+] EnlargeBryan Underwood
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images Bryan Underwood's game-winning TD reception with 16 seconds left was the last of countless tiny cuts FSU suffered against the Wolfpack.
Just a year earlier, the Wolfpack were routed by Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium, and just a week earlier, NC State's secondary was torched by Miami to the tune of 566 passing yards. With EJ Manuel under center and the Seminoles' explosive offense ready for a road show, even a somewhat sluggish first half, which left FSU with a 16-0 lead, did little to dampen anyone's enthusiasm.

But if the first 22 quarters of football in 2012 had been an emphatic confirmation of all the preseason expectations, the next two would erode months of good will, reignite a decade's worth of frustrations and, most importantly, add nothing to that 16-point lead that slowly disappeared amid an endless array of dinks and dunks by the NC State offense that ultimately led to Bryan Underwood's 2-yard touchdown reception that sent the Seminoles to their first loss of the season.

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By the Numbers: Florida 37, FSU 26

November, 25, 2012
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When it was over, Jimbo Fisher couldn't help but recount all the opportunities Florida State had let slip by. From the turnovers to the run defense to the special teams blunders, every unit contributed to the 37-26 Florida win, he said.

The numbers tell the story of an FSU team that hardly resembled the dominant group that had won 10 of its first 11 games. Here are five that made the biggest impact in Saturday's defeat at the hands of the Gators.

244. That's the number of rushing yards Florida State allowed Saturday, the most for an FSU defense since a loss to Florida in 2009 when the Gators tallied 311 yards on the ground. Florida's Mike Gillislee finished with 140 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, the most yards by an individual back against FSU since Clemson's Jamie Harper ran for 143 in 2010. Florida's three rushing touchdowns were the most against FSU since NC State had three in 2010, and the Gators racked up four different runs of at least 20 yards in game, matching the total number FSU had allowed all season.

23. That's the number of turnovers Florida State has this season -- four more than the Seminoles finished with a year ago. In seven games this season, FSU had turned the ball over at least twice, but it managed to win all of them. On Saturday, however, the luck ran out. The Seminoles coughed up the football five times -- the most in any game since last season's loss to Wake Forest. EJ Manuel threw three ugly interceptions and gave up a fumble, while Karlos Williams fumbled away a kick return. Two of the turnovers occurred deep in Florida territory -- taking likely points off the board for FSU -- while the Gators turned two turnovers into 14 points in a game that ended up decided by just 11.

36:20. That's Florida's time of possession in Saturday's win, but it may not even tell the whole story. Thanks to FSU's early offensive miscues, the Gators dominated the time of possession in the first half, slowly wearing down the Seminoles' D. By the time Manuel coughed up a fumble with 11:09 remaining in the fourth quarter, Florida had a nearly 18-minute edge in time of possession and had run 62 offensive plays to FSU's 34. Not surprisingly, FSU's D had nothing left, and Gillislee ran for a 37-yard score one play later.

3. That's the number of times Florida State punted Saturday, and freshman Cason Beatty averaged just 42 yards on those kicks. That still marked his fourth-best average on the season, but despite the seemingly big advantage Florida had in that area, it wasn't Beatty's leg that proved to be the difference on special teams. His longest punt of the day was a 54-yarder, but FSU couldn't cover it and Marcus Roberson returned it 50 yards to the Seminoles' 32-yard line, setting up a touchdown that effectively sealed the game.

6. That's the number of tackles for Bjoern Werner in the game, including 3.5 sacks. Werner was dominant through three quarters, consistently pressuring Florida QB Jeff Driskel and almost singlehandedly changing the momentum in the third quarter, culminating with a huge fumble recovery that set up a touchdown run. But after Manuel coughed up the fumble in the fourth quarter, there were no more heroics left for Werner, who had simply run out of gas. He finished without a tackle in the final quarter, and Florida responded with 24 unanswered points.

FSU's top juniors won't look past UF

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
9:00
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For EJ Manuel and the rest of Florida State's seniors, the moment is emotional by design. They'll take the field Saturday knowing its the last time they'll do so at Doak Campbell Stadium, a mix of nostalgia and finality.

The same could be true for junior Bjoern Werner, too, should he decide to enter the NFL draft at year's end, but he's choosing not to look at it that way.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAn injury at the end of last season kept CB Xavier Rhodes at FSU another year, but now the emotional player faces a huge decision.
"I'm just going to finish the season and think about it after the season," Werner said. "If I start thinking about it too early, I'm just going to mess up my game. We have big games -- Florida, an ACC championship, and hopefully an Orange Bowl. I can't think about that stuff."

Werner is one of a handful of Florida State underclassmen who could forgo a final season with the Seminoles in favor of an NFL career, which could make Saturday's game all the more significant if they let the weight of the decision sink in.

So far, however, they all appear to be following Werner's lead.

"I never put that pressure on me," said safety Lamarcus Joyner, whose draft future is perhaps the most uncertain of any of FSU's potential early departures. "That's something that has to be evaluated definitely at the end of the season."

Werner figures to be a sure first-round pick if he departs early, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes could be as well.

A year ago, as a redshirt sophomore, Rhodes weighed the decision, too, but an injury during FSU's bowl game made the choice easy. This time around, he's acutely aware that the finality of a season and a career can sneak up on a player -- whether or not he's thinking of heading to the NFL.

"Every game to me is emotional," Rhodes said. "You've got to cherish every second of it. That's how I go into every game."

Rhodes, Werner, Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones could all choose to leave at year's end, but that's still a decision that doesn't need to be made for a few weeks.

In the interim, there's a game with Florida -- a team none of the four juniors have lost to as active players. Keeping that streak alive means a lot more at this point than a career that may soon be ending.

(Read full post)

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