Florida State Seminoles: chris thompson

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Devonta Freeman finished last year’s Miami game with his teammate’s initials scrawled on his wrist tape.

Chris Thompson had been Florida State’s most explosive offensive player before blowing out his knee on a 32-yard reception early in the second quarter. At halftime, the remaining Seminoles running backs decided to dedicate the rest of the game to their fallen teammate.

It was a fitting tribute. Freeman carried 10 times in the game for 70 yards. No carries went for a loss and two finished in the end zone. A 10-3 Miami lead at the time of Thompson’s injury turned into a 33-20 Florida State win, with the Seminoles rushing for 218 yards.

But Freeman didn’t need the extra motivation. It was Miami. It was home. It’s the game he’d been waiting for.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesDevonta Freeman is emerging as a leader for Florida State, and as a player from Miami, this week is extra special.
“I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder, but it's an even bigger chip on my shoulder knowing that more people from Miami are going to be watching,” Freeman said. “It’s always going to be that edge about it. This is Miami.”

Thompson’s injury was a gut punch a year ago. He was a feel-good story after working his back from a broken bone in his back that cost him the bulk of the 2011 season. He was on pace to cruise past the 1,000-yard mark, something no FSU runner had done in 16 years. He was the hard-working heartbeat of the Seminoles' ground game, and his loss seemed enormous.

A year later, a familiar story is being told, but it hasn't earned the same spotlight. Freeman lacks Thompson’s injury-riddled back story, but the path he’s traveled was every bit as challenging. He’s now on pace to finally end that 1,000-yard curse, yet his offensive prowess is widely overshadowed by his nationally renowned teammate, Jameis Winston. And Freeman is every bit the emotional leader that Thompson was; he just does the bulk of his work away from the cameras and microphones, with a quiet confidence more befitting his reserved personality.

“His heart is about as genuine as the day is long,” Jimbo Fisher said. “He’ll do whatever you ask him. Whatever you want him to do and however you want him to do it, he says, ‘Yes sir,’ and goes 100 miles per hour.”

Freeman’s numbers tell part of the story. He’s rushed for 580 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that figure to lead the team for the third consecutive season. He’s used his speed to avoid defenders, but still has picked up nearly 200 yards after contact. He has scored on short runs and long runs, has been exceptional outside the tackles and between them and has caught passes in key situations. He said the plays he’s most proud of are the ones when the ball isn’t in his hands.

He’s been Florida State’s ultimate offensive Renaissance man, and yet so often, Freeman still managed to fly beneath the radar.

“He’s not as fast as me, not as big as James [Wilder Jr.],” Karlos Williams said. “But I believe he’s the best of the three because of the way he carries himself.”

The truth is, Freeman isn’t much interested in the spotlight. He’s in the weight room before most of his teammates and he’ll stay on the practice field even after everyone else has gone. During position meetings, he snags a seat in the front row, peppering position coach Jay Graham with questions to ensure his teammates learn the answers. He’s the four-star recruit in a backfield of five-star talent, the quiet leader amid a group of social butterflies.

“Devonta can be a high-energy guy, but it’s never been that crazy, let’s get everything pumped up. He leads by example, by his energy on the field,” Williams said. “It comes from where he’s from, the high school he came from. He comes with an edge.”

But if Freeman is used to toiling in the shadows, this week provides the lone exception. Miami is home, and the Hurricanes’ roster is filled with familiar names.

Freeman grew up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods, and he understands what’s at stake in a rivalry. This year, in particular, with so much on the line, Freeman isn’t interested in going unnoticed. He’s out to deliver a blow.

“It's going to be back to that old Miami – two top-10 teams,” Freeman said. “It's going to be a dog fight.”

Florida State should be well prepared for the fight. Williams has been explosive since moving from safety to tailback. He’s scored seven times on just 44 rushes, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry. Wilder’s season has been marred by injuries, and he sat out last week with concussion symptoms. He returned to practice Monday, however, and should be ready for Miami.

But it’s Freeman who promises to carry the load.

Freeman doesn’t look for the spotlight and doesn’t want a bigger share of the carries. But each year against Miami, it’s a chance to see how he measures up, to see how far he’s come.

“I can feel myself getting better,” Freeman said. “I’m running way better than I was three, four weeks ago. That's a big improvement for me, but I know I've still got a lot of work to do.”

FSU's Freeman finds his voice

August, 15, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher was the last to leave the practice field, shuffling back toward his office with a cadre of reporters in tow, when Devonta Freeman jogged past in the opposite direction.

Fisher turned and shouted after him, calling Freeman by the number on his jersey, which was soaked in sweat: "What are you doing, 8?"

The question didn't need to be asked. Fisher knew.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreDevonta Freeman has become a leader for Florida State.
It's been a ritual so far this fall that every day, after the rest of the team has retreated from the scorching sun, Florida State's leading rusher returns to the practice field, drags a series of bright orange step-over dummies into position, and resumes his work.

"I'm just trying to improve my game," Freeman said, "getting a little extra footwork in to be precise in my cuts."

It's not just the extra work after practice that has caught Fisher's attention. It's that attention to detail, Freeman's determination to improve his game wherever possible. And through the first 10 days of workouts, no one has looked better than the junior tailback.

"He's playing exceptionally well," Fisher said. "He's had the best camp of anybody on the team."

It's deserved praise, but Freeman still seems an unlikely choice to be singled out given his penchant for flying beneath the radar during his first two years in Tallahassee. Behind gregarious veterans like Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor in FSU's backfield, Freeman's soft-spoken demeanor rarely stood out, and alongside a physical freak of nature like James Wilder Jr., Freeman didn't turn heads.

And yet, two years running, the man who'd opened the season third on the depth chart at tailback finished it by leading the team in rushing. It's experience that has taught Freeman a lot, and now that he's the elder statesman of the unit, he's eager to take a more front-and-center role, passing those lessons on to the next generation.

"I was just waiting on my time, not rushing things and being patient," Freeman said.

The work ethic comes naturally for Freeman, who has served as a template for coaches since high school. What's been more difficult is finding his voice.

"He's one of those guys who used to show by example. He's always worked hard. You could watch film and never see him lagging or going half speed," Wilder said. "But this year, we know that we're the upperclassmen now, and he has to speak up."

The product of a tough neighborhood outside Miami, where keeping a low profile was a means of survival, Freeman's never been the type to ask for attention. When his cousin -- a man Freeman referred to as a brother -- was gunned down near his family's home last fall, Freeman's first instinct was to keep his heartbreak to himself. Instead, his teammates embraced him, and it was advice from Thompson that helped Freeman push through his grief. It also set the standard for the type of teammate Freeman wanted to be this season.

When Thompson and Pryor left for the NFL, Freeman stepped forward. He's opened up, shared more of himself, and he's been quick to speak up when he feels it's necessary.

"[Players'] personalities come out as they evolve and gain confidence and go through situations in their life," Fisher said. "He's got a clear head, and his true personality is coming out. He's a phenomenal, phenomenal human being."

During practice last week, freshman tailback Ryan Green struggled through some early drills. The pace and intensity of practice at this level proved overwhelming, and Wilder was ready to step in.

Instead, it was Freeman who grabbed the freshman, pulled him to the side and put his arm around him. Green's struggles weren't unique, and Freeman offered a simple reminder that a few bad reps can't overwhelm his resolve.

"The rest of practice," Wilder said, "Ryan was balling."

Wisdom comes with experience, and Freeman's earned his share on and off the field.

Every few days, Freeman and Wilder meet in the locker room and talk about their goals. They've developed an ever-growing list of people they care about, the people they're playing for. It's motivation to keep pushing harder, a list of reasons to jog back onto the practice field even after everyone else has retired for the day. It's a list of reminders of the lessons he's learned and the wisdom he wants to pass along to his teammates who now look to him for advice.

"I try to give them the best advice," Freeman said, "because I was in their shoes and I know what they're going through."
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."
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 running game

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Melina Vastola/US PresswireDevonta Freeman could be FSU's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1996.
Fact or Fiction: After a 16-season dry spell, Florida State will finally produce a 1,000-yard runner in 2013.

The case for: No, FSU did not snap its 1,000-yard drought last season, but that's hardly an indication that the ground game wasn't effective. In fact, only twice in program history (1984, 1987) has Florida State rushed for more yards than it did last in 2012 (2,882), and its 40 rushing touchdowns ranked ninth nationally.

So why didn't any member of the Florida State backfield sniff the 1,000-yard mark? The easiest answer is that there was simply too much talent.

Subtracting yardage lost to sacks, the Seminoles had five players with at least 47 touches average at least 5.8 yards per carry. The problem is that no member of the offense earned a majority of the touches. In fact, Devonta Freeman's 111 carries accounted for a team-high 23 percent of all rushing plays, and as such, FSU had three players finish with more than 600 yards but none managed more than 700.

Chris Thompson, of course, was well on his way to cracking 1,000 before an injury ended his season after eight games, and that's perhaps the template for how it can be done in 2013.

Both Freeman (5.9 ypc) and James Wilder Jr. (5.8 ypc) were successful last year; they just needed more touches. Well, in 2013, Thompson and fullback Lonnie Pryor are gone, and while Mario Pender could steal a few touches, the odds are that both of FSU's junior tailbacks will see an increased workload. And the interesting thing is, it doesn't need to increase all that much for Freeman or Wilder -- or both -- to reach 1,000.

Since Jimbo Fisher took over play calling in 2007, Florida State has averaged 467 rushing plays per year. If Freeman maintains his per-carry average from 2012 this season, he'd need 170 carries to reach 1,000. Wilder would need 173. In either case, it would mean they'd only need to get about 40 percent of the total carries (assuming FSU matches Fisher's average rushing attempts this year) to end the streak. So, it's certainly possible that both Wilder and Freeman could split carries, both top 1,000 yards and still leave a quarter of the rushes for Pender, Jameis Winston and Chad Abram.

The case against: If you see the sun come up every day for 16 years, it's understandable to expect it'll rise again tomorrow. That's sort of how the feeling goes for FSU fans eager to see the streak come to an end.

The last tailback at Florida State to crack 1,000 was Warrick Dunn in 1996. In the years since, plenty have come close -- including a handful that were every bit as talented and successful as Wilder and Freeman -- but none have cracked that elusive barrier.

The reasons are plentiful: Injuries, inconsistent offensive lines, pass-heavy play calling, simple bad luck. The list of reasons it hasn't happened goes on and on, and many seem utterly inexplicable. That's what FSU's current running backs are up against.

It's one thing to argue the logic: these runners are good, the O line is experienced, and the math says 1,000 is within reach. But logic should've dictated a 1,000-yard season long before now, as Leon Washington, Greg Jones and Travis Minor can all attest.

Verdict: Fact

Perhaps it's zealous optimism, but this is the year it all comes together for FSU's backfield. There's simply too many reasons to think it'll happen.

For one, last year's high rushing total was no anomaly. Fisher actually called fewer runs last year than he did in all but two of his previous seasons at FSU. And with a freshman starting at QB, it only stands to reason he'll be more run-heavy this year -- meaning more opportunity for Wilder and Freeman.

Moreover, even if the injury bug bites one of FSU's runners, there's just as good a chance the other can reach 1,000. Both players figure to see a relatively even split on carries early in the year (something that didn't happen last year when Thompson got the lion's share through seven weeks), and both are capable of piling up big numbers even without getting a majority of the touches.

Then add an offensive line that returns four starters (and a fifth with starting experience) from a group that was so immensely successful last season, and the time is right for one of college football's most inexplicable streaks to finally come to an end.
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.

First up: No. 40 Mario Pender
Position/Class: Running back, redshirt freshman

What he's done: Pender arrived at Florida State more than a year ago as a well regarded tailback prospect with blazing speed and an eye on some early playing time. Unfortunately, a significant groin injury put to rest any hopes of making an impact in 2012. He underwent surgery at the start of fall camp and didn't return to practice until the season had drawn to a close.

Where he's at: In Pender's absence last season, both Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. made strides and enter the fall as the established veterans atop the depth chart and figure to have a firm grasp on the bulk of the carries. Still, Pender's return during spring practice offered glimpses of his potential. He has breakaway speed and he's tough to bring down in space, potentially offering FSU that big-play threat it lost when Chris Thompson's career came to a close last season.

What's to come: Pender remains a work in progress, but what he does well -- his speed and elusiveness, to be specific -- needs no further refinement, meaning he could be a legitimate weapon right away. He still needs to work on some fundamentals, with a focus on pass blocking at the top of the list. But Pender's upside remains remarkably high, and if the past few years have been any indication, Jimbo Fisher's tailback depth will be tested.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's Rankings Week at NoleNation, and each day we'll be counting down the top teams, players and matchups of the 2013 season. Next up, a look at FSU's top 10 freshmen likely to make a major impact.

1. QB Jameis Winston: No surprise here, but Winston could end up being the single most significant piece to FSU's puzzle in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsQB Jameis Winston could be the significant piece to FSU's puzzle in 2013.
While he still hasn't officially won the job of starting quarterback, that seems a foregone conclusion at this point. The bigger question is how he'll handle the role. His first test won't be easy -- a road date at Pitt -- but he'll have some time to get his feet wet before the Miami and Clemson games that are likely to dictate the Seminoles' place in the ACC race. Will Winston be the potential Heisman candidate so many have predicted, or will he go through the typical freshman struggles? Time will tell, but Florida State has a lot riding on the hope that he'll pick things up quickly.
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. 7: RB James Wilder Jr.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's James Wilder, Jr.
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJames Wilder Jr. was the MVP of the ACC championship game.
2012 performance: Wilder rebounded nicely from a slew of off-field distractions to become a consistent producer in FSU's backfield. He topped 100 yards in his first game of the season and finished as perhaps the Seminoles' most consistent performer in the backfield, rushing for 635 yards and 11 touchdowns and hauling in 19 catches for 136 yards and two TDs.

Pressure point: Wilder finally quieted the critics who thought he wasn't suited for offense, but there's still plenty more to accomplish, and the weight of this year's offense rests largely on his shoulders -- both on and off the field. Wilder still figures to split carries with Devonta Freeman, but with a first-year starter at quarterback, there's likely to be a major emphasis on running the ball successfully. Moreover, Wilder has quickly embraced the role of vocal leader on offense, and he'll need to show he's matured beyond the off-field problems that dogged the early part of his career.

If he succeeds: Life gets a lot easier for Jameis Winston (or whoever wins the QB job) if the running game is producing, and Jimbo Fisher figures to put the onus for that on Wilder and Freeman in the early going. Fisher has raved about Wilder's ability -- not just to run between the tackles but to get outside for big runs, pick up blitzes and work as a receiver out of the backfield. He arrived at FSU as a five-star prospect and he hasn't quite reached that potential yet -- but there's ample reason for optimism. While FSU will need its new quarterback to rise to the occasion from time to time, Wilder can do a lot to minimize the occasions on which the game falls entirely on the QB's shoulders.

If he fails: Wilder and Freeman enjoyed relative success in 2012 even after Chris Thompson's season ended abruptly, but there were some troubling games, too -- such as the debacle at Virginia Tech. The Hokies stacked the box and rendered FSU's ground game completely ineffective, and with an offseason of film study and a new QB running the show, odds are more defenses will take a similar approach this year. The onus for overcoming that will likely fall to Wilder, who embraces the opportunity to get the hard-earned yards through contact. If he can't do it -- or if the pounding takes its toll on his body -- the rest of FSU's backfield lacks anything close to that same physicality or blocking ability, and Fisher's options would be far more limited.

Projection: It's tough to predict a 1,000-yard type of season for Wilder because he'll likely share the workload with Freeman and, of course, no FSU runner has reached that mark in nearly two decades. Still, Wilder has an NFL skill set and he'll get his chance to show he's on that path. Staying healthy will be a big key -- he was bruised and battered throughout 2012 and missed this year's spring game -- and he'll need to show he's more versatile outside the tackles. If Wilder can do both, he should easily exceed last year's totals, be FSU's best red-zone threat and, with a little luck, he might even be able to finally put an end to that inexplicably long drought of 1,000-yard runners.
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.

Looking back at the 2013 draft class 

April, 29, 2013
Florida State registered a nation-leading 11 NFL draft picks over the extended weekend. NoleNation takes a look back at how they were scouted coming out of high school.

QB EJ Manuel
Selected by: Buffalo Bills, No. 16 overall

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E.J. ManuelJohn David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel's workout at Florida State's pro day Tuesday was on point and helped the quarterback secure an invitation to April's NFL draft.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel was eager to wrap up his throws at Florida State's pro day -- not just because he had a host of NFL scouts carefully critiquing each motion, but because he had plans for when it was all over. Today is also Manuel's birthday.

"I just had to knock this out, and now I can go celebrate," he said.

After solid showings at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine, Manuel already believed he had plenty to celebrate before throwing for scouts today. He has worked his way into the mix of top quarterbacks available, met with more than two dozen teams, and earned an invite to the NFL draft in New York.

"When I got the invite, I was about to cry, really," Manuel said. "That was probably my biggest goal. I know there was a lot being said about me going into it, but I never listened to it. I continue to work hard, did well at the Senior Bowl and the combine, and the naysayers have pushed me to have a bigger chip on my shoulder."

Manuel insists he's not bitter about any criticism along the way, but he said it has pushed him to work harder.

He certainly appeared to help his cause today. Jimbo Fisher watched carefully and said Manuel was accurate on all of his throws and looked sharp in the process.

(Read full post)

It's been a while since pro day workouts at Florida State came with quite so much fanfare, but this year's event, which gives former FSU stars a chance to workout for NFL scouts and executives, is chock full of intrigue.

Although more than a dozen former Seminoles will be participating in today's workouts, a few have a bit more to gain (or lose) than the rest. Here's a quick look at which of FSU's NFL hopefuls has the most on the line today.

E.J. Manuel
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBig, experienced, athletic EJ Manuel could climb draft boards thanks to a weak quarterback crop.
EJ Manuel (QB): The names at the top of the draft boards for most teams looking for a quarterback have been shuffled a handful of times throughout the year, and Manuel has largely hovered on the periphery. But while the overall class is considered weak, Manuel could be viewed as a solid investment. He's got the physical tools to warrant first-round consideration, and he's worked for five years in an NFL system at FSU. While he didn't overwhelm observers during the combine, pro day offers a second chance to impress on his home turf. Jimbo Fisher believes a strong performance could have Manuel in the late first, early second-round mix.

Bjoern Werner (DE): When the season ended, Werner was a hot commodity, with some mock drafts projecting him as a top five selection and, perhaps, the highest drafted Seminole in program history. That enthusiasm has cooled a bit, however, after a mediocre performance at the NFL combine. It's not that Werner was bad, but so much of what he does best is underscored far better in game conditions than a scouting combine. Still, he can make up some of the ground he lost with an impressive day on campus, which could mean quite a bit financially. Last year's third overall pick (the highest Werner's been on draft boards) signed for more than $20 million. The 30th overall pick (where ESPN's Mel Kiper currently has Werner projected) signed for less than $7 million.

(Read full post)

Under-the-radar players to watch

March, 14, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With spring practice less than a week away, the fervor surrounding some of the most-hyped storylines of 2013 has already been raging for months. The three-way battle at quarterback, the return of Bobby Hart to the limelight, Lamarcus Joyner's move to cornerback -- Jimbo Fisher already has plenty to keep his eye on.

But while those stories will continue to headline Florida State's preparations for the 2013 season, there are a handful of other intriguing players to watch this spring. They might not be in the running for a starting job, but they should offer plenty of reasons to watch as they look to impress a new group of coaches and find their own niche for the upcoming season.

Mario Pender (RB/RFr.)

When it comes to sheer intrigue, the entirety of Florida State's returning redshirts could probably make the list -- with Jameis Winston probably atop it. But while there will be genuine interest in Justin Shanks' weight or Marvin Bracy's speed, it's Pender who likely leads the pack in non-QB buzz from fans. The highly touted tailback missed all of 2012 with a groin injury and is just now getting back into full swing. His workouts during fourth-quarter drills earned raves from Fisher, who compared his burst and home-run ability to Chris Thompson -- only Pender is a bit bigger and stronger. Does that mean a job awaits this fall? Not exactly, but he'll definitely have his coaches' attention.

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NoleNation looked at the state of the Seminoles, going position by position to review the depth on the current roster and determine FSU's strengths and weaknesses going forward. And while a lot can change in the next few seasons, a few players figure to be front and center in Florida State's future success. Here's a look at the players who should play the biggest roles in determining FSU's fate in each of the next three seasons.
[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesThe impact of the QB battle that begins this spring between Jameis Winston (pictured), Jacob Coker and Clint Trickett will be felt for several years,

Devonta Freeman -- The running game made huge strides in 2012, and Freeman was solid down the stretch after Chris Thompson's injury. Consistency was the bigger issue, and with a first-year starter at quarterback in 2013, FSU's offense will need to rely on Freeman every week.

Mario Edwards Jr. -- There's no doubting Edwards' potential, and he certainly looked the part of a future star in his two-game trial run as FSU's starting defensive end last season. But things will be different in 2013 as Edwards won't have the luxury of Bjoern Werner commanding double teams on the other side of the line. He'll need to step up and become the centerpiece of FSU's pass rush.

Bobby Hart -- Jimbo Fisher has some options at right tackle, so it's not as if the offensive line's success or failure will all fall on Hart's shoulders, but life could be made a lot easier -- both in the short term and down the road -- if Hart could maximize his enormous potential in 2013 and be a suitable replacement for Menelik Watson.

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State of the Noles: Running Backs 

February, 26, 2013
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, a position that was a disaster in 2011 but the foundation of last season's offense: Running Backs

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2013 Spring Preview: Running Backs

February, 15, 2013
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 2013.

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 the start of spring practice.

Previously: Cornerback, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends, Defensive Tackles

[+] EnlargeJames Wilder Jr.
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireCan talented RB James Wilder Jr. make the leap to superstardom in 2013?
Next up: Running backs

2012 recap: It's tough to overstate how much Florida State's ground game improved from 2011, with the Seminoles nearly doubling their total rushing yards and finishing the season with five players who averaged better than 5 yards per carry. Overall, Florida State finished fourth nationally, averaging 5.62 yards per rush. Chris Thompson was well on his way to becoming the first FSU runner to top 1,000 yards since 1996, but his season ended in Week 9 with a torn ACL. James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman teamed up to handle the job the rest of the way -- usually successfully -- and figure to do the same again in 2013.

Departures: Thompson toyed with the idea of appealing the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility after his Week 9 injury, but he eventually abandoned that plan and is focused on rehabbing his knee and making a go of it in the NFL. His loss is big, but Freeman and Wilder proved to be able substitutes. At fullback, things aren't quite so clear cut. Lonnie Pryor departs after four seasons as a starter, and there's no obvious replacement waiting in the wings.

Arrivals: FSU figures to finally get its first look at Mario Pender, who redshirted in 2012 after undergoing groin surgery at the start of fall practice. Pender's rehab went smoothly, but he still won't be a regular practice participant until spring workouts get going. Meanwhile, FSU added another dynamic weapon to its backfield on national signing day with four-star athlete Ryan Green. Like Thompson, Green is a home-run threat with great speed. In what should be something of an unsettled backfield, he could see action immediately.

Biggest question mark: There are no questions about Wilder's ability, but it's still unclear whether he'll ever blossom as a superstar runner. Wilder had a productive 2012 season, rushing for 652 yards and 11 touchdowns, but even after Thompson's injury, he didn't emerge as an every down back. Wilder's size and strength make him a weapon, particularly in short-yardage situations, but his affinity for contact also means the bumps and bruises can accumulate over the course of the season. Add a myriad of off-field issues, and the question marks continue to pile up. The most likely scenario for 2013 is that Wilder again splits time with Freeman as co-starters, but there's also the chance that Wilder blossoms into a star -- and maybe even managed to put an end to that ongoing drought of 1,000-yard backs.

Breakout star: The backfield is probably a bit too crowded for any one runner to become a superstar, but Wilder may be the best bet to make the leap. Of course, Freeman has had two straight solid seasons and won't have to worry about taking a backseat to Thompson this time around, while Pender and Green certainly possess the talent to take the job and run with it, too. In other words, there's a ton of talent, but just one football to go around.

Projected 2013 starter: Freeman and Wilder


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Erica Kinsman, who accused Jameis Winston of sexual assault, spoke out in the film "The Hunting Ground." ABC's "Good Morning America" has the story.