Florida State Seminoles: Christo Kourtzidis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Redshirt watch for FSU's freshmen

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State lost 11 starters to the NFL draft this spring, but that didn't necessarily turn the depth chart into a gold mine for the Seminoles' incoming freshmen. Of Jimbo Fisher's biggest accomplishments during his first four years on the job, none loom larger that the immense influx of talent on the roster -- meaning depth isn't a concern in most areas.

Of the 14 non-specialists Florida State added in 2012, only six saw action last year. Mario Edwards Jr. was the only freshman to start a game, and Ronald Darby and Eddie Goldman were the only others to see regular playing time.

The situation may not be dramatically different this year. Twenty-one freshmen were added to the roster, but aside from a small minority, there doesn't appear to be regular reps awaiting the bulk of the group. FSU's initial depth chart lists nine freshmen on the two-deep, though the playing time for each may be limited, and the roles for a few others may yet develop. As it stands though, here's our projections for early playing time for the Class of 2013.

The likely redshirts (4): QB John Franklin, OT Ira Denson, C Ryan Hoefeld, TE Jeremy Kerr

Fisher is never shy with praise for his players -- even those with virtually no shot at seeing a moment of playing time. That's been the case for Franklin, whom Fisher said has looked very good in practice throughout fall camp. Chalk it up to Fisher's desire to talk about any quarterback other than Jameis Winston, but it's nevertheless encouraging given that so many college coaches wanted Franklin as a receiver, not a QB.

Denson arrived overweight, and Hoefeld is still a touch lighter than line coach Rick Trickett would like, which means both are likely to spend the year prepping for the future. Kerr might have been a lock for early playing time given FSU's utter lack of depth at tight end, but a knee injury has kept him off the practice field for weeks.

The victims of numbers (4): DT Keith Bryant, OG Wilson Bell, DB Marquez White, S Nate Andrews

The reports on these four have been generally positive -- particularly Bell, who was well ahead of the other young linemen, according to Trickett -- but barring injuries, there's probably not much playing time to be had. It's possible one or two will find a role -- Andrews and White could make a special-teams impact -- but none are guaranteed to see action at all.

Matthew Thomas
Courtesy of Florida StateAfter considering transferring to USC before ever playing a snap for FSU, LB Matthew Thomas has settled into the Seminoles' defense.
The linebackers (5): Ro'Derrick Hoskins, Tyrell Lyons, E.J. Levenberry, Matthew Thomas, Freddie Stevenson

Levenberry and Thomas headline the current depth chart, where both are listed as the primary backups at the Mike and Will linebacker spots, respectively. Both offer immense promise. Thomas is the star of the group, and after an on-again, off-again spring in which he considered transferring to USC, the five-star recruit seems to be happy and comfortable in FSU's defense. Levenberry has also been a big hit with his coaches, and his size -- 6-3, 240 pounds -- has had Fisher drooling.

Both Thomas and Levenberry figure to play, but they may not be alone. Freddie Stevenson was an early enrollee and has drawn praise from teammates. Lyons and Hoskins could figure in the special-teams mix, too.

Florida State has just two established veteran linebackers, and both will be gone at year's end. The Seminoles need to start developing some depth there, which is good news for the entire group.

The special-teams stalwarts (4): DE Davarez Bryant, DE Desmond Hollin, RB Ryan Green, WR Levonte Whitfield

Fisher's history suggests skill-position players who can contribute on special teams will get a chance as freshmen, even if there isn't much of a role beyond that. FSU allowed P.J. Williams, Reggie Northrup and Christo Kourtzidis to do it last year, which means Green, Bryant and others could do the same in 2013, even if a wealth of scrimmage snaps aren't there. Hollin, a juco transfer, probably stands the best shot at a bigger role, and Bryant has actually worked in some at tight end, too. Whitfield figures to be in the mix as a kick returner early, but he is a potential weapon as a slot receiver on offense, too.

The best bets to play (4): CB Jalen Ramsey, DE DeMarcus Walker, WR Jesus Wilson, WR Isaiah Jones

Fisher was impressed with his freshman wideouts from the outset, but now it's a necessity that at least one or two contributes heavily. FSU lost three senior receivers for the season, which means there should be ample playing time to go around. Wilson has wowed teammates since the summer, and he figures to be first up, Jones also turns up on FSU's two-deep, backing up Rashad Greene at the X position.

Walker's progression was hindered a bit during the spring when NCAA compliance issues kept him off the practice field. Still, he spent long hours in the film room and coach's office, and his teammates have raved about his football IQ. Given the relative depth issues at defensive end combined with a depth chart with little or no game experience, Walker has as good a shot as anyone at getting playing time early.

Unlike the rest of this group, the numbers don't exactly favor Ramsey. The FSU secondary is stacked with talent, but that's only more of a testament to how good Ramsey has looked during fall camp. He spent the first few weeks working with the No. 1 defense while Darby nursed an injury, and he appears to have established himself as a legitimate threat to contribute. He opens the season No. 2 on the depth chart behind Lamarcus Joyner, and that's a role that could expand as the season progresses.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Dan Hicks galloped around the practice fields as Florida State opened fall camp Tuesday, no signs of the knee injury that ended his 2012 season a year ago -- almost to the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can anything keep Jameis Winston off the field?

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

Has progress been made on defense?

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

Who's playing tight end?

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

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

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

How will playing time be split in the secondary?

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

Is four weeks enough time to prep for ACC play?

The clock is ticking from Day 1 for Florida State this season. Unlike recent seasons, there's no cupcake game against an FCS opponent to kick off the year. Instead, Florida State opens against ACC foe Pittsburgh -- on the road, in prime time on national TV -- meaning there won't be much time for refresher courses early on. FSU needs to hit the ground running to ensure its clicking on all cylinders when the season begins. Luckily for Fisher, he'll finally have the luxury of a new indoor practice facility to ensure the weather doesn't wreak havoc with the schedule for a change.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State had 10 players finish in the top four at their position in preseason All-ACC balloting, which should underscore the significant amount of talent Jimbo Fisher is bringing back for the 2013 season. But while Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan and Christian Jones provide a strong foundation, and Karlos Williams, Mario Edwards Jr. and Jameis Winston offer ample potential for the future, the most interesting portion of the Seminoles' roster might be the players in the middle -- established veterans whose potential still far outweighs their production.

As FSU gets set to open fall camp next week, we're looking at five players approaching a make-or-break season. Another marginal year could mean they're labeled career disappointments, while big seasons could push the Seminoles to a second straight conference championship.

Nick O'Leary (Jr./TE)

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Elsa/Getty ImagesNick O'Leary has considerable talent, but mental mistakes have held the junior back.
O'Leary arrived as perhaps the best tight end prospect ever to attend Florida State, but his first two years have been rather pedestrian -- 33 catches, 416 yards, three touchdowns and a handful of bone-headed miscues. With backup Kevin Haplea done for the year with an ACL injury and Christo Koutzidis' decision to transfer, there's no margin for error for O'Leary in his junior season. He'll be a crucial part of both the running game as a blocker and a valuable asset for a new quarterback as a safety valve in the passing game.

Giorgio Newberry (RS So./DE)

At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds with good athleticism and mobility, Newberry is a physical beast that has tantalized coaches and fans for two full years. What he hasn't done is provide much actual impact on the field. He opened last season as part of FSU's rotation at defensive end, but even after two starters succumbed to season-ending injuries, his playing time remained limited. He showed some flashes of improvement this spring, but still appears to be behind Dan Hicks on the depth chart.

Kelvin Benjamin (RSSo./WR)

Perhaps no player on Florida State's roster has enjoyed as much hype and excitement as Benjamin through the past two seasons. He's been a practice-field star, making acrobatic catches and using his sizable frame to push defenders around downfield. The problem, Fisher said, is that Benjamin has worried too much about making those same highlight-reel plays on game day rather than focus on doing the little things right. Coaches and teammates have assured Benjamin is making strides this offseason, and that could be crucial for a receiving corps in need of a viable No. 3 option with senior Greg Dent suspended indefinitely.

Bobby Hart (Jr./RT)

Hart's mental lapses have been well documented, and he spent virtually all of 2012 in line coach Rick Trickett's dog house. That trend might have continued into 2013 had Menelik Watson not bolted for the NFL, but as it stands, Hart appears the heir apparent at right tackle -- for better or worse. He showed good signs of improved play and, perhaps as important, improved maturity this spring. If he can live up to his recruiting pedigree as a junior, Florida State could have one of the top lines in the country.

Terrance Smith (RS So./LB)

Florida State appears in good shape at the top of the linebacker depth chart, with Jones and Telvin Smith both among the ACC's best. Beyond the two seniors, however, there's virtually no experienced depth. That's where Terrance Smith steps in. He's entering his third season on defense and has played in 15 games already -- though largely on special teams. He spent the spring working with the first-team defense on the strong side, and while he might not be the most talented of the young linebackers, he's the oldest and can help set the tone for the rest of the group.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When the ACC's preseason all-conference team was announced last week, Rashad Greene finished fourth among wide receivers, which represents both a modest increase in the appreciation he's been afforded by outsiders and a still-marked lack of appreciation of his actual impact on Florida State's offense.

He's good, the ranking suggests, but he's not elite.

The argument is easy enough to make, since Greene finished 16th in the ACC in receiving yards last season, averaging just 53 yards per game. His numbers have been the best Florida State could offer in each of his two seasons with the Seminoles, but they're hardly enough to stand out in a conference that boasts Sammy Watkins, Michael Campanaro, Jamison Crowder and Stefon Diggs.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesRashad Greene has proven to be dynamic in many different ways on offense.
Appreciating Greene's impact requires nuance, depth. Ranking him among the elite requires context, a more refined argument.

And, of course, Greene has no interest in making that argument.

"He's a humble kid," said Lamarcus Joyner, Greene's teammate since high school. "Rashad comes from a program where you have to make the most of your opportunities because you're surrounded by a bunch of good players. We're Florida State and we have a lot of great guys to pick from."

It's not that Greene revels in the opportunity to toil among the shadows. It's that he understands the value of opportunity, and he's built his career on exploiting each one he gets.

Last year, Greene was targeted 76 times and hauled in 57 catches. His 75-percent completion rate was easily the best among FSU's receivers. His 34 receptions that resulted in first downs were 12 more than the next highest by a Seminole. In his career, he's been given 128 touches and 16 of them have resulted in touchdowns. In other words, one out of every eight times he touches the football he scores, which makes him perhaps the most efficient playmaker in the country.

"It's been like that since high school," Greene said. "At St. Thomas [Aquinas high school], the type of program it was, you don't get too many opportunities to get the ball. When your play got called, either you were going to make the play and make it a big play, or you were going to give up the opportunity. I took that when I came to college. I might not get the opportunities, but I'm going to take advantage of the opportunities I can."

The question now might be whether those opportunities will increase for Greene in his junior season. There are numerous reasons to believe that may be the case.

At quarterback, Florida State will be breaking in a new starter -- likely redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. While his arm strength and decision making have already been praised by coaches, it's clear Jimbo Fisher wants a reliable downfield option who can make life easier for his new quarterback. Greene is the obvious choice.

"It's our job to make him comfortable and be behind him 100 percent," Greene said. "That's our job."

There's still plenty of talent on FSU's depth chart, too, but the receiving corps has been thinned a bit. Senior Greg Dent -- likely the Seminoles' most versatile receiver after Greene -- is suspended indefinitely after an offseason arrest. Speedster Marvin Bracy left the program to pursue a track career. Running backs Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor, the two most reliable options out of the backfield a year ago, have graduated. Tight ends Kevin Haplea (knee injury) and Christo Kourtzidis (transfer) are gone, too.

That leaves Greene as the standard bearer of the receiving corps, the established veteran of a passing game in flux.

"He'll get his chances," Fisher said. "He's going to get the ball. … He's very dynamic. He wants it. He accepts that role. He'll take it every time."

It's been rare that Florida State has treated Greene to a heavy dose of targets, but look at the Seminoles' toughest games in 2012 -- NC State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida and Georgia Tech -- and Greene's targets were up in each one.

When the situation calls for a big play, Greene is always a favorable matchup.

"He's a tremendous talent," NC State cornerback Dontae Johnson said. "He's got really great hands, he's got the confidence to run across the middle and catch the ball, he's elusive, good speed on the outside. He's just a great all-around receiver."

While Greene likely deserves a few more of those all-conference votes, it's the respect he's earned from the opposition that likely speaks highest of his ability. They know, better than anyone, where Florida State's junior stands among his peers.

"He's probably one of the fastest guys I've covered," Duke's Russ Cockrell said. "His speed is top-notch, and he should be mentioned alongside Jamison Crowder, Sammy [Watkins], Stefon Diggs. All those guys that are big names in the ACC, he's one of them."

Joyner has spent the offseason working one-on-one against Greene nearly every day. As a cornerback, he said there's no test in the ACC that will be tougher than what he faces during those practice sessions.

There are other elite receivers in the conference, but Greene stands out.

"He's definitely on that level, but I think he can be better," Joyner said. "To do special things, you need more opportunities. Other receivers that are on the national stage, could they come to Florida State and do the same thing? Maybe not. Maybe they can't do what Rashad does, turning two balls he gets in one game to 60-yard touchdowns. They get the ball thrown to them 12 times."

Still, humility doesn't show up in a box score, and Greene isn't shying away from the obvious.

He's spent the offseason refining his skill set, working against Joyner. He's hit the weight room to add bulk, hoping to open the season nearly 20 pounds heavier than where he ended 2012. He sees the opportunity to make a statement about his game without the need for context, and he never misses an opportunity.

"Just like any other receiver," Greene said, "yeah, I want the ball a lot more."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State tight end Christo Kourtzidis will transfer, his father, Akis, confirmed Thursday. The move leaves a gaping hole at a key position on the Seminoles' roster.

Kourtzidis played sparingly as a freshman in 2012, but figured to see more action this year after senior Kevin Haplea suffered a season-ending knee injury during summer workouts.

Kourtzidis was battling his way back from his own injury as well. He suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder in Florida State's Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois in January but continued to work out through the first week of spring practice. After a half-dozen practice sessions, however, the team determined surgery was the best option.

With Kourtzidis' departure, Florida State has just two scholarship tight ends on its roster -- freshman Jeremy Kerr and junior Nick O'Leary, who is also recovering from serious injuries following a motorcycle accident this summer.

O'Leary is expected to be ready for the start of fall camp -- which opens Aug. 6 -- but coach Jimbo Fisher said earlier this week that the team was already going to have to be creative in filling voids at tight end.

"Kerr has got to come on, and then we also have some of our big linemen," Fisher said. "You can flip-flop, bring extra linemen in the game, do different things to create those edges. We'll have to work and make sure we do have a plan."

Kourtzidis was a three-star recruit out of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran in FSU's highly regarded 2012 signing class.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The buzz at Pittsburgh began as soon as the schedule was announced, and Panthers coach Paul Chryst said he knows he'll have his handful when the Panthers make their ACC debut against Florida State.

"They're a well-coached team with good players," Chryst said. "They're worthy of the praise and the accolades they're getting."

Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the ACC this year after moving from the Big East, and Chryst said he's already begun work breaking down his 2013 conference opponents -- with Florida State first up.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston's lack of experience makes it tough for season-opening opponent Pittsburgh to prepare for him.
Of course, the learning curve is made even tougher because Florida State will head to Pittsburgh with a new starting quarterback and a new defensive scheme. That makes preparation nearly impossible.

"You know there's some stuff you won't be prepared for, but you try to do the best you can," Chryst said. "As a coach you try to prepare for the unknown -- but that's kind of, how the hell do you do that? I don't know."

On the other side, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said he expects his team to benefit from the tough start to the schedule.

"You have a better summer, a better fall camp, more attention to detail quicker," Fisher said. "Ideally you'd like them in a non-conference situation with a significant opponent, but I think it's good."

This marks the first time Florida State has opened its season against a team from a power conference since 2009, when it lost to Miami 38-34.

Benjamin improving: For all the buzz that's surrounded him for two years in Tallahassee, receiver Kelvin Benjamin still hasn't fully realized his potential. But it's that hype that may have hurt him, Fisher said, and Benjamin finally appears ready to turn a corner.

"People thought he had to do the spectacular thing, and he always felt pressure he had to do something special," Fisher said. "You run that drag route, that curl route -- you'll do more by just doing normal, it'll happen for you. That's the thing that's emerged. You see that pressure off him a little bit. He's really relaxing now and playing within the offense and it's getting more consistent."

Benjamin finished fourth on the team with 30 catches and 495 yards last season, but he mustered just 52 yards total in his final five games.

But fellow receiver Rashad Greene said he's seen a more focused version of Benjamin this summer, and he's expecting better results when the season begins.

"I can see that he's taken it a lot more serious," Greene said. "He's working a lot more. He's focused. A guy like that with so much ability and that big, you know you've got to respect him."

Coming and going: Fisher said he doesn't anticipate any significant injury issues when camp opens in two weeks.

Tight end Kevin Haplea will miss the season, but Fisher said every other player who underwent surgery this offseason should be ready to go, including Christo Kourtzidis, who is likely to take Haplea's spot on the depth chart.

Fisher also said the team is preparing as if receiver Greg Dent will not be available. Dent is suspended indefinitely after being charged with sexual assault last month.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State tight end Kevin Haplea is expected to miss the season with a torn ACL, the school confirmed Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Haplea sidelined, Florida State will likely turn to sophomore Christo Kourtzidis, who underwent shoulder surgery this spring, and incoming freshman Jeremy Kerr to back up O'Leary.
Tight end is an interesting position to watch at Florida State. Though it appears to be a deep group, it's not that far away from being bare.

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.
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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FSU's spring winners and losers 

April, 15, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- While Jimbo Fisher won't be etching anything into stone after Saturday's spring game, there were clearly a few players who took big leaps forward during the past month and a few more who saw significant opportunities slip away.

WINNERS

Jameis Winston, QB

The performance: Winston entered the spring third on the depth chart, but tops in potential. He didn't disappoint. By spring's end, he was splitting first-team reps with Clint Trickett and dominated FSU's spring game, solidifying his place as the fan's choice for the starting job even if Fisher hasn't made anything official.

What comes next: Heisman? National championship? The Hall of Fame? With Winston, there doesn't appear to be such a thing as setting the bar too high. Fisher might be trying to temper expectations, but that's likely a lost cause. Winston still has plenty of work to do before he reaches the vast heights predicted for him, but he's only burnished his resume during the past month. What comes next for him though? "It's baseball season," he said after Saturday's spring game.


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was a lost year, and Christian Green isn't particularly interested in debating the reasons why he rarely saw the field in 2012. He's simply turning the page.

[+] EnlargeChristian Green
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreAfter being a focal point of the offense in 2011, Christian Green virtually disappeared from the Seminoles attack last season.
"I don't really get into that. It just happened," said Green, who followed up on his 450-yard freshman campaign by making just three catches as a sophomore. "They're the coaches, so they decide who plays and who doesn't. All I have to do is work hard and do what I've been doing and look forward to what's going to happen now."

Still, the questions linger. How could a player with obvious talent and a solid season under his belt simply disappear from the offense?

Jimbo Fisher insisted it was largely a numbers game last season. Florida State had a bevy of quality pass catchers, and Green simply didn't perform well enough in practice to see regular action on game day. Green ranked 12th among FSU players in targets last season, and no one on the team caught a lower percentage of the balls thrown his way.

"It was frustrating, but everything happens for a reason, so I just keep working and do what I have to do to get better," Green said. That's the coaches decision who plays and who doesn't. I just have to focus on myself and get better."

If both parties remain vague on what negated Green's 2012 season, however, both also seem optimistic about what could be in store for 2013.

While Fisher hasn't pegged Green as Florida State's top receiver this spring, the junior has at least been in the conversation, with the Seminoles' coach routinely offering positive reviews of his practice performance. That's a major improvement after Green's name was rarely mentioned at all last season.

And Green sees room to grow, too. Rodney Smith is gone, which opens up playing time, and after spending 2012 working with the reserves, he's got as good a rapport as anyone with FSU's new group of quarterbacks contending for the starting job.

Whether all of that coalesces into regular playing time in the fall remains, like so many others surrounding Green, an unanswered question. The difference is, Green's focused on finding answers.

"I always put high expectations on myself," Green said. "I continue to work. I can't control what goes on with playing time, so I'll do what I've always done and just work hard and do the little things they preach to us and we'll see what it leads."

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Noles 2013 snapshot: Jeremy Kerr 

March, 8, 2013
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Now that national signing day is behind us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

Vitals: Tight end Jeremy Kerr (St. Petersburg, Fla./St. Petersburg), 6-foot-5, 250 pounds

Committed: Jan. 23, 2013

ESPN.com grade: 71, three-star prospect

ESPN.com rankings: No. 38 tight end prospect in the country, No. 617 player in the Southeast region and No. 237 prospect in the state of Florida


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Fisher: Winston's Choice Won't Be A Surprise
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said that Jameis Winston's decision to remain in college or leave for the NFL will not be a surprise either way.
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