TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State watched Oklahoma State’s safeties crash the line of scrimmage in the opener, but Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said that wasn’t unexpected from the Cowboys even though FSU is tasked with reshaping its passing game.
Moving forward, however, the Seminoles could see defenses make a concerted effort to test the passing attack as Florida State still searches for a playmaking target opposite Rashad Greene after losing two of its top three receivers from 2013.
“I can’t predict what teams are going to try to do but of course their main focus is going to be to try and stop Rashad and [tight end] Nick [O’Leary], and that’s why I say those younger guys are going to have to step up,” quarterback Jameis Winston said. “And that’s why I say [the passing game] is a work in progress because we’ve got to get those guys ready for the show.”
Fisher said there is no disappointment among his of receivers outside of Greene, but the group is relatively inexperienced, combining for 21 catches last season. Florida State lost 108 receptions and nearly 2,000 yards when Kelvin Benjamin, a first-round pick, and Kenny Shaw departed for the NFL.
On signing day in early February, there was the hope within the Florida State community that 2014 signees Ja’Vonn Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph would contribute immediately to the Seminoles offense. Those three were all ranked among the top 117 recruits in the 2014 ESPN 300. The hype was only heightened during the summer and preseason camp as rave reviews from Fisher and the rest of the team poured in.
In the week leading up to the opener, Fisher spoke confidently that all three would avoid redshirts and factor into the offense, but Lane and Rudolph saw the field only sparingly against the Cowboys.
Florida State completed 25 passes for 370 yards in Week 1, but half that production came from Greene (11 catches, 203 yards), prompting the senior to tell the Tallahassee Democrat after the game that he feels Florida State has to “get back in the lab and balance this offense out. … I don’t want to be the one individual that has to put this thing on my back.” Fisher said it was his playcalling that dictated the passing offense run through Greene, and Winston added he felt the need to rely on Greene and O’Leary since it was the first game of the season.
Senior Christian Green started at receiver in the opener and began strong with two catches in the first quarter including a 62-yard completion, but he didn’t catch another pass the rest of the game. Excluding Rashad Greene, Florida State’s receivers combined for five catches Saturday.
“The receivers [need] to come in and get open and make plays as well,” Christian Green said, “so Jameis can feel comfortable with us.”
The onus to create big plays in the passing game could ironically fall to the two shortest scholarship players on Florida State’s roster: 5-foot-7 Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield and 5-foot-9 Jesus “Bobo” Wilson.
Whitfield saw his most extensive playing time at receiver in the opener and responded with three catches for 30 yards. More than the stats, Fisher and Winston said the biggest positive in Whitfield’s game was those receptions came on routes he had to cut short once he realized Winston was blitzed, which is a key role for a slot receiver.
Wilson was suspended for the first game of the season after he pled down to two misdemeanors in July. He was originally charged with third-degree grand grand theft, a felony, for taking another student’s scooter.
At 5-9 and 177 pounds, Wilson does not fit the mold of the prototypical receiver and doesn’t come anywhere close to Benjamin’s 6-5, 240-pound build. However, Wilson’s speed, agility and route running makes him a legitimate threat as an outside receiver, Fisher said, and during an open practice last month Wilson was seen beating cornerback P.J. Williams, a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, on a deep touchdown.
“Bobo is strong. He’s cut up and he’s physical,” Winston said. “I promise people said the same thing about [5-8 Lamarcus] Joyner being short, but it won’t change the way they play on the field.
“…Once they get out there and get used to the atmosphere and how things go at Florida State, I believe we’ve got some real talented guys.”