Florida State Seminoles: Ryan Green
First-quarter defense: Any criticism of Florida State's defense thus far is nitpicking, but that doesn't mean concerns don't exist, and the slow starts in each of the first two games are primary causes for pessimism. On the first four drives in each of their first two games, the Seminoles have allowed an average of 5.7 yards per play. After that, the average dips to just 3.1 yards per play. Bethune-Cookman might not have FBS talent, but in its three previous games against FBS foes, it scored first. That should give some extra incentive to the FSU defense to come out ready to play.
Keeping the streak alive: Through two games, Florida State's passing game has been stellar. Much of the credit goes to Winston, who is off to a remarkable start. But the players at the other end of those passes shouldn't be forgotten either. FSU receivers have yet to drop a pass -- in fact, they've hauled in two of Winston's five incompletions just barely out of bounds -- while corralling a handful of circus catches in big moments.
Freshman impact: Fisher was able to get significant reps for a number of freshmen in last week's win, including Ryan Green, Freddie Stevenson and Levonte Whitfield. That trend should continue against Bethune-Cookman, particularly if Florida State can build a big lead quickly. Thirteen true freshmen have seen action already, but Fisher said there has been some regression among the youngsters on the practice field. A little more game-day work might be just what they need to get their legs back under them.
A milestone win: Last week's win over Nevada boosted Fisher's record to 33-10 at Florida State, giving him the highest winning percentage in ACC history -- just ahead of Bobby Bowden's .764 mark. A win this week would add more history, giving Florida State its 500th win. Of course, the math is a bit tricky. Thanks to NCAA sanctions, only 488 of those count in the official record books, but nevertheless, a win against Bethune-Cookman would mark the 500th victory celebration for the school.
Jalen Ramsey is different. All he knows is what he has done before and what he expects to do again. He wasn't making guesses about his production. He knew.
"He came in saying it," Fisher said. "We all said, 'OK,' but when you're around him, you see a different guy. He's a mature guy."
Now that, Fisher said, is a lofty standard, even for Ramsey.
"He's a heck of a player now, but let's give him a break before we put him in Deion's category," Fisher said. "But size, speed, athleticism and very mature, very hard-working and very intelligent. He has a drive to be good, and he's very mature above his years. That's what allowed him to be able to do that, and he's done a tremendous job. He's going to be a heck of a football player."
But it's not just Ramsey exceeding early expectations. With an interception in his first game and five tackles -- including snuffing out a fake field-goal try -- in his second, he has made the biggest impact, but 12 other true freshmen have seen action for Florida State this season.
Defensive end Demarcus Walker started the opener along with Ramsey, meaning more true freshmen got starting nods in just one game in 2013 than did so in all of 2012.
Running backs Ryan Green and Freddie Stevenson both scored touchdowns against Nevada. That marked the first time two true freshmen reached the end zone for Florida State since Devonta Freeman and Nick O'Leary did it against Duke in 2011.
Five true freshmen have recorded a tackle so far, led by Ramsey's nine. That's just one fewer than did so in all of 2012.
Two more have caught passes, two others have seen work on the offensive line. For a team with sights set on a national championship, that's a lot of youth. In all, a higher percentage of Florida State's 2013 freshman signing class (65 percent) has seen action than in any other year since Fisher took over as head coach.
The way Fisher sees it, getting that group early playing time is a necessity.
"You can explain it to them a thousand ways," Fisher said, "but until they go out and make a mistake or make a play, it doesn't matter."
Last week's blowout win over Nevada gave a handful of the freshmen a chance to shine. Levonte Whitfield's circus catch along the sideline earned praise from Fisher. Green made the most of his late-game opportunities, racking up 78 yards on just five carries. Jesus Wilson worked in on punt-return duties, racking up 29 yards on two tries.
Two easy wins to open the season and an early bye week have helped Fisher ready his freshmen for battle. A date with an FCS foe this week should allow for additional playing time for some of the backups, too. The hope, Fisher said, is that the early experience will mean none of the 13 freshmen who has seen the field so far will be playing like freshmen by the time Florida State hits the meat of its schedule.
"That will help out a lot," receiver Christian Green said. "Them coming from high school to this level is definitely different. They're getting used to the game speed, how things go in a game."
Of course, not all freshmen are created equal, and there have already been some casualties. Stevenson practiced this spring at linebacker, but Fisher believes his future could be at fullback. Wilson Bell was FSU's most advanced freshman on the offensive line, but he went down with a knee injury against Nevada and could be headed for a medical redshirt. Seven other members of Florida State's 10th-ranked signing class appear destined for a redshirt, too.
But the bulk of the group already has dipped its toes into the water, and that's a crucial bit of early development in case Ramsey isn't the only one Florida State needs to throw into the deep end as the season progresses.
"They get that out of their system -- the nerves, the jitters," Fisher said. "Once they get out there, they realize it's football."
Through eight practices, Williams' teammates knew he was something special, too. That was the entirety of Williams' prep work before he was unleashed against Nevada, sprinting untouched for 65 yards and a touchdown on his first carry. He certainly hadn't mastered the craft, but a toss sweep into daylight was the play he was born to run.
"It's been something they'd been talking about, and I'd been kind of interested in it," Williams said. "I just said, 'Coach, I'll do it.' "
The final push, however, wasn't about Williams' potential on offense, but rather Florida State's need for a safety net at running back.
In the 10 days from the end of fall camp until the post-game celebration in Pittsburgh, Fisher's backfield depth chart was slashed. Mario Pender was ruled academically ineligible, and while freshman Ryan Green flashed potential, he wasn't ready for a major role. When James Wilder Jr. fell shoulder first into the turf against Pitt, re-aggravating an injury that had nagged him throughout 2012, a move had to be made.
"James had a ding, and we didn't know if he'd be able to go or not," Williams said. "[The move] was another way to help the team."
Williams finished his first game at his new position with eight carries, 110 yards and a touchdown. His 65-yard run showcased his speed. His 11-yard rumble in the fourth quarter, with 10 Nevada defenders draped atop him for the final few feet, showcased his strength. He was, as Fisher had said so many times, a natural.
"I'm not trying to say I was rubbing a crystal ball," Fisher said. "That guy is a talented cat."
Wilder played, too. He carried six times for 45 yards and a touchdown, and his devastating lead block in the third quarter helped spring Devonta Freeman for a 60-yard run.
But after virtually every tackle and every fierce block, Wilder also massaged his shoulder and appeared visibly bothered by the injury.
"It was a couple times where it went numb," Wilder said. "It's something I have to expect for my running style. It's dinged up, but it's nothing too serious."
It's a message Fisher repeated, too. Asked after the game about Wilder's health, Fisher joked the tailback just needed "to rub some dirt on it." In other words, it's not an injury likely to improve with extended rest, but rather something Wilder will have to play through going forward.
"I'm the big back, I've got to suck it up and play," Wilder said. "It doesn't really bother me, and I just don't want to sit out. I want to go out there and compete every week."
For now, Wilder insists that won't be an issue. The shoulder soreness plagued him throughout last season, and he still finished with 635 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. The problems this year are minor compared to the pain he endured a season ago, he said, and the numbness hasn't affected his play. The lone casualty thus far was his trademarked high-top haircut, which he trimmed after it brought him bad luck, he said.
For Florida State, however, Wilder's injury actually might have been something of a blessing. A healthy Wilder is a powerful weapon, but the slightly battered version might have been the necessary push to add another valuable asset.
Williams' debut was everything Fisher had hoped, but it certainly wasn't an end to the story. Nevada's defense capitulated to Florida State's ground game to the tune of 377 yards, and Williams was just one of the multitudes to reap the rewards. He still must master blocking schemes and pass protection, and his role on offense remains a bit nebulous as the Seminoles march toward the heart of the ACC schedule.
But what's clear after Saturday's win over Nevada is that the tightrope Florida State might have walked with a battered backfield won't be quite so precarious now. Wilder is still pummeling defenders, bum shoulder and all, and Williams delivered evidence he's more than just a safety net.
"When he gets space, he can hit home runs and he's hard to tackle because he's a big, physical guy there, too," Fisher said. "Karlos will provide us with a very big piece to the puzzle in my opinion as the year goes on."
Winston isn't perfect ... but he's close: Sure, even the most optimistic fans had to expect a flubbed throw from the reshirt freshman eventually, but it was no less shocking when Winston lobbed a high throw down the middle of the field for an easy interception in the second quarter Saturday. But if there were questions about how Winston would respond to adversity, he answered them ardently against Nevada. After the pick, Winston was 13-of-13 passing for 184 yards and led six straight touchdown drives, including a picture-perfect two-minute drill before the half.
Jimbo Fisher knows what he's talking about: Nevermind that Fisher turned wide receiver Xavier Rhodes into an NFL first-round pick at corner. Or that he might do the same for defensive tackle-turned-offensive lineman Cameron Erving. Fisher's latest position swap may end up his best. Karlos Williams practiced just eight days at tailback after spending his career at safety, but he still turned his first carry into a 65-yard TD run and finished the game with eight carries for 110 yards.
Jeremy Pruitt can play it safe, too: After three years under Mark Stoops' conservative philosophy, the promise from Pruitt was lots of blitzing and lots of aggression. That still may be the case, but against Nevada, FSU's D didn't push the envelope much. The lone takeaway was gift-wrapped for Tyler Hunter, FSU had no sacks and just two tackles for loss before garbage time with the backups, and yet the uptempo Wolfpack still managed just 219 yards in the game. Nevada ran nearly 20 fewer plays than its season average, in spite of a sizable time-of-possession edge. And like the opener in Pittsburgh, FSU's D got better as the game wore on -- allowing Nevada just 76 yards on its final nine drives.
FSU has some depth: Sure, it was Nevada. And sure, the Wolfpack had their reserves in the game for much of the second half. But it's nevertheless rewarding for Fisher to see some of his younger players and reserves make some noise. Ruben Carter got the start at right guard for injured Tre Jackson and looked good. Freddie Stevenson and Ryan Green got their first touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Reggie Northrup and Ukeme Eligwe made some big plays on defense. In all, Florida State's eight touchdowns were scored by eight different players.
Believe the hype: Before it's all over, Jameis Winston will play in somewhere between 23 and 55 more games at FSU, so there's plenty of history left to be written before anyone crowns him as an all-time great. But as far as debuts go, they don't get much better than this. Winston was 25-of-27 passing for 356 yards and four TDs (there was a fifth on the ground), shattering even the most extreme expectations. Before the game, it was easy to wonder if all the hype was too much for a guy making his first start on the road amid massive expectations. Now, the only question is what he'll do for an encore.
The freshmen got to play: Winston wasn't the only freshman to make some noise Monday. Demarcus Walker and Jalen Ramsey both got starting nods on defense, with Ramsey hauling in a first-half interception and making four tackles. Roberto Aguayo connected on both of his field-goal attempts. Isaiah Jones and Ryan Green saw some late action as well. FSU got a chance to see a lot of youngsters Monday, and that bodes well moving forward.
The defense is a work in progress: There was plenty to like about how FSU played, forcing a couple of turnovers (and having their hands on a few more potential takeaways) while essentially shutting down Pitt's offense in the second half. But Pitt's Tom Savage isn't going to be the most challenging QB the defense faces all season, and still, the Seminoles' defense didn't get much pressure unless they brought the blitz. That's a bit of a concern, as were the numerous big plays Pitt made by getting outside the tackles. There's work to be done, and DC Jeremy Pruitt will no doubt be pushing the unit hard before Nevada arrives in Week 3, but at the end of the day, FSU still allowed just 297 total yards of offense.
Depth issues? What depth issues?: Maybe Florida State's limited depth chart at receiver and tight end will be an issue at some point down the road -- and certainly, one injury in either area could be a major problem -- but it was smooth sailing Monday. Nick O'Leary finally delivered a game that so many fans had assumed would be the norm when he arrived, becoming Winston's favorite end-zone target and catching three TDs. Meanwhile, the veteran receivers looked the part, as Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin combined for 17 catches, 293 yards and a touchdown.
Most Valuable Freshman: Is there any answer possible other than Jameis Winston? The only problem is, no one who knows Florida State's new starting quarterback will admit that he looks like a freshman, and the hype surrounding him certainly wouldn't indicate he'd never taken a snap in a college game. Nevertheless, he's the heavy favorite in this category for good reason.
Biggest Surprise: It's been 17 years -- the longest stretch in the country -- but this is the season a Florida State running back finally cracks the 1,000-yard mark. In fact, to make up for lost time, both James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman will do it. Jimbo Fisher wants to run more to take the pressure off Winston, and the competition for carries won't be nearly as stiff as it was a year ago, when the pair combined for 1,347 yards.
Biggest Disappointment: There's seemingly universal enthusiasm about the new defensive scheme from coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and it's a system that should provide some big plays along the way. But it's a complex scheme, too, and odds are the learning curve will last beyond opening week. The blitzing and aggressive style should offer some highlight-reel hits, but will likely result in some busted coverages and ugly moments, too. Matching the success of the past two seasons will be a tall order.
Breakout Star: Wilder and Mario Edwards Jr. already have some box office cache because of their lineage, but both should make a name for themselves in 2013. But for a real breakout prospect, watch for cornerback P.J. Williams, who won a starting job amid fierce competition in the secondary. He's incredibly talented, and Fisher raves about his NFL potential.
Under-Appreciated Star: For a team with as much buzz as Florida State, it doesn't seem like there should be too many under-the-radar stars, but there's ample competition for this award. Rashad Greene, Tyler Hunter, Demonte McAllister, the interior linemen and a handful of others could rightfully call themselves under-appreciated, but at year's end, the man with the most out-of-whack impact-to-hype ratio will be Telvin Smith. He gets overshadowed on his own defense by a host of big names, but ask anyone in Florida State's locker room whose voice carries the most weight, and the results will be unanimous: Smith.
Top Prospect: FSU had 11 players drafted last year, including three in the first round. That doesn't mean the Seminoles won't send a slew of players to the NFL again in next year's draft. A handful of players -- Cameron Erving, Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner -- have first-round talent, but by year's end, the FSU player most likely to be hovering near the top of draft boards will be linebacker Christian Jones, whose diverse skill set and immense athleticism will be put to far better use in Pruitt's system this season.
MVP Offense: If all goes well for FSU, there will be plenty of options here, but the safe bet is Greene. He's led the Seminoles in receiving yards each of his first two seasons, but 2013 could still be a breakout year. He was targeted an average of 5.4 times per game in 2012, but there will be far fewer reliable options in the passing game in 2013, and that number could go up dramatically. If it does, look out. He led FSU receivers in completion percentage (75 percent) and is among the top scorers in the nation, finding the end zone once every eight touches in his career.
MVP Defense: This might be the toughest decision, but given his versatility, his leadership and his role in Pruitt's scheme, Joyner is the best bet. His decision to return for his senior year was a boon for FSU, and his move to corner should showcase his skill set nicely. His size may still hinder his draft stock, but no one will be able to argue with his production.
Bowl Destination: A look at the schedule shows three significant matchups -- at Clemson, vs. Miami and at Florida. It wouldn't be a surprise if FSU took two of three, but the problem is that Fisher somehow manages to also lose one he shouldn't. Will this be the year Florida State doesn't have an ugly slip-up? If it is, a BCS bowl game awaits. We'll say FSU vs. Louisville in the Orange Bowl.
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.
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.
Here's a quick rundown of what's left on Florida State's preseason to-do list:
Developing receivers: A knee injury will keep Jarred Haggins on the sideline all season, meaning Florida State is now down three senior wide receivers. Add in a finger injury that has limited junior Rashad Greene for the past week, and a position that figured to be among the deepest on the Seminoles' roster is now a major concern. Greene should be fine for the start of the season, but it's apparent that Florida State will still need to rely on a trio of freshmen to step up. Fisher has raved about Jesus Wilson throughout camp, and Levonte Whitfield and Isaiah Jones have talent to spare, but the transition to the college game is rarely a seamless one.
Depth at tight end: Fisher tried to put a happy face on the situation when camp opened, but the lack of depth at tight end remains a major concern. Giorgio Newberry made the switch from defensive end just a week before camp began, and while he's got the size to do the job, he's definitely a work in progress. Freshman Jeremy Kerr remains sidelined with a knee injury, and Fisher continues to tinker with options, using freshman defensive end Davarez Bryant at tight end during practice last week. While Fisher is eagerly toying with his options, the fact remains that starter Nick O'Leary is going to need to shoulder the burden for a thin group behind him.
Two for six: It's perhaps the silliest debate of camp, but the implications could be significant. When defensive end Dan Hicks switched from tight end this spring, he kept his old uniform number. The problem, however, is that cornerback Nick Waisome was already wearing the No. 6 jersey. Since then, neither player has been willing to give it up, meaning FSU can't use Hicks and Waisome -- both projected starters -- on the field at the same time. Fisher said he's leaving it up to the players to decide, likely in hopes one would be mature enough to choose playing time over a jersey number, but thus far neither player has caved.
Playing time for rookies: The freshman receivers figure to be necessities on offense this season, but beyond that, it's tough to tell where the rest of the newcomers fit in. Running back Ryan Green, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end DeMarcus Walker are among the most impressive freshmen of the fall, but Fisher said he wouldn't be surprised if the great majority of this year's class avoids a redshirt. Aside from Kerr, quarterback John Franklin and a couple of the offensive linemen, virtually every member of the Class of 2013 remains in the mix for playing time.
Secondary shake-up: It's a good problem to have, but Florida State's logjam of talent in the defensive backfield still leaves some question marks as the season approaches. When Lamarcus Joyner shifted from safety to corner, the questions about playing time began, and Pruitt has been quiet about potential answers. Joyner, Waisome, Ramsey, Ronald Darby and a slew of others are in the mix for regular reps, and Fisher has hinted that the Seminoles' defensive backs will be rotating early and often.
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.
"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."
Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. return as the elder statesmen entering their junior seasons. Mario Pender, after taking a redshirt last season, will be in his second year in Tallahassee. And Ryan Green, an incoming signee, will be the fourth scholarship tailback on the roster this fall.
Chad Abram, a senior, is the lone fullback on the roster.
Given that setup, the Seminoles would likely want to bring in two backs -- a bigger, fullback-type player and a true tailback -- in the Class of 2014.
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It's also a chance to have prospects on campus in numbers.
As far as recruiting events go, it wasn't furiously busy. What happened instead was a lot of marketing and road-paving for the future.
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While punt return practice amounted to only about a week of work this spring, the two primary candidates to see work were the two players who bookended last season with the job -- Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw. Both remain in competition for the role this season.
"You've still got other guys that will be in there, too, but punts are more about catching the ball than running," Fisher said.
His caution comes with ample evidence, as FSU fumbled away a myriad of punts last season, eventually costing Greene and, later, Tyler Hunter the job. That left things up to Shaw to close out the season, and he proved to be relatively effective. His 12.4 yard average trailed both Greene and Hunter, who both averaged better than 15, but Shaw never put the ball on the ground.
"When they gave me the job, I tried to do my best, and the coaches say I did a heck of a job," Shaw said.
But whether it's a job Shaw keeps remains to be seen. He's got a leg up now, but aside from Mario Pender, he's had little competition.
That may change in the fall when a bevy of potential return men join the fray. Hunter and Ronald Darby will both return from injuries that cost them the spring and could join the mix, along with speedster Marvin Bracy and incoming freshmen Ryan Green and Jalen Ramsey.
Perhaps the most intriguing candidate, however, is Lavonte Whitfield, whose combination of game-breaking speed and soft hands make him a good fit as FSU's next great punt returner.
"He's very natural at punt returns," Fisher said. "That sucker, punts will come down and lay right as his feet, and he'll scoop them up and go. He's got some tenacity to him."
For all of FSU's miscues in the punt return game a year ago, matching the production of 2012's return men may not be easy.
Florida State's average of 14.49 yards per return ranked eighth in the nation, and the Seminoles were one of just five teams to return three punts for touchdowns for the season.
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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Up next, a position that was a disaster in 2011 but the foundation of last season's offense: Running Backs
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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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