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2011 Florida State Preview – Offense
Florida State QB E.J. Manuel
Florida State QB E.J. Manuel
Posted Jun 18, 2011 2011 Preview - Florida State Seminole Offense

Florida State Seminoles

Preview 2011 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: Is E.J. Manuel ready to be the field general of the Florida State offense? No other question carries more significance around Tallahassee heading into the 2011 season. Although he has all of the physical tools for success, replacing Christian Ponder is no small chore. Fortunately, the junior will have an able support staff as he attempts to guide the ‘Noles to their third straight year averaging 30 points a game. The skill positions are flush with depth, with speedy Chris Thompson and Bert Reed leading the backs and receivers, respectively. Plus, the line figures to hold up in pass protection, especially with the returns of starting tackles Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders. Manuel’s biggest challenges will be to light a spark beneath the passing attack, manage the game like a veteran, and trade a few more field goal attempts for touchdowns.

Returning Leaders
Passing: E.J. Manuel
65-93, 861 yds, 4 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing: Chris Thompson
134 carries, 845 yds, 6 TDs
Receiving: Bert Reed
58 catches, 614 yds, 2 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior LT Andrew Datko
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior C Jacob Fahrenkrug
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore G Bryan Stork
Best pro prospect: Datko
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Datko, 2) Junior QB E.J. Manuel, 3) Junior RB Chris Thompson
Strength of the offense: The ground game, fullback, wide receiver depth, pass protection, third down conversions
Weakness of the offense: The passing game, O-line depth, red zone conversions


State of the Unit: The graduation of Christian Ponder marks the beginning of a new era behind center in Tallahassee. The first round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings leaves behind a legacy of veteran leadership and accurate passing. However, he also suffered from nagging injuries that created an air of uncertainty at times on offense. The Seminoles are keeping their fingers crossed that health isn’t a factor in 2011 since experience off the bench is non-existent.

Junior E.J. Manuel was plucked out of Virginia Beach three years ago with this moment in mind. One of the nation’s top recruits of 2008, he’s a 6-5, 234-pounder, with a unique array of physical skills. The upshot of Ponder’s injuries are that they afforded Manuel playing time in 17 games, including appearances in the 2010 Gator Bowl and last season’s ACC title game. Last fall, he went 65-of-93 for 861 yards, four touchdowns, and four picks, adding 170 yards and a score on the ground. Off the charts physically, he needs to mature as a passer and make better reads as the season progresses.

The backup job is up for grabs. Considering the program’s problems with injuries, it ought to be closely watched. Going neck-and-neck coming out of spring were 6-1, 214-pound sophomore Will Secord and 6-2, 175-pound redshirt freshman Clint Trickett . While Secord is a lefty and Trickett throws right-handed, the competitors are relatively similar. Neither has attempted a pass or throws with much zip, but both are bright and have a solid grasp on the system.

Watch Out For … the staff to implement a few more designed runs into the offensive system. Make no mistake about it, Manuel is pass-first quarterback. However, his long frame and good wheels, a la Terrelle Pryor or Cam Newton, should encourage the coaches to make better use of his athleticism.
Strength: The measurables. What do you get when you combine a terrific athlete with a 6-5, 234-pound frame? Options. Actually, more options than a Florida State coaching staff has had in quite some time. Manuel can beat defenses in myriad ways, which will put added pressure on opposing defenses.
Weakness: Polish in the passing game. In Ponder, the ‘Noles had a proven passer and a genuine pro. Manuel, on the other hand, remains raw at this stage of his career. He still needs to improve his progressions and make better overall decisions. Plus, behind him are a couple of unproven players, with not a single passing attempt between them.
Outlook: It’s Manuel’s job for the next two seasons, and Florida State fans are eager to see if he’s ready to approach his expectations right away. He has the tools, but just needs more reps and a higher level of consistency as a game manager. He’ll also need to remain off the trainer’s table since it doesn’t appear his backups will be ready to deliver in a big spot this fall.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: From tailback to fullback, the Seminoles return intact from last season and bring back their top three ground-gainers. The backfield will boast a nice mix of veteran talent, placing the pressure on the coaching staff to use each weapon wisely and keep everyone happy. None of the trio averaged less than 5.7 yards a carry, fueling the ACC’s fourth-ranked running game.

Last year’s leading rusher is this year’s favorite to be the starter, 5-8, 190-pound junior Chris Thompson . The long ball hitter of the group, he rushed for 845 yards and six scores on 134 carries, adding 19 receptions for 155 yards and another score. He hits the hole quickly, cuts back faster than any back on the roster, and will squirt through small cracks in the defense. More of a scatback than a true workhorse, it’s unlikely that he’ll be expected to handle the ball 20 times a game.

There is no shortage of capable options keeping Thompson from getting overworked. Seniors Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones both have plenty of experience and the requisite talent to move into the lineup if asked. The Seminoles have gotten a lot of production out of the 5-11, 187-pound Thomas, including 490 yards and six touchdowns on 86 carries a year ago. At his best outside the tackles, he runs with light feet and the quickness to glide past defenders. Jones is a different brand of runner, a powerful 5-10, 212-pounder capable of working the area between the tackles. However, he’s lacked consistency throughout his career and has had some issues managing the effects of Type-1 Diabetes.

Although he only carried the ball 23 times for 112 yards and four scores, an argument could be made for 6-0, 219-pound junior Lonnie Pryor being one of the MVPs of the offense. An outstanding all-around fullback, he excels in blitz pickup and creates many of the holes that the tailbacks run through. He’s also a fine receiver, catching three touchdown passes in 2010.

Watch Out For … the role of the rookies. The Seminoles nabbed a couple of dynamite backs in the latest recruiting class, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. . Wilder is a can’t-miss 6-2, 220-pounder and Freeman has already enrolled and impressed the staff with his toughness in the spring.
Strength: Depth. Florida State will not want for capable running backs this season, especially after the rookies join the mix in the summer. It’s a loaded backfield, replete with experienced players and big-play guys. As the season grinds on, fresh legs will become an important asset for the offense.
Weakness: Physicality at tailback. While Jones is one short-yardage option, he’s also had enough fumble problems in the past to make the staff think twice about using him near the goal line. Thompson and Thomas are similar runners, quick to the edge, but lacking the pop to work the interior.
Outlook: The offensive coaches will face one of those good problems this fall, trying to best utilize an abundance of talent at the same position. Figure there to be some kind of a committee approach, with at least one of the rookies sitting out as a redshirt. The ‘Noles are likely to go with the hot hand, making it unlikely one back will be in the starting lineup from wire-to-wire.
Unit Rating: 8.5


State of the Unit: Four wide receivers caught at least 30 passes last season. All of them are back in Tallahassee for at least one more season. However, despite boasting plenty of returning talent, Florida State will still be looking for more consistency and playmaking out of its pass-catchers. The group lost Jarmon Fortson in August and got off to a slow start before flattening the learning curve over the final month of the year.

The corps’ top returner is 5-10, 175-pound senior Bert Reed , who caught a team-high 58 passes for 614 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. Although it took time for him to adjust to flanker after playing the slot, he has the 4.3 speed to be the team’s primary deep threat. He’s accelerates too quickly to average just over 10 yards a catch for a second straight year.

Complementing Reed on the other side will be 6-3, 206-pound junior Willie Haulstead , the bigger, more physical target for the Seminole quarterbacks. He improved as the season progressed, starting four games and erupting for 10 grabs versus North Carolina. He finished with 38 catches for 587 yards and six touchdowns. Using his body and big hands well, he’ll make the tough grabs over the middle.

Providing experience and depth off the bench will be 6-6, 216-pound junior Rodney Smith and 5-11, 200-pound senior Taiwan Easterling . Smith has a long frame and a sizable catch-radius, using them to make a career-high 31 receptions for 448 yards and three touchdowns. While still raw, his size is something the Seminoles will want to leverage better this fall. Easterling, like Reed, leans more on his agility and quickness to make plays. Second on the team a year ago, he caught 43 passes for 551 yards and five touchdowns.

At least for now, the starting tight end is 6-3, 237-pound junior Ja’Baris Little who has yet to put his imprint on the passing game. Used mainly as a blocker over the last two seasons, he caught only one pass for five yards as a backup last fall.

Watch Out For … the availability of 6-6, 260-pound senior TE Beau Reliford . An academic casualty in the spring, he needs to get his act together before the team reconvenes in the summer. The ‘Noles could use his size and strength at the end of the line, especially after he pulled down a career-high 17 balls for 198 yards and a score in 2010.
Strength: Talent on the two-deep. Florida State essentially has interchangeable parts on the first two teams. When the ‘Noles want to exploit their intimidating size, they’ll dial up Haulstead or Smith. For a quick jolt of electricity, Reed or Easterling will be the choice. All four played significantly in 2010, catching no fewer than 30 passes.
Weakness: Consistency. Collectively, the wide receivers need to raise the level of their play in 2011, running crisper routes and eliminating dropped passes. It took a while before this group got comfortable last fall. Now that the four primary receivers are all upperclassmen, no such margin for error will be acceptable in 2011.
Outlook: The time has come for the Florida State receivers to start delivering on all of their potential and physical ability. Of the four likely go-to guys, two are seniors and the other two made huge strides as sophomores last fall. With E.J. Manuel set to begin his debut as the starter under center, it’s incumbent upon his collection of hands to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: Although a respectable three starters are back in the lineup, the focus this offseason is on the two regulars who’ve graduated. The Seminoles must move forward without Rodney Hudson, the most decorated lineman in program history, and all-star C Ryan McMahon. With that pair goes a lot of minutes and a lot of leadership, which has hopefully rubbed off on the next generation of ‘Nole blockers.

The new cornerstone of the offensive line is 6-6, 311-pound senior Andrew Datko , a starter since his freshman year. A hidden gem coming out of high school, who now has a shot of playing in the NFL, he’s blossomed under the tutelage of Rick Trickett. He’s added considerable muscle over the years and uses his upper body strength to control opposing ends at the point of contact. After allowing just one sack all year, he graded second only to Hudson on the team.

At right tackle will be another talented senior, 6-6, 307-pound Zebrie Sanders . A fourth-year starter, he has terrific footwork and is in outstanding shape by any position’s standards. While consistency needs to be addressed, he graded out at a career-best 81% last season and was second on the team with 37 knockdown blocks.

The big story on the inside has been the addition of 6-4, 307-pound junior Jacob Fahrenkrug , a transfer from North Dakota State College of Science. One of the nation’s top JUCO prospects a year ago, he quickly scaled the depth chart and impressed the staff throughout the spring with his quick retention of new assignments.

The situation at guard features one veteran and one question mark. To the left of center will be 6-4, 300-pound senior David Spurlock , who’s returning after missing the second half of 2010 with a concussion. Bringing physicality and a nasty attitude to this group, he’s at his best when run blocking in a north-south direction.

Right guard, on the hand, has a little less certainty. The frontrunner is 6-4, 304-pound sophomore Bryan Stork , an up-and-comer in the trenches. The former high school tight end started four games as a rookie, peaking in the bowl game with South Carolina. Excelling in pass protection, he’ll be tough to unseat. Nipping at Stork’s heels is 6-2, 300-pound sophomore Henry Orelus , one of the line’s more versatile blockers. Able to fill in at multiple positions, he lettered as a rookie, earning a start in the Maryland game.

Watch Out For … Fahrenkrug to make a seamless transition to the ACC. The coaches couldn’t stop raving about their new junior-college import, quickly naming him the starter at center. His learning curve was flat, a promising omen for what’s about to come in the summer and fall.
Strength: Pass protection. Yeah, the line needs to improve in this area, but it has the right ingredients to get it done. The tackles are seniors, with NFL ceilings, and the interior linemen do a nice job of sealing off the pass rush. Add in the athletic ability of new QB E.J. Manuel, and the ‘Noles shouldn’t allow many sacks this season.
Weakness: Durability. The biggest knock on the line is that it’s struggled to remain healthy. Datko missed the spring following shoulder surgery, Sanders has been banged up, and Spurlock cannot afford another concussion. The Seminoles’ depth is already a concern that’s being complicated by the spate of injuries.
Outlook: While you don’t get better by losing Hudson and McMahon, Florida State retains enough key parts to feel confident about the line heading into 2011. The margin for error, however, is considerably smaller than it was last fall. The keys will be staying healthy and getting Fahrenkrug assimilated as fast as possible. If those two hurdles can be cleared, the ‘Noles will again boast on of the ACC’s better blocking units.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2011 Florida State Preview | 2011 Florida State Offense
- 2011 Florida State Defense | 2011 Florida State Depth Chart
- Florida State Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006