2012 Florida State Preview - Offense
Florida State QB EJ Manuel
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Florida State Seminole Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Success is still built from the lines out. Just ask the Seminoles. Florida State is flush with skill position talent, yet you might not know if the youth front wall is unable to grow up in time for the opener. The unit, banged up and littered with rookies, was a main reason why the program fell short of its 2011 goals. Now those freshmen, like LT Cameron Erving and C Austin Barron, are a year older and theoretically better prepared to help those around them flourish. Obviously, all eyes in Tallahassee will be on senior QB EJ Manuel, who is still looking for his breakout moment as a ‘Nole. He’s been close, and he’s physically gifted, but fans—and NFL scouts—are looking more production and more consistency. Manuel will have no qualms about the athletes who’ll be helping him reach his potential in 2012. The backs are deep and loaded with upside. Florida State needs to run the ball better this fall, and will have all kinds of viable options, such as senior Chris Thompson and heralded underclassmen James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman and Mario Pender. The corps of receivers, including up-and-coming TE Nick O’Leary, is only going to emerge with more reps. Rodney Smith is the elder statesman, while Rashad Greene and Christian Green are looking to build on impressive freshmen debuts.
Star of the offense: Senior QB EJ Manuel
Passing: EJ Manuel
203-311, 2,666 yds, 18 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Devonta Freeman
120 carries, 579 yds, 8 TDs
Receiving: Rashad Greene
38 catches, 596 yds, 7 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LT Cameron Erving
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Rashad Greene
Best pro prospect: Manuel
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Manuel, 2) Greene, 3) Senior WR Rodney Smith
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, depth and talent at the skill positions, fullback
Weakness of the offense: The O-line, consistency at the skill positions, durability, running game, third-down conversions, red-zone conversions
Senior EJ Manuel is about to begin his fifth season in Tallahassee—and second as the starter. The receiving corps has lots of potential. The line is mercifully a year older. With all of the planets beginning to align, Manuel is poised for the breakout season that many anticipated when he was one of America’s most coveted recruits of 2008. At least that’s the hope around campus. His physical ability has never been a concern, a big-armed athlete packaged in a 6-5, 238-pound frame. Now, he also has the reps following a workmanlike junior year in which he went 203-of-311 for 2,666 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also rushed for 151 yards and four more scores. Big plays, however, came at a premium, something Manuel hopes to change in his final year on campus.
The battle to be the backup actually wasn’t much of a battle after all. Sophomore Clint Trickett appears as if he’ll be Manuel’s caddy for a second straight year, building a bulge on 6-5, 232-pound redshirt freshman Jacob Coker. A wiry 6-2, 180-pound, Trickett gives nothing away in terms of arm strength. He gets good zip on his throws, while showing nice touch as well. He filled in nicely a year ago, going 44-of-72 for 675 yards, seven touchdowns and four picks.
Watch Out For … Manuel’s health. He’s fine, but will he remain that way throughout the 2012 campaign? The linchpin of this offense has had a tendency of getting dinged up throughout his career. Trickett was fine in an emergency role, especially versus Clemson, but the ‘Noles need No. 3 for all 12 games in order to stay in the ACC hunt.
Strength: The measurables. What do you get when you combine an outstanding, fifth-year athlete with a 6-5, 238-pound frame? Plenty of different options for Jimbo Fisher and his coaching staff. Manuel may be a pocket passer, with a great arm, but he can also make things happen with his feet. It’s that dual-threat component that makes the quarterback—and the offense—extra dangerous.
Weakness: Polish in the passing game. While the situation is better than it was a year ago, Florida State still needs Manuel to sharpen his passing skills, specifically his decision-making. While the overall numbers weren’t all that bad in 2011, too often the senior left the staff scratching its head with one of his throws.
Outlook: When Florida State signed Manuel almost five years ago, the hope was that he’d have already guided the program to a league championship, and copped some national awards. It’s yet to happen. Still, there’s plenty of reason for hope that this will be his breakthrough year, especially since the supporting cast figures to be more stable than it was last fall. If Manuel isn’t college football’s most pivotal player of 2012, he is certainly on the short list of candidates.
Unit Rating: 8
Since 15 practices in the spring weren’t enough to decongest the logjam at running back, Florida State plans to stage a four-man competition for playing time in the fall. The ground game sputtered throughout 2011, but don’t finger the backs. A lack of support and an early-season injury to Chris Thompson limited the group’s potential. The 5-8, 187-pound senior was the big-play guy of 2010, rushing for 845 yards and six scores on 134 carries, while adding 19 receptions for 155 yards and another score. However, last season he was limited by a herniated disc in his back to just 29 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown. If the back is fine, he could be a nice complement to the overall rushing attack.
When Thompson went down, then-freshman Devonta Freeman took over and played surprisingly well for such a young player. He rushed for a team-high 579 yards and eight scores on 120 carries, adding 15 catches for 111 yards. At 5-8 and 200 pounds, he showed a knack for squeezing through holes, yet is still powerful enough to lower his shoulder and barrel ahead for more yards. He has earned the right to get at least 10 touches a game.
Sophomore James Wilder Jr. would seem to be, at worst, a logical choice to be the team’s short-yardage back. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, the five-star recruit from 2011 is the biggest and most physical of the Florida State options. He earned 35 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown in his debut out of high school, now needing to run with even more assertiveness than a year ago.
Finally, the program’s most recent five-star gem, Mario Pender is already on campus, bucking for his piece of the pie. The 6-0, 190-pounder might be the squad’s best combination of speed and toughness, but still has a lot to learn when the ball isn’t in his hands. While he didn’t wow anyone in the spring, it’s only a matter of time before he starts showing he was the sixth-rated back in the country last year.
In 6-0, 229-pound senior Lonnie Pryor, Florida State boasts one of the game’s best all-around fullbacks. He excels at picking up the blitz, which is especially important in Tallahassee these days, and creates many of the holes that the tailbacks run through. He can also pick up tough yards, even though the ‘Noles gave him the ball just 27 times for 74 yards and two scores in 2011.
Watch Out For … Thompson’s burst. It just wasn’t there in the spring, a troubling sign for the senior and his team. If Thompson is unable to explode up the field the way he did two years ago, he has no business being in the huddle. The hope around the team is that he was just taking it easy, waiting until the summer to really let loose.
Strength: Depth. The ‘Noles have finally reached a point where they’re comfortable giving the ball to multiple players on the depth chart. The absence of a starter coming out of spring could be viewed in a number of different ways. The program believes the glass is half full, and that the logjam is attributable to having so many gifted players at one position.
Weakness: The little things. Thompson aside, this is a very young contingency of backs. And young backs tend to make more mistakes, such as putting the ball on the ground, missing assignments and failing to pick up the blitz. The trio of underclassmen needs to mature in a hurry, because those who don’t will have a difficult time earning reps.
Outlook: The backs are just oozing with potential, the result of top-notch recruiting over the past two seasons. However, last year’s feeble numbers on the ground are only going to improve if the line starts blocking better, and the young runners evolve into more consistent playmakers. Look for a committee to be installed instead of a single feature back, as the coaches opt to ride the hot hand throughout the year.
Unit Rating: 7
Nine ‘Noles caught at least 10 passes a season ago. Just one, Bert Reed, has exhausted his eligibility. The program has a slew of potential starters on the outside, leaving the coaching staff to sort out the bodies between now and the opener. Before being sidetracked by an ankle injury in October, 6-0, 175-pound Rashad Greene was playing like Florida State’s version of Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. The starter at split end, or “X”, had a caught a touchdown pass in each of his first five games, including a 12-catch, 163-yard outburst versus Wake Forest. And even after missing four games, and being slow to return to form, he still led the team with 38 receptions for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. Now a sophomore, Greene is planning to unleash his jets and explosive first step on defensive backs for an entire season.
Behind Greene at “X” is 5-11, 170-pound Kenny Shaw, who caught 34 balls for 418 yards and four touchdowns last season. While not very big, he’s one of the fastest members of the unit, and has the shiftiness to make people miss in space. If not for the presence of Greene, the program would have no issues with Shaw in the regular lineup.
At flanker, or “Z” receiver, the ‘Noles are counting on a big season out of senior Rodney Smith. The most unmistakable target among the regulars, he goes 6-6 and 219 pounds, with the enormous wingspan to pluck balls that are away from his body. He finished No. 2 on the team with 36 grabs for 561 yards and four touchdowns, but was far too quiet over the course of the second half of the season.
Smith’s caddy at “Z”, 5-11, 185-pound junior Greg Dent showed flashes of potential from off the bench last season. The speedster made the most of his intermittent opportunities to get on the field, turning a dozen catches into 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Seminoles have yet to decide on their slot receiver, or “Y”, an ongoing competition between 6-1, 187-pound junior Jarred Haggins and 6-2, 206-pound sophomore Christian Green. A former quarterback in high school, Haggins has the speed and toughness to warrant more looks in the passing game. However, last year was practically a wash, as he was limited to three games and 11 catches for 94 yards. Green was one of the nation’s elite recruits from 2010, a well-sized target, with solid fundamentals, who took advantage of his reps by making 26 grabs for 450 yards.
Sophomore Nick O’Leary is going to entice the coaching staff to get the ball in the hands of the tight end a little more often in 2012. As a rookie, the 6-4, 240-pound elite recruit caught 12 balls for 164 yards and a touchdown. He has total package potential at the position, including excellent hands and the ability to support the ground game with his blocking.
Watch Out For … fate of 6-3, 233-pound junior Willie Haulstead. Wasn’t he supposed to be the go-to guy in 2011, a season after catching 38 balls for 587 yards and six touchdowns? Uh-uh. He was never quite right after getting bell rung in the preseason, and took a medical redshirt year. Now, he’s out of shape, and trying dig out of the No. 3 hole at “X”.
Strength: Talent. The Seminoles are absolutely loaded with terrific athletes up and down the two-deep. Heck, this team can go three-deep and still put a scare into opposing defensive backs. There’s evidence of speed, size, agility and a tight end with a great future in Tallahassee. If the rotation delivers as planned, Florida State could have five or six players catch at least 25 passes this season.
Weakness: Consistency and durability. This group is still young, and prone to missing time in the lineup. Sure, the ‘Noles are very deep at wide receiver, more than half of them missed games for health reasons a year ago. At its best, the corps of hands has a ton of potential, but will it actually reach it this season?
Outlook: Now that the parts are in place, it’s time for the Florida State wide receivers and tight ends to start delivering on their sizable upside. If they can remain healthy and step up their games a notch, there’s no reason why this group can’t be among the deepest and most talented in the ACC. QB EJ Manuel will be looking for a go-to guy, which is likely to be Greene, who was playing like a budding superstar before getting hurt.
Unit Rating: 8
Welcome to the single most important unit in Tallahassee. In fact, the Florida State O-line will be one of the more pivotal groups in the FBS in 2012. The Seminoles were forced to swim in the deep end of the pool last fall, the result of injuries to two of their best linemen, Andrew Datko and David Spurlock. And too often, their head went below the water. The new veteran of a painfully young front wall will be junior Bryan Stork who is making the shift from starting right guard to right tackle this season. The former high school tight end has packed on the weight since arriving, and is now an agile 6-4 and 316 pounds. He’s extremely smart and versatile, also taking snaps at center in the spring.
Assuming Stork remains at right tackle, his backup will be sophomore Bobby Hart, who went through a baptism by fire in his first year on campus. He started nine games and earned Freshman All-American honors, yet was predictably inconsistent, even for a five-star recruit. The 6-5, 318-pounder remained raw in the spring, which could impact his playing time.
The most intriguing story is occurring at left tackle, where 6-5, 313-pound sophomore Cameron Erving is in the midst of making a successful shift from defensive tackle to EJ Manuel’s bodyguard. While there’s no doubt he’ll more refinement, he already has the feet and strong upper body to make the move permanent. Sinking naturally and rarely looking clumsy in the spring, Erving could become the pass protector that the ‘Noles need up front.
Behind Erving will be senior Daniel Glauser. The JUCO transfer won’t only be carrying the banner of New Mexico Military Institute in Tallahassee. He’ll also be representing Switzerland as he attempts to become the country’s first player to perform at this level. While clearly an unfinished product, it’s that rawness that’s particularly appealing to line coach Rick Trickett and the rest of the Seminoles staff. At 6-6 and 322 pounds, he possesses good size and strength, now needing to refine his technique and footwork.
Playing center will be 6-3, 295-pound sophomore Austin Barron, a part-time starter as a rookie. A nimble athlete who can quickly get out to the second level, he’s done a nice job of packing on more muscle during the offseason. He’s a heady all-around tactician who is capable of being a fixture for the next three seasons.
To the left of Barron, at guard, will be 6-5, 325-pound sophomore Josue Matias, yet another one of the young players to see plenty of field time a year ago. He’s a north-south mauler, the kind of blocker who’ll be especially helpful in short yardage situations. However, he needs to improve his footwork and pass protection skills or else he’ll be vulnerable to getting whipped by opposing pass rushers this season.
If Matias struggles at all in 2012, the staff could turn to 6-4, 317-pound senior Jacob Fahrenkrug, who was in and out of the lineup in his first year out of North Dakota State College of Science. One of the nation’s top JUCO prospects of 2011 quickly scaled the depth chart, impressing the staff with his quick retention of new assignments. However, he also lacked the consistency that those same coaches were after in the fall.
Sophomore Tre’ Jackson is the frontrunner at right guard. At 6-4 and 325 pounds, he has terrific size and strength, yet is surprisingly light on his feet. The program is very excited about his future, as evidenced by the fact that he’s holding a lead over a veteran, 6-7, 283-pound junior Garrett Faircloth, who earned valuable reps in the starting lineup a season ago.
Watch Out For … sophomore Sterling Lovelady to mount a challenge to Barron in the summer. The 6-2, 290-pounder performed well in the spring, well enough for the coaching staff to suggest that the gap between the starter and the backup is not as wide as many assume.
Strength: The guards. The Seminoles are both talented and deep at the two guard positions. Yeah, Matias and Josue are very young, but they are also powerful building blocks of the running game. Plus, it’s going to help immensely having a pair of seasoned veterans, Fahrenkrug and Faircloth, standing by if needed.
Weakness: Pass protection. A year ago, the Seminoles ranked last in the ACC and 110th nationally in sacks allowed. Even if the team improves, if it might not be by much. The left tackle, Erving, was playing defensive tackle a year ago, and the right tackle was at guard and center. Oh, and the guards are going to be better in run blocking than pass protection.
Outlook: It’s safe to say that the evolving offensive line holds the key to Florida State’s fortunes in 2012. The D is fantastic, and the skill players on offense are deep and talented. However, the ‘Noles must block markedly better than they did in 2011 in order to reach expectations. The unit is going to be young and inconsistent, but hopes to be healthier than last fall, while gradually gelling as the season unfolds.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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