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2009 Florida State Preview - Offense
Florida State OG Rodney Hudson
Florida State OG Rodney Hudson
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 1, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Florida State Seminoles Offense

Florida State Seminoles

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Florida State Preview | 2009 Florida State Offense 
- 2009 Florida State Defense | 2009 Florida State Depth Chart 
- 2008 FSU Preview | 2007 FSU Preview | 2006 FSU Preview 

What you need to know: The presence of coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher has finally begun to pay dividends for the Florida State offense. While not a finished product, the ‘Noles produced their best output in years, despite being littered with young kids and first-year starters. One of those rookies was QB Christian Ponder, who proved to be a much better scrambler than passer at this stage of his career. If he can make strides in the vertical game, sans much talent at wide receiver, the offense could be on the verge of building a bridge to the glory days. The ground game, which produced its best numbers of the decade, will forge ahead without leading rusher Antone Smith. Taking his place is Jermaine Thomas, who ripped off seven yards a carry in a sneak peak preview. The gem of the offense is a front wall that used three true freshmen in 2008, and with LG Rodney Hudson as the centerpiece, could wind up morphing into the ACC’s best unit.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Christian Ponder
177-318, 2,006 yds, 14 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: Jermaine Thomas
69 carries, 482 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Taiwan Easterling
30 catches, 322 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Junior LG Rodney Hudson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Christian Ponder
Unsung star on the rise
: Sophomore LT Andrew Datko
Best pro prospect: Hudson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hudson, 2) C Ryan McMahon, 3) Datko
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Line
Weakness of the offense: Receivers, Passing Game

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter
: For the first time in a few years, Florida State will enter a season with no controversy at quarterback. Junior Christian Ponder will be the clear-cut starter behind center. His debut at the helm produced mixed results, but also served as a springboard and an education for the second half of his Seminole career. An outstanding all-around athlete and the offensive MVP, the 6-2, 217-pounder rushed for four scores and 423 yards, the highest total for a quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992. As a passer, there’s more work to be done, especially when it comes to making reads, putting too much air under his passes, and knowing when to throw it away. He wound up 177-of-318 for 2,006 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.  

Projected Top Reserves: As secure as Ponder is atop the depth chart, 6-4, 223-pound redshirt freshman  E.J. Manuel is equally set in the No. 2 hole. The uber-recruit from the 2008 class, he’s a phenomenal physical specimen, combining size and arm strength with the ability to tuck it and take off. Having missed most of spring, though, he remains a bit of mystery, with an unorthodox delivery that’s required a little fine-tuning. He’s not ready, but that won’t keep Seminole fans from dreaming of the second-coming of Jimbo Fisher pupil JaMarcus Russell.

Watch Out For ... Ponder to assume more of a leadership role in his second year at the controls. Last season, he was too busy trying to learn his place and adapt to the speed of the game. Being a leader was a secondary concern. With that full year—and the respect of his teammates—under his belt, he’ll start becoming the face of the offense.
Strength
: Mobility. In Ponder, Florida State has its most athletic quarterback in over a decade. He can escape pressure, make throws on the move, and pick up first downs on designed runs. Ditto Manuel, who could go on to be the most dynamic multi-threat to ever play in Tallahassee before he’s through.
Weakness:
Consistency in the passing game. While the situation figures to improve, the Seminoles are still an average passing team with few scary parts when Ponder drops back to pass. The team was just 86th nationally in passing efficiency, failing to produce a lot of big plays through the air. Plus, those 16 picks need to be reduced.
Outlook: Now that Drew Weatherford has graduated, there’s no longer a veteran safety net for the young quarterbacks. Ponder is the man and Manuel needs to emerge because there are no other scholarship hurlers on the roster. Is the incumbent bound for stardom or merely serviceable? He’ll take another giant step this fall toward answering that question.
Rating
: 7.5


Running Backs

Projected Starters: Now that leading rusher Antone Smith has exhausted his eligibility, the ‘Noles will be looking for a new feature back. Enter 6-1, 190-pound sophomore Jermaine Thomas, who wet the locals’ appetite with an impressive rookie debut. In a reserve role, he broke free for 482 yards and three scores on only 69 carries, a gaudy seven-yard average. While not as fast as Thomas, he has tremendous vision in the hole and the natural running instincts to slip through small cracks and break into the open field. His ability to cut back and change directions will drive defenses nuts.

Leading the charge at fullback will be 6-0, 233-pound senior Marcus Sims, a versatile back, who’ll also be used as a receiver and the tailback in short yardage situations. A four-game starter in each of the last two seasons, he had a career-high 23 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown, adding eight catches for 45 yards.

Projected Top Reserves: Although an inability to hold on to the ball has hurt his chances, 5-11, 203-pound sophomore Ty Jones will continue his quest for the starting job this summer. Another one of the talented young Seminole backs, he was hampered by an ankle injury in 2008, which limited him to 11 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown, most of which came in the bowl game. A more physical option than Thomas, he’ll run through defenders as well as around them.

Now that he’s almost all the way back from last year’s ACL injury, 6-1, 202-pound junior Tavares Pressley will be itching for more snaps and a prominent place in the pecking order. A former quarterback at El Camino (Calif.) Community College, he has the 4.4 jets to make some noise once he makes his return this summer.

Behind Sims at fullback is 5-10, 265-pound senior Seddrick Holloway, a pile-driver, who can move the chains when needed. Although he didn’t many touches a year ago, in 2007, he rushed for 129 yards on only 26 carries and was a threat to move the chains in
short yardage.  
 
 
Watch Out For
...  the offense to lean heavily on the ground game this season. As the passing attack continues to develop slowly, the Seminoles won’t be bashful about handing the offense over to Thomas and Jones, especially with the line expected to make a quantum leap this fall.
Strength
: Open-field running. In limited duty last year and offseason practices, both Thomas and Jones displayed a knack for having the wiggle and the vision to make things happen in open spaces. The two sophomores are the types of backs that look faster on film than they will in front of a stopwatch.
Weakness:
The little things. Purely in terms of running skills, Thomas and Jones have high ceilings. However, they remain raw in terms of picking up blitzes and knowing where to be when the ball is not in their hands. Oh, and the fumbling, which was too common in the spring, has to stop now before mushrooming into a problem.
Outlook: In Thomas and Jones, the talent is indisputable, but it’s also raw. The Seminoles are hopeful that Thomas can blossom into a true feature back and possibly the first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn did it way back in 1996. He’ll be helped if Jones can provide constant competition and a breather a few times a game.  
Rating
: 7.5

Receivers

Projected Starters
: Not only are last year’s top two receivers, Greg Carr and Preston Parker, gone, but injuries and suspensions will cut even deeper into Florida State’s already questionable receiving depth. Coming out of spring, 6-0, 191-pound senior Richard Goodman was the most consistent pass-catcher. Yup, that’s the same Goodman, who was recently suspended, pending a court case for his involvement in a campus fight. The ‘Noles need him, which is saying something since he’s missed more than a full season with a broken fibula. He runs clean routes, knows the offense, and has some of the best hands on the team.

The front-runner at the other opening is 5-10, 165-pound sophomore Bert Reed, who had 23 catches for 295 yards and three touchdowns in his first season of action. A long ball hitter, with legitimate 4.3 speed, he can stretch a defense, but needs to become more consistent on conventional routes. Look for him to be used in the slot or on end-arounds in an effort to maximize his open-fielded touches.

A degree of stability can be found in 6-7, 271-pound senior Caz Piurowski, the team’s returning starter at tight end. Like having another offensive lineman up front, he’s a skilled blocker, catching just eight balls for 83 yards and a touchdown last fall. He won’t beat anyone with his wheels, but when he sits down in the defense, he’s tougher to move than a power forward.  

Projected Top Reserves: Goodman and 6-0, 183-pound senior Rod Owens have quite a bit in common. They’re long-time program guys, working toward the same job and trying to work through legal issues. Owens was arrested on a DUI the day after the spring game, and is likely to be suspended for at least the opener. Mostly a straight-line speed guy, he’s an unpolished receiver, who’s caught 15 balls in each of the last two seasons.

Reed’s backup will be 6-3, 223-pound sophomore Jarmon Fortson, who kicked off his career with eight catches for 137 yards and a score in 2008. One of the program’s top recruits of 2008, he has the length, strength, and leaping ability to be a major force and a go-to guy once he gains the confidence of QB Christian Ponder.

The future at tight end belongs to 6-4, 226-pound sophomore Ja’Baris Little, now the backup to Piurowski. Although he failed to register his first career catch, he did appear in 11 games as a true freshman, earning a letter and some valuable experience. The better athlete and pass-catcher of the pair, he should start to get more looks and more chances to stretch defense down the seam.

Watch Out For ... the developments away from the field. Not only does this weathered group need Goodman and Owens to stay out of the paddy wagon, but it also has to get 5-11, 187-pound Taiwan Easterling back on the field. The up-and-coming sophomore ruptured his Achilles in February, and his timetable for a return remains in doubt. He caught 30 balls as a freshman and would be atop the depth chart if not for the injury.
Strength: The sophomores. Assuming Easterling doesn’t miss too much time, the ‘Noles will boast a trio of exciting and diverse second-year players, who are only going to get better. Reed is the burner. Fortson is a beast. And Easterling is the heir apparent to Parker, a do-everything receiver, who’ll pick up yards after the catch.  
Weakness: Lack of a go-to guy. At this stage, no one on the roster has earned the title or warrants 50 receptions this fall. Plus, no one stepped forward in the spring, and the injuries and suspensions only clouded the situation further. Last season, Florida State would challenge opposing secondaries with Carr and Parker. This fall, however, no one is going to get extra attention from other teams.
Outlook: Mediocrity. From Parker’s dismissal and Easterling’s injury to the suspensions of Goodman and Owens, absolutely nothing has gone right for the Seminole receivers in the offseason. No matter how you angle it, this is going to be a pedestrian group that does little to elevate the play of Ponder as a hurler. If the depth chart takes any further hits, you can forget about redshirting Rodney Smith, Willie Downs, and Willie Haulstead.
Rating
: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters
: The nation’s youngest line in 2008 could be among the nation’s best lines in 2009. After using an inordinate number of true freshmen last fall, the Seminoles are about to undergo a transformation, thanks in large part to Rick Trickett, one of the game’s premier line coaches. The anchor for a third straight season will be 6-2, 285-pound junior Rodney Hudson, an All-ACC first-teamer at left guard. Versatile and fundamentally crisp, he’s the unit’s best run blocker and pass protector. He rarely allows sacks or makes mistakes, going 20 games without a penalty before being flagged for a false start last October.

Next to Hudson at center will be 6-3, 282-pound junior Ryan McMahon, an honorable mention All-ACC selection and a Rimington Award candidate. Equally skilled as a run and pass blocker, he’s a whistle-to-whistle worker and durable, starting each of the last 26 games. Like Hudson, mental errors are rarely going to be a problem.

Rounding out the interior of the line at right guard is 6-5, 285-pound sophomore David Spurlock, the third true freshmen to play a prominent role in 2008. Stepping in after Will Furlong was injured, he started eight games, flashing exceptional pass protection skills and allowing just one sack in almost 600 snaps. Considering he was thrust into a difficult situation and managed to endure, he should be even better in Year 2.

The blooming star at tackle is 6-6, 283-pound sophomore Andrew Datko, a Freshman All-American and blindside protector for Christian Ponder. Wide-eyed and undersized, he swam in the deep end of the water, using outstanding footwork and the pass-blocking technique of an upperclassman. He’s added weight and was named the outstanding offensive player of spring, signs that he’ll be even better in 2009.

There’s a battle taking place at right tackle, which is currently being won by 6-5, 288-pound sophomore Zebrie Sanders. An 11-game starter in his rookie season, he proved to be one of the line’s top run blockers, recording 31 knockdowns. He also has uncommon agility and composure for such a young player, allowing just one sack and committing only one penalty.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing Sanders at right tackle this summer will be 6-6, 293-pound sophomore Antwane Greenlee, who played in seven games and had three starts in his first season. One of the strongest members of this unit, he can be a dominant run blocker, but still needs to improve in pass protection.

One of the fastest risers in the offseason was 6-4, 270-pound sophomore Rhonne Sanderson, who showed enough to get installed as a top reserve at both left tackle and left guard. A nice fit for Trickett’s system, he gets off the snap in a hurry and has the athleticism to make blockers 10 or 15 yards downfield.

Watch Out For ...
Growth. Lots of it. The ‘Noles were just pups last fall, yet played well beyond anyone’s expectations. With everyone back and everyone a year older, a quantum leap in all facets is going to be expected.
Strength: Athleticism. By design, Florida State has begun developing leaner, faster offensive linemen, who can get off the ball in an instant and won’t be winded late in the final quarter. The starters average well below 300 pounds, which they fully plan to use to their advantage. 
Weakness: Pass blocking. Yes, they’ve gotten better since the end of last year, but the ‘Noles still want to improve at keeping Ponder from having to leave the pocket too often. Florida State is banking on being better than 65th nationally at sacks allowed. The staff hopes it’s substantially better.
Outlook:
On a national level, the story is going to get under sold, but Trickett did a magnificent job coaching up so many young kids a year ago. Somehow he kept everything together, leading the program to its best season running the ball since 2000. The real rewards start coming this fall, when that offensive line, now a year more mature, begins to dominate opponents and really start playing up to coach’s expectations.
Rating
: 8.5