Aug. 3, 2012
Florida State's 2012 season officially kicks off Monday, Aug. 6 when the team holds its first practice of fall camp. In preparation for the start of the new season Seminoles.com will roll out position previews every day this week, starting with running backs and defensive tackles Monday, followed by Tuesday's look at the quarterbacks and defensive ends, receivers and linebackers Wednesday, offensive linemen and special teams yesterday and finally the tight ends and defensive backs today.
By: Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com Managing Editor
Could this be the season that the perception -- and impact -- of the tight end position at Florida State changes?
The FSU football program has produced countless numbers of terrific offensive players in its storied history but the tight end position typically hasn't been one of them. There have been good players to line up at the position but they simply haven't been the focal point of 'Noles' offenses traditionally heavy on talented wide receivers and running backs.
But that notion may be a thing of the past as the Seminoles gear up for the start of fall camp Monday.
The 'Noles will kick off the 2012 season arguably deeper than they have been at tight end in quite some time. With a potential superstar, two promising young players, a converted defensive player and a notable transfer that joined the team this week, FSU's tight ends possess a diverse set of abilities and backgrounds that could result in a breakout -- and trend-breaking -- season for the position.
Sophomore Nick O'Leary begins his second fall camp at FSU as the starter at tight end after a rookie year that saw him lead the 'Noles tight ends in catches (12) and yards (164). O'Leary started just two games in 2011 as he was behind seniors Beau Reliford and Ja'Baris Little on the depth chart but he quickly became the most targeted tight end on the roster, posting more catches than both of those fourth-year players combined.
O'Leary's potential, hype as a top-flight recruit and flashes of playmaking ability as a rookie had many thinking he could have had even bigger impact last year.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and offensive coordinator/tight ends coach James Coley thought so too, as the Seminoles' offense adapted to feature O'Leary and the tight end position more during spring practices.
Whether it was sending him in motion or lining him up in the backfield in an H-back type of role, Fisher said earlier this year that the team wanted to give the rising sophomore more opportunities to get into open space and make plays with the football in his non-gloved hands.
"I think his knowledge of what we are doing and the versatility -- you can put him in the backfield, you can put him on the line of scrimmage, you can flex him out -- he can do a lot," Fisher said. "He caught  balls last year but I'm going to tell you now, you talk about hands and understanding the middle of the field and understanding how to get open. I'm excited to watch how he progresses."
Hicks made the move from defensive end to tight end in the spring and did so with the experience of being an offensive player during his high school days in Mississippi. He showed enough during those practices to vault to No. 2 on the depth chart and will be focused this fall on holding off the redshirt sophomore Tye, true freshman Kourtzidis and the junior Haplea, who came to Florida State from Penn State.
Haplea's unexpected addition to the roster came after the recent NCAA sanctions placed upon the Nittany Lions' program that allows any player to transfer and play immediately at their respective new school. Haplea played in every one of Penn State's games the last two seasons, catching a combined six passes for 60 yards and one touchdown.
His passing-game numbers aren't eye-popping but Haplea became an integral part of the Nittany Lions' successful ability to run the football and protect the quarterback. Silas Redd recorded 1,241 yard rushing last season for PSU and the Nittany Lions ranked first in the Big Ten Conference in fewest sacks allowed (14) thanks in large part to Haplea's blocking efforts.
Coley recruited the Annandale, N.J. native out of high school and FSU's coaches are hoping that his strong blocking ability and experience can bolster the team's running game and pass-protecting efforts now that he's in Tallahassee.
The 'Noles added a tight end this week but they also lost a defensive back with the dismissal of veteran defensive back Greg Reid.
A 23-game starter at boundary cornerback the past two seasons, defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Mark Stoops will enter his third fall camp at FSU intent on finding a replacement to line up alongside star field cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Helping ease the loss of Reid is FSU's depth and versatility in the secondary -- a by-product of successful and specific recruiting focus at defensive back.
Stoops likes to coach players that can play multiple positions in the defensive backfield and the 'Noles have signed several players over the past few years that can line up at either safety or cornerback.
Illustrating that point is FSU's starting safety tandem entering fall camp. Both Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks have played cornerback during their respective Florida State careers, with Brooks playing the position as a reserve a season ago before making the switch to safety.
"Those safeties have to be like corners," Fisher said. "They force you to cover."
Without Reid, Brooks could be a candidate to move back into a cornerback position and thus thrust fan-favorite Karlos Williams into a starting role. The hard-hitting former five-star recruit begins fall camp as Brooks' backup at safety.
If Brooks stays at his current spot -- a position he looked quite comfortable playing during the spring -- than there are several other candidates to earn a starting cornerback position during camp.
Tyler Hunter worked as a nickel back during the spring and as Joyner's backup safety. Nick Waisome concluded spring practices as Reid's backup and is likely to start camp as the starter at that position. Keelin Smith worked as the first-team field cornerback during the spring months with Rhodes relegated to the sidelines during his rehabilitation work for an injury sustained in the Champs Sports Bowl last December.
Florida State also signed two high-potential cornerbacks in freshmen Ronald Darby and Colin Blake that will be given every opportunity to showcase their skills and make a bid for a starting role during camp.
"I am excited about that across the board because we are creating competition," Fisher said about his team's depth. "I think that's the key. Now what you want to develop is habits. If you don't come to practice that week ready to practice, somebody's got your job and you're going to have to fight for that job and develop those habits every day in how you play."