March 15, 2012
The Florida State football team starts spring practice March 19 and Seminoles.com has got you covered. In preparation this week we will break down each position on the team with a list of scholarship players lost, returning and added while previewing what to watch for as the Seminoles hit the field in preparation for the 2012 season.
By: Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com Senior Writer
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS SPRING:
A year ago, Florida State used spring practices to unveil a new weapon in the offensive backfield.
This season, the script is the same.
As an early enrollee, Devonta Freeman turned heads in the spring of 2011 before going on to earn the starting running-back job by the seventh game of the season. This year, Mario Pender is the tailback getting a head start as a freshman for the Seminoles.
Like Freeman, Pender came to FSU as a consensus four-star prospect that starred as an every-down rusher in his high school offense. Also like Freeman, Pender boasts impressive agility, vision and speed.
Pender joins a running-back depth chart that is heavy on underclassmen.
Chris Thompson is the only returning upperclassmen after the departures of Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones. Head coach Jimbo Fisher announced last month that Thompson, despite a scary back injury against Duke last season, will be available for competition once practice starts Monday.
But as a final-year player and one with a recent injury history, it's likely that Thompson won't be overworked during the offseason; thus presenting the opportunity for sophomores Freeman and James Wilder, Jr. and the rookie Pender to share repetitions in the backfield.
Because of his strong first season, Freeman should enter the spring as the starter and will be looking to maintain that position on the depth chart over the course of the next month and into the fall. But if last season proved anything it's that production matters more than seniority under Fisher's watch.
Freeman got his opportunities last season because he was performing at a high level despite the presence of fourth-year players Thomas and Jones. That means there's a lot for Wilder, Jr. and Pender to compete for each and every practice.
Paving the way for the quartet of rushers will be a fullback depth chart headlined by senior Lonnie Pryor.
He wasn't utilized as a rusher or pass catcher as much during his junior season as he was his sophomore year but Pryor's role is invaluable to Florida State's offense. Whether it's blocking, running in a two-back shotgun formation or pounding the line of scrimmage in short-yardage situations, Pryor is one of the more versatile players on the roster.
This spring will be important for Pryor's backups to establish themselves in the lineup as well.
Debrale Smiley returns for his final season and Chad Abram is coming off his first year as a fullback after making the switch from safety. Both will be looking to lock down backup fullback duties and Abram will need to keep improving as he prepares to potentially take over after Pryor's impending exhaustion of eligibility.
He redshirted last season so this will be the first opportunity for coaches to get a true look at Eric Beverly. The Jacksonville native could play either running back or fullback much like Pryor.
Time will tell how much Thompson actually participates this spring but he has the ability to be a game-changer at running back when he's healthy. As a sophomore in 2010 Thompson was FSU's home-run hitter, registering touchdown runs of 90, 83 and 70 yards while accumulating 845 yards on the ground over the course of the season.
Florida State obviously needs to improve on its offensive line for the running backs to have success in 2011 but Thompson has shown the ability in his career to find even the smallest of holes and burst through for a big gain.
A healthy Thompson provides yet another weapon for EJ Manuel and the FSU offense.