July 30, 2013
If there was such thing as a silver lining in the season-ending injuries to>Chris Thompson the past two seasons, than it was that underclassmen tailbacks>James Wilder, Jr. and>Devonta Freeman gained invaluable experience as his replacements.
Thompson was the heart and soul of the backfield the last few years and even when he was forced to watch from the sidelines he still mentored and guided the 'Noles young 'backs. Now on their own, the argument could be made that FSU enters the new season boasting one of the top tailback tandems in all of college football.
"If you look in the backfield, James Wilder had over 500 yards and Freeman had over 500 yards [in 2012] and both have started the last two years in multiple games," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "And James was the MVP of the ACC Championship and Freeman came in when Chris [Thompson] got hurt in Miami and jumped out and scored two touchdowns. Those guys have all played."
And played well.
Wilder, Jr. experienced a coming out party in front of the nation when he punished Clemson's defense. His memorable run towards the goal line while dragging and carrying Tigers defenders in the second half won't soon be forgotten by Seminoles fans -- or by Clemson players.
Everything Wilder, Jr. was in that game and during various flashes throughout his sophomore season was exactly what he was as a five-star prospect coming out of Tampa, Fla. Big, mean, physical and an absolute chore to bring to the ground. If you were a defensive player, would you want to tackle him in the first quarter -- let alone the fourth?
Freeman is smaller in stature but still runs with a similar ability to churn his legs and drive back potential tacklers. His added scat-back qualities and nimble feet make him the perfect accompaniment to Wilder, Jr.'s bruising abilities.
Both Freeman and Wilder, Jr. have the ability to be 1,000-yards rushers on their own (a total that hasn't been reached by an FSU runner since Warrick Dunn did so in 1996) but can they do so while sharing carries throughout the year? Fisher will go with the hot hand in the backfield but an equal does of "Wild and Free" should be expected.
As far as the running back depth chart goes, the two juniors leading the tailbacks are known commodities; their younger counterpart is the wildcard.
Mario Pender has the speed to provide a welcomed triple-threat aspect to the backfield. While Freeman and Wilder, Jr.'s respective skills alone make them dangerous and together make them downright scary, neither has the quickness that defines Pender as a ball carrier. But how effective Pender can be as a third option remains to be seen since he has yet to play a down of college football.
Rounding out the running back rotation is another highly touted ball carrier in former four-star prospect>Ryan Green. How much Green plays this fall depends on the health of FSU's two starters at the position and the effectiveness of Pender. Whether or not there are enough snaps to justify using a full year of Green's eligibility will be determined later.
While Fisher and new running backs coach Jay Graham have plenty of options at running back, the same can't be said for fullback. With the departure of do-it-all player>Lonnie Pryor, FSU is left with>Chad Abram, who has primarily been a special teams player during his career.
Abram is coming off a strong spring, however, and has the size needed to be an effective blocker. He also has terrific hands and could see himself become a go-to target for the 'Noles young quarterbacks. Abram is backed up by former walk-on>Shayne Broxsie, who recently earned a scholarship.
Broxsie played on the defensive line last season but has in-game expirience as a blocker after being used in certain offensive goal line situations in 2012. He made the permanent switch to fullback this past spring.