Aug. 1, 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 yesterday's look at the quarterbacks and defensive ends, receivers and linebackers today, offensive linemen and special teams Thursday and finally the tight ends and defensive backs Friday.
By: Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com Managing Editor
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is looking for more from his deepest offensive position.
A season after ranking third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing offense with an average of 257 yards per game, FSU's third-year coach wants this year's crop of pass catchers to be difference makers.
"The guys out wide can change the game," Fisher said. "They need to make the great catches, change the field position, put numbers on the scoreboard. And I think we have the ability to do that but that's going to be the challenge ... I think we have to give them the opportunities to go do it and I think they are very capable of doing it. It's important in today's football game that the guys out wide change the game.
"If they don't, you are going to have a hard time."
The Seminoles had a hard time running the football last year despite the team's successes through the air. A revamped running game and improved offensive line could help FSU's aerial attack sore to new heights.
It's on the wide receivers now to step up and do that game changing. Monday's start to fall camp serves as the first day of that quest.
Rashad Greene became that type of player last season, leading the Seminoles in receptions, yards and touchdown grabs as a freshman despite missing four games with an injury. The Albany, Ga. native finished the season with 38 catches to go along with 596 yards.
Fisher said earlier this year during an ACC conference call that he'd like to see FSU produce a 70-catch, 1,000 yards-receiving type of player and Greene is the most likely candidate to produce those type of numbers.
"You look at Rashad last year, you're talking about that if he stays healthy he's gonna catch 60 balls for 1,000 years as a freshman," Fisher said. "He could have probably had 12 touchdowns and it could have been one of the best years in Florida State history for what he's doing out there."
Rodney Smith is the team's lone senior wide receiver and is coming off a 46-catch season. Willie Haulstead is back as a redshirt junior after a concussion sidelined him all of last season. Haulstead had emerged as a legitimate receiving threat with a team-best six touchdown catches in 2010 before his injury.
Florida State also has upperclassmen receivers in Kenny Shaw, Jarred Haggins and Greg Dent, who have each shown the potential of becoming a favorite, go-to target for quarterback EJ Manuel. Shaw finished last year with a team third-best 34 catches as the most productive of that junior-class trio.
Can this be the year that redshirt junior Josh Gehres finally shakes off the injury bug and becomes part of the rotation as well?
Christian Green not only worked his way into significant playing time last year as a redshirt freshman but he also started four of the team's final eight games. Green grabbed 26 catches for 450 yards in 2011 and has the ability -- if given the looks from his quarterback -- to potentially double those numbers this year.
It's not easy to replace Bert Reed and his playmaking from the slot position but freshman Marvin Bracy could develop into that type of player. As the nation's fastest high school football recruit in the 2012 class, he could find an early niche on offense despite the crowded depth chart.
"Any time a guy has that kind of speed and big-play ability, you have to judge where he's at," Fisher said.
Bracy may be the only wide receiver signee this year but he isn't the only freshman amongst the pass catchers.
Kelvin Benjamin redshirted last season but was the talk of spring football because of his potential and his 6-foot-6, 238-pound frame. Monday marks Benjamin's first real opportunity as a Seminole to earn regular-season playing and all eyes will assuredly be on him and his daily routine on the practice fields throughout the month of August.
"I think it's important that a couple of those guys rally emerge as true, true game changers," Fisher said. "That's what you've got to have."
With Nigel Bradham now competing in Bufaflo Bills preseason camp after the AFC East squad selected him in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft, the Seminoles need to find a new leader and new tackling machine at linebacker.
Bradham punished ball carriers -- and receivers -- over his four-year FSU career and even became the first payer since Marvin Jones to lead the 'Noles in tackles in three consecutive seasons.
Without Bradham the spotlight now shifts its shine to junior Christian Jones, who has quietly had a very good two-year collegiate career up to this point. After recording 18 tackles and three sacks as freshman reserve, Jones moved into the starting lineup last year and finished the 2011 season third on the team in tackles with 56 while also notching six tackles for loss and three sacks.
But the best appears to be ahead of Jones, who has moved from the strong-side linebacker spot to the weak-side position vacated by Bradham -- a move that Jones said in the spring is tailored to his abilities.
"He's a very versatile guy and a good player," Fisher said. "I hope he and all those 'backers -- Telvin Smith and Vince Williams and those guys -- I think they are some good players that people don't talk about as much. They are really good football players. And I think [Jones] has a chance to be one heck of a football player."
Williams and Smith developed a rotation at middle linebacker last year and the same utilization of their respective skills will likely be used this season with Smith excelling in using his speed to rush the passer and drop into coverage and Williams using his ability as a run stopper.
FSU's linebackers have also welcomed one of the team's most experienced defensive players to their group after Nick Moody switched from safety to outside linebacker in the spring. As he did earlier this year, Moody will be in Jones' old spot on the strong side.
Behind those veterans, the 'Noles have some intriguing younger players for the fall.
Nigel Terrell enters his redshirt sophomore season as Jones's backup after a good spring and four games of action a season ago. Behind Moody is Terrance Smith, who actually played in two games as a rookie a season ago before being granted a medical redshirt.
FSU has also added highly-touted linebackers Ukeme Eligwe and Reggie Northrup to the roster. The two may be young and inexperienced but their natural athletic ability combined with the Seminoles' lack of depth at linebacker could result in important roles for the four-star signees this season.