Aug. 4, 2011
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As part of our week-long feature previewing fall camp for the Florida State football team, we have already looked at the quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers.
Today, let’s talk about the speedy guys on the outside on both offense and defense: the wide receivers and cornerbacks.
I wrote at length a few days ago about the depth that FSU boasts at the running back position.
Well, the same is true for the wide receivers. Maybe even more so.
The Seminoles lost Taiwan Easterling early in the summer to Major League Baseball. Despite the fact that he had been the most consistent receiver the past few seasons, FSU shouldn’t see much drop-off production-wise because of the personnel that isn’t headed to the big leagues.
The top three returners are the three guys that currently sit atop the depth chart. Bert Reed and his playmaking ways are back for a fifth and final season. Fellow juniors Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith both experienced tremendous gains in their production and accountability on the outside after strong second seasons in 2010.
While Reed is a burner that can take end-arounds, grab screen passes and make people miss in the open field, Haulstead and Smith are big-bodied compliments. Both juniors showed last season that they can haul in long touchdown passes or go across the middle to make those tough extra yards and pick up first downs.
Just like Haulstead and Smith showed tremendous gains in their sophomore campaigns, the same should be expected from the trio of Kenny Shaw, Jarred Haggins and Greg Dent.
All three players earned their minutes as freshmen last season and showed flashes that the coaches hope to see again once camp starts. The interesting part about all three is that they each share a smilier size that is in between Reed and Haulstead/Smith.
Together, the six players create a unique rotation that will cause opposing secondaries fits because of their different styles and traits on the football field.
While those returners are battling, a group of freshmen will be pushing hard from the bottom of the depth chart.
Headlining the group is Christian Green, who redshirted last season and is poised to show everyone why he was so highly respected as a high school player in the Tampa area. Green starred as a do-it-all quarterback in high school. FSU wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey has been working with him extensively over the past year to build off the characteristics that made him such a threat under center to a player that will become an even bigger weapon as a college receiver.
Speaking of big, Kelvin Benjamin stepped on campus in mid-June and was probably confused for a defensive end.
Benjamin stands 6-foot-6 and weights 248 pounds while also boasting 4.5-second 40-yard dash speed. Those measurements alone create a nightmarish situation for the unlucky defensive back that has to line up against him.
Can he use that size and speed to his advantage right away, though? And how much impact can Green or another freshman, Rashad Greene, have? These are questions that will begin to sort themselves out once the pads come on.
Recent history has shown that it’s especially hard for true freshmen wide receivers to have much of an impact in year No. 1 because of the complexities of Jimbo Fisher’s offense. But that same history has also shown that they will at least get a chance to do so.
The depth is impressive at the wide receiver position and if each of the young guys can earn playing time, FSU could utilize a rotation that features as many as nine different pass catchers.
While the wide receiver corps are as deep as any unit on the team, the cornerbacks don’t have that same luxury.
But they are super talented nonetheless.
Headlined by what developed last season into arguably the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top defensive-back duo in Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid, the Seminole secondary showed a renewed toughness and ball-snatching ability over the past year.
Everybody knew what Reid could do in the return game but had yet to show much consistency guarding opposing receivers. That changed his sophomore season as he seemingly grew more and more comfortable at the position as the year wore on. Reid capped off his strong year with an MVP performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl while guarding Alshon Jeffery who could be the nation’s top wide receiver in 2011.
Unlike Reid, Rhodes didn’t have much of an opportunity to show any consistency prior to last season because he entered the year as a redshirt freshman. Midway through the 2010 campaign, though, it became clear that FSU boasted a world-class talent that could perhaps become one of the country’s premier lockdown corners.
If Reid and Rhodes can use fall camp to get even better, the Florida State defense is going to be a problem for lots of teams.
Those two garner the attention but perhaps the most underrated player on the entire FSU roster also has an impressive skill set in the secondary. That player is senior Mike Harris, who Fisher is quick to compliment and talk about his uncanny ability to make play after play.
There’s no drop off when Harris comes in to man the nickelback position and he is good enough to push both Reid and Rhodes for playing time.
Further down the depth chart is where things start to get a little dicey. For as good as the top three cornerbacks on FSU’s roster are, there is any equal amount of skepticism about the backups — primarily because of the lack of experience.
Redshirt junior Avis Commack made tremendous strides and drew the praise of coaches in the spring after he found a home at cornerback. Commack, who has been a wide receiver and safety for the Seminoles, will benefit from playing on the corner in the fall for the first time in his career.
That’s also true for Nick Waisome, who enrolled in January as a true freshman and gave a nice glimpse at what the future holds. Another freshman, Tyler Hunter, will line up at cornerback and he has speed to burn. Freshmen Keelin Smith and Lamarcus Brutus are high school teammates with impressive size. Both could also line up at safety.
Each of these guys must show defensive coordinator/secondary coach Mark Stoops before the month of August ends and the season finally arrives that they can be trusted on an island where good receivers can leave you stuck.
If they can do that, FSU’s cornerback depth chart starts to look pretty good.
Be sure to check back on Friday for the finale of our week-long fall camp preview. Up next are the tight ends and safeties. Once camp gets started on Monday, Aug. 8, Seminoles.com should be the first website all FSU fans access each day. We will have written features, video interviews, head coach Jimbo Fisher and player quotes, pictures of all the veterans and newcomers and so much more through fall camp and leading into the 2011 regular season.