Sept. 1, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jimbo Fisher knows what he has at running back. He’s seen it before.
As the coordinator at LSU for seven seasons, Fisher’s potent offense on the Bayou boasted backs of all shapes, sizes and skill sets.
“When you’re on a good team, you better be deep there,” Fisher said. “You need plenty of them.”
That’s exactly what the second-year Seminoles head coach has at his disposal in the offensive backfield.
Headlined by junior Chris Thompson, FSU opens the 2011 season against Louisiana-Monroe with a quartet of proven veterans leading the charge out of the backfield. Thompson is joined at tailback by seniors Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones, with do-it-all junior Lonnie Pryor lining up at the fullback position.
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
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Collectively, they combined for 1,947 of the Seminoles’ 2,400 rushing yards in 2010, and 21 of 27 touchdowns on the ground.
They are being pushed by highly-hyped and hungry freshmen tailbacks Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr.
Thompson is coming off a highly efficient, home-run hitting sophomore season that saw him average a team-best 6.3 yards per carry and register three separate touchdown runs of 70 yards or more. The Greenville, Fla. native started just six games while sharing the rushing load with Thomas and Jones, but still amassed 845 yards on the ground.
An FSU tailback has not rushed for 1,000 yards since Warrick Dunn last suited up for the Seminoles in 1996.
Because of the depth at the position and the rotation that running backs coach Eddie Gran has implemented, that drought is likely to continue — not that it’s a bad thing.
“I think it’s the most depth that we have had at running back since I got here,” Thompson said. “We work hard and compete with each other and make each other better. You need that competition factor there because it forces you to always improve.”
As far as actual starting experience goes, Thomas has the most of it.
He has started 18 games for the Seminoles the past two seasons and was the feature back in 2009, a role he served early last season before suffering a knee injury against Clemson. Thomas missed the final three games of the regular season and was limited him to one carry in the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina.
Now healthy, the 5-foot-11, 192-pounder is eager to move past the injury and remind FSU fans why he has nearly 2,000 career rushing yards to his credit.
“That was a tough process to go through,” Thomas said of the injury and ensuing rehabilitation. “It was definitely an eye-opener. I was able to come back because of the help of my coaches and my family. Everything I went through with that put a chip on my shoulder and I am ready to just let it all out on the field this year.”
While Thomas is hoping to prove that he is back to full strength, Jones’ final year at FSU comes with the hope that he can build off a deceptively good 2010 season.
Blessed with a unique ability between the tackles and in short yardage situations, Jones had his most productive year as a junior. The Tampa, Fla. native combined for 350 yards in his first two seasons before finishing second on the team in rushing yards with 527 last year.
Jones doesn’t generate the same hype or newspaper headlines like that of his position mates Thompson or Thomas. That lack of recognition doesn’t extend to his head coach, however, as Fisher has reiterated several times in the past month how impressed he’s been with the fourth-year tailback.
“Ty has had his best camp; probably the best camp in his four years,” Fisher recently said after a sweltering August practice. “Everyday he is being consistent. It’s by far the most consistent camp he has ever had.”
Jones, who battles with diabetes, said that — for him — it’s all about managing his habits both off and on the field.
“A lot of it is working on my blood sugar and making sure I come out to practice with the right mindset,” Jones said. “Just coming out there, knowing what to do and staying consistent.”
In addition to Thompson, Thomas and Jones, Pryor returns to the upperclassmen-heavy fold as both a valuable leader blocker and a capable ball-carrier and receiver. Often compared to former Seminole standout Edgar Bennett, the versatile Pryor produced 112 yards on 23 carries, including four touchdowns and added three more touchdowns on just 12 receptions – an exceptionally high rate of return.
The infusion of freshmen ball carriers Freeman and Wilder, Jr. round out a unit that is going to be a handful for opposing defenses — both literally and figuratively. Neither is expected to redshirt and could figure into the rotation immediately, further bolstering the collection of chain-movers and playmakers.
“Any of those guys you give the ball to, they will give you positive yards,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “Each of those guys has the talent to be a starter. That’s impressive. All those guys can run and they all help make this offense what it is.”