By Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com
Wide Receiver Recap:
In the world of sports, a lot can change during the off-season. Just ask Florida State wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey.
Entering his second spring practice period as an assistant football coach at his alma mater, Dawsey began by looking at a depth chart with the most questions of any position on the Seminole roster.
Gone is Greg Carr and his nearly 2,000 career receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. So too is FSU’s most viable playmaker from the past two seasons, Preston Parker. Corey Surrency and his big-play potential won’t be suiting up in the garnet and gold anymore either.
Together, that trio of upperclassmen accounted for 91 of the 174 receptions by wide receivers last season and chipped in with a combined 10 touchdowns.
With so much production to replace, the pressure was on up-and-comers Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling to show they could step into the roles of go-to receivers this spring. Reed used the practice period to make the switch from the slot to the starting “X” receiver position where coaches hope his playmaking skills can best be utilized on the outside.
But while Reed displayed on the practice fields some of the flashes that helped him turn heads a season ago in his redshirt freshman campaign, his classmate Easterling never even had the chance.
Easterling, whose 30 catches in 2008 are the most of any returning player, ruptured his Achilles tendon during mat drills and was forced to watch from the sideline as his teammates competed for depth-chart positioning all spring.
Without Easterling, walk-on Louis Givens was given increased opportunities and built off his surprise 2008 season by becoming even more involved in the offense in the spring. Givens, a shifty athlete and one of the fastest players on the football team, is excellent at using his quickness and smaller stature to hide behind blockers and make moves to get past defenders.
The spring session also marked the return of Richard Goodman, the fifth-year receiver that redshirted last year while rehabilitating a leg injury. Goodman looked good in his return to action but some off-the-field issues may cost him some playing time come fall.
Like Goodman, fellow redshirt senior Rod Owens may miss some playing time to start the 2009 season after he wasn’t allowed to participate all spring following an incident that didn’t take place on the practice fields.
Owens’ absence coupled with the departures of Carr, Parker and Surrency meant that Goodman and Givens were the only seniors competing for playing time. The lack of upperclassmen meant – and will continue to mean – that a depth chart full of young players will need to play like veterans.
Jarmon Fortson, the Hurtsboro, Ala. native who nabbed eight receptions for 137 yards and one score as a true freshman last year, is one of those youngsters that coaches have been expecting a lot of since the end of last year.
Fortson was utilized as a starter throughout the spring and could find himself in that same role come two-a-days.
Overall, the wide receivers had their moments but the FSU coaches will undoubtedly be looking for more this fall.
What to watch for:
Florida State figures to be a dominant running team in 2009 but that doesn’t mean there will be any less demands on the wide receivers to produce.
In order for Christian Ponder to take the next step in his development as a quarterback, he is going to need a group of guys that he trusts throwing the ball to. That means having wide receivers that run crisp routes, aren’t afraid to go over the middle when need be, can make plays when the ball is in the air, and can do something with it once they catch it.
The quarterback-wide receiver relationship is the most unique in all of sports. Having trust and proper timing is critical to the success of an offense’s aerial attack.
The question is, will Ponder view the wide receivers as a group of trustworthy guys?
Easterling proved last year that he is by becoming one of FSU’s most consistent contributors at receiver. His continued rehabilitation from that Achilles injury is critical to the wide receiver corps.
Reed displayed his tremendous athleticism last year working in the slot and the move to “X” position should free him up to make more plays down the field.
With question marks surrounding veterans Goodman and Owens, there is extra pressure on Easterling and Reed to step up and not only become better football players but better leaders. It’s not very often that a team has to rely on redshirt sophomores to be position leaders but that is exactly the situation that FSU is in.
The departures of Carr and Surrency also means the loss of big-bodied receivers that could go up and snatch jump balls out of the air over smaller defenders. Their height served as the perfect complement to Easterling and Reed who beat teams with quickness and speed rather than size.
Athletic and measuring in at 6-foot-3 and 223-pounds, Fortson is the ideal player to fill the void.
In fact, FSU has several players that meet the necessary measurements to be defensive nightmares and serve as change-ups to Reed, Easterling and the 5-foot-8 Givens. Cameron Wade and Avis Commack stand 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6, respectively, and soon-to-be freshmen Willie Haulstead, Xavier Rhodes and Rodney Smith all are at least 6-foot-2 with Smith standing a Carr-like 6-foot-6 and 200-plus pounds.
That amount of size at the wide receiver position is quite remarkable and is enough to get excited about if you’re a fan of high-powered, high-flying offenses.
But the reality is that FSU still features a wide receiver corps that is overall very young and nobody knows exactly how each of these players is going to perform under the bright lights of major college football come fall.
Reed, Easterling and Fortson showed last year they have the skill-sets to serve as replacements for Carr, Parker and Surrency but now they have to go out and make plays without those veteran leaders. Wade and Commack played sparingly last season and will be expected to step up and contribute more.
Because of the questions surrounding the receivers, the true freshmen won’t receive a free pass in 2009. Their learning curve should be accelerated as redshirts for them might not be an option. Can they answer the call and make an impact less than one year removed from high school? That remains to be seen.
Surely tailbacks Jermaine Thomas and Carlton Jones will be the workhorses for an offense that will likely be run first and pass second thanks to an offensive line that is one of the best at helping move the chains on the ground.
But the wide receivers have to do their part. When it’s a running play they have to seek out and block defenders and when it’s a passing play they have to capitalize.
There’s no denying that the wide receivers at Florida State will be under the most scrutiny this season and with so much negative news over the past year about the group the pressure is certainly unenviable.
Now is the perfect time, though, for them to prove the doubters wrong and serve as the catalyst in the Seminoles’ quest for a return to greatness.
Seminoles.com Position Analysis Archive: