August 2, 2011 - by
Fall Camp Preview: RBs and DTs

Aug. 2, 2011

Brandon Mellor
Brandon Mellor Senior Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Yesterday, we started our week-long camp preview by taking a look at the quarterbacks and defensive ends on the Florida State football roster.

Today, let’s talk running backs and defensive tackles.

Three touchdown runs of 70 yards or more. That’s the only statistic you need to read to understand the type of player that is atop Florida State’s running back depth chart entering fall camp.

The speedy Chris Thompson started just six games as a sophomore last year but he became the Seminoles’ most dynamic offensive playmaker. His 6.3 yards-per-carry average was the most since Leon Washington reeled off 6.9 per tote in 2004. By posting a total of 845 yards, he also very nearly became the first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn.

Imagine what he could do with a full season of starts. Think about how many runs he could break off like the 90-yard scoring scamper he registered against Miami.

Lucky for the Seminoles but no-so-lucky for the stat-geeks out there who want to see an FSU tailback end the 1,000-yards drought (someone like me), Thompson won’t have to carry the full-time load this season because of the impeccable depth in the backfield. But he does need to stay focused on maintaining the No. 1 job in what is his third fall camp, because behind him are two seniors on the depth chart that aren’t just vying to form a rotation.

Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas want to be starters too.

Jones, who is currently listed as No. 2 on the running back depth chart, has shown flashes throughout his three years of playing and has real potential to be a chain-mover. If he can harness his stellar but inconsistent ability, there’s no doubt he could push Thompson for a starting nod.

Thomas is a guy that is clearly the team’s most experienced option in the rotation. After starting 10 games in 2009 and then the first eight last season, it appeared as though he had locked up the top tailback spot for the remainder of his career. But a knee injury sidelined him for the remaining three games and opened the door for Thompson, who went through it and never looked back — much like he did on his three really long touchdown runs.

Because of Jones’ and Thomas’ seniority and experience, expect the battle for the first-game start to be an intense one throughout camp.

Expect to hear a little noise out of two freshmen as well.

Devonta Freeman is one behind Thomas on the depth chart at No. 4 after enrolling in January and impressing everyone during spring practices. Blessed with the gift of speed and unexpected power, Freeman could turn into the type of player that Thompson is blossoming into. Not to be forgotten, James Wilder Jr. arrived in Tallahassee in June with a world of hype and expectations on his broad shoulders. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder looks a lot like an early option for short-yardage situations.

No matter how the running back competition works itself out, FSU has some of the best depth at the position it has had in years. The challenge will not only be on all five of the players to achieve playing time but on running backs coach Eddie Gran to maximize the most of a stocked cupboard of ingredients.

One key player that hasn’t been mentioned but also has the ability to take some of the carries from the running backs is Lonnie Pryor.

The do-it-all starter at fullback has a firm grasp on the No. 1 spot and will not relinquish it to backups Debrale Smiley and Chad Abram. Pryor has shown over the past two years that he is essentially a big tailback with the skills to man the fullback position. He is the “x-factor” for the FSU offense because of his ability to run, block and catch the football out of the backfield.

The defensive tackle position is much like the running back depth chart for FSU: loaded with impressive depth and talent.

But while there’s a “best guess” about whom will line up in the offensive backfield to start the season (Thompson), it may take all of fall camp for the two opening-game starters in the middle of the defensive line to separate themselves.

Everett Dawkins, new-numbered Jacobbi McDaniel (he has switched from No. 99 to the No. 55 he wore in high school), and Anthony McCloud obviously have the leg up on the competition. Both Dawkins and McDaniel are listed as the co-starters at defensive tackle and MCloud is currently at the top of the noseguard rotation on the fall depth chart.

Since playing in three games as a true freshman before being forced to take a medical redshirt, Dawkins has appeared in every game for the Seminoles over the past two seasons and has generated a wealth of experience. In that time span, he has steadily increased his production and tackle totals. Helping him in the fight for the starting job is the fact that he used this offseason to tack on 25 extra pounds of muscle.

Like Dawkins, McDaniel hasn’t missed a game over the last two seasons and even started every contest for the ‘Noles in 2010 despite a lingering elbow injury. Because of that experience and his return to full health, McDaniel may have the best shot of earning the starting duties at defensive tackle. McDaniel is pound-for-pound one of the strongest members of the FSU football team and is more of a run-stuffer than Dawkins, who specializes in pressuring the quarterback from the top of the pocket.

At noseguard, McCloud became a welcome addition a season ago in his first year with the Seminoles. McCloud brought the skills he had accumulated in the junior college ranks to defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins’ unit and by midseason had earned a starting job. He then capped off his impressive inaugural season in Tallahassee by tying his career-best with six tackles in the bowl-game victory over South Carolina.

McCloud and Dawkins or McDaniel may have the best shots at hearing their name announced as a starter on Sept. 3 against Louisiana-Monroe but that won’t stop a group of talented underclassmen from pressuring them.

Demonte McAllister made the most of his reserve opportunities as a redshirt freshman last season as he finished the year with the third-most tackles for loss with seven. The Tampa, Fla. native then followed that up with an equally impressive spring. For those achievements, McAllister finds himself at No. 2 on the defensive tackle depth-chart behind Dawkins/McDaniel.

Behind McCloud are even more rising youngsters.

Cameron Erving used a strong spring to vault himself into the No. 2 spot at noseguard. At 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, Erving, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, is the biggest defensive tackle on the Seminoles’ roster. While he’s pushing McCloud for playing time, Darious Cummings will be extending the same courtesy as the current No. 3 on the depth chart. Cummings is the most inexperienced of the returning tackles but the FSU coaches were pleased with how he handled his first spring in Tallahassee.

Each of the afore mentioned student-athletes participated in spring practice but there are two more on the depth chart that did not have the same luxury. They’re the wildcards.

One of them is the super-talented but oft-injured Moses McCray, who missed all of the 2010 season and then this year’s spring practice period because of an injury. McCray has yet to be 100-percent healthy since he came to FSU but has the potential to be a game-changer on the inside. If he can shake the injury bug and return to the form that made him one of the most sought-after recruits in the country coming out of Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla., McCray has the chance to completely disrupt the depth chart.

The other wildcard is a guy that knows a thing or two about being a highly-rated recruit. Timmy Jernigan had his choice of any college in the country earlier this year but chose Florida State and the program is much better off because of it.

At 6-foot-3 and 297 pounds, Jernigan could line up at either of the defensive tackle spots. His incredible strength and quickness off the ball should translate nicely to the college game. Don’t expect Jernigan to redshirt; expect him to push for serious playing time.

From the veterans to the underclassmen to the two wildcards, it’s pretty clear that the Seminoles have put an increased emphasis on the recruitment of big, talented defensive tackles the past few years and the depth chart reflects that method. Haggins, who has always done his best to rotate as many capable players in and out of the trenches as much as possible during games, will likely have a smile on his face when he walks on to the practice field Monday and sees his group of guys.

It’s a smile he hopes opposing offensive linemen won’t share this coming season.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for a write-up on the offensive linemen and linebackers. Once camp gets started on Monday, Aug. 8, 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.

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