How can FSU fill their wide receiver void?

One of my favorite football writers is Matt Hinton, AKA "Dr. Saturday" of Yahoo sports.  Matt consistently cranks our informative posts and a few days before signing day, he posted a look at Florida State's returning offense.  He starts off with a quip about Preston Parker.  Now though, since Taiwan Easterling ruptured his Achilles tendon over the weekend, Parker's departure becomes even more pivotal.  

He then talks about Florida State's talent, proclaims that the talent is probably there, and notes that FSU has produced only one ALL-ACC player since 2005 (Greg Carr, a 2nd teamer in 2006).  He also goes on to say that FSU hasn't had a 1,000 yard wideout or runner since ACC expansion.

Then he starts to talk about the offensive changes at FSU.  In 2008, Jimbo Fisher won ACC Offensive Coordinator of the year as Florida State had the top offense in a very defensive conference.  Here's our total offense chart:

Name Rush Net Rec Yds Touches Total Yards
Smith,Antone 177 792 10 101 187 893
Thomas,Jermaine 69 482 6 48 75 530
Ponder,Christian 119 423 119 423
Richardson,D'Vontrey 35 254 35 254
Jones,Carlton 11 99 11 99
Parker,Preston 10 87 40 372 50 459
Sims,Marcus 23 64 8 45 31 109
Reed,Bert 9 61 23 295 32 356
Givens,Louis 3 32 4 44 7 76
Fortson,Jarmon 1 22 8 137 9 159
Easterling,Taiwan 5 20 30 322 35 342
Gano,Graham 2 16 2 16
Owens,Rod 3 12 15 183 18 195
Surratt,Joe 1 6 1 11 2 17
Paul,Brandon 2 4 2 4
Bradham,Nigel 1 2 1 2
Holloway,Seddrick 1 0 2 5 3 5
Team, 6 -22 6 -22
Weatherford,Drew 5 -26 5 -26
Greg Carr 39 542 39 542
Corey Surrency 12 237 12 237
Caz Piurowski 8 83 8 83
Cameron Wade 3 59 3 59
Josh Dobbie 1 14 1 14
Bo Reliford 1 8 1 8
Team Totals 483 2328 211 2506 694 4834

He notes that Miami also has had the same problems on offense in the area of individual accolades, but then notes something interesting:

Unlike Miami, however, FSU showed some real signs of consistent offensive life last year: The 'Noles led the ACC in scoring by almost a touchdown per game, and even if you remove the fat days against I-AA patsies Western Carolina and Chattanooga, they averaged 29 points against I-A defenses, most since the 2003 conference championship team -- the last time FSU had a legitimate star on offense (devastating running back Greg Jones, before he was injured, as well as All-ACC receiver Craphonso Thorpe), won double-digit games and still held a plausible claim to the title of league hegemon.

I'm glad to see some are taking note. 

Then, as you read the article, he goes on to talk about what FSU's offense should look like in 2008...

He focuses on the losses the 'Noles sustain at the skill positions:

Leading rusher Antone Smith came to Tallahassee as a five-star all-everything; leading receiver Greg Carr was a towering four-star who hauled in nine touchdowns in his first seven games and averaged 21 yards per catch as a true freshman; Parker, while his numbers last year dipped dramatically from a breakout 2007, was still one of the most consistent and versatile players on the offense. Those three accounted for a little over 35 percent of the 'Noles' yards from scrimmage last year.

That's hardly a crippling blow, but based on the hype and production of the returning talent behind that trio, I don't think overestimation is going to be a problem

Then he posts an image of our returning skill position players and includes Easterling and Surrency.  As you know, Easterling is highly questionable for 2009 with a ruptured Achilles and Surrency is unlikely to win his appeal to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility. 

Assuming both won't play in 2009, our new chart looks like this:

Name Rush Net Rec Yds Touches Total Yards
Smith,Antone 177 792 10 101 187 893
Greg Carr

39 542 39 542
Thomas,Jermaine 69 482 6 48 75 530
Parker,Preston 10 87 40 372 50 459
Ponder,Christian 119 423 119 423
Reed,Bert 9 61 23 295 32 356
Easterling,Taiwan 5 20 30 322 35 342
Richardson,D'Vontrey 35 254

35 254
Corey Surrency

12 237 12 237
Owens,Rod 3 12 15 183 18 195
Fortson,Jarmon 1 22 8 137 9 159
Sims,Marcus 23 64 8 45 31 109
Jones,Carlton 11 99 11 99
Caz Piurowski 8 83 8 83
Givens,Louis 3 32 4 44 7 76
Cameron Wade 3 59 3 59
Surratt,Joe 1 6 1 11 2 17
Gano,Graham 2 16

2 16
Josh Dobbie

1 14 1 14
Bo Reliford 1 8 1 8
Holloway,Seddrick 1 0 2 5 3 5
Paul,Brandon 2 4

2 4
Bradham,Nigel 1 2 1 2
Team, 6 -22

6 -22
Weatherford,Drew 5 -26

5 -26
Team Totals 318 2104

With Surrency and Easterling likely out, FSU loses much more than the 35% of total yards Matt suggests in his article.  In fact, FSU loses 56% of its Total yards from 2008, (376 touches and 2730 total yards). 

So, who will we look to for production? 

Name Rush Net Receptions Yds Touches Total Yards
Thomas,Jermaine 69 482 6 48 75 530
Ponder,Christian 119 423 119 423
Reed,Bert 9 61 23 295 32 356
Owens,Rod 3 12 15 183 18 195
Fortson,Jarmon (6' 3", 230lb 4* 6.0 Rivals #7 ATH '08)
1 22 8 137 9 159
Sims,Marcus 23 64 8 45 31 109
Jones,Carlton 11 99 11 99
Caz Piurowski 8 83 8 83
Givens,Louis 3 32 4 44 7 76
Cameron Wade 3 59 3 59
Bo Reliford
1 8 1 8
Holloway,Seddrick 1 0 2 5 3 5
Paul,Brandon 2 4
Bradham,Nigel 1 2 1 2
Team Totals 318 2104
Name Ht Wt Rivals *
RivalsRat ESPN # ESPNRat
Rodney Smith 6' 6" 202 4* (6.0) #8 WR 80 #20 WR
Willie Downs 6' 2" 192
4* (6.0) #3 ATH 80 #14 ATH
Willie Haulstead 6' 3" 210 4* (5.8) #34 WR 79 #32 WR
Xavier Rhodes 6' 2" 187 3* (5.6) #75 WR 77 #60 WR
Jabarris Little ('08) 6' 4" 245 4* (5.8) #10 TE 75 #38 TE
Avis Commack ('08) 6' 4" 210 3* (5.7) #67WR 77 #74WR

Matt says that FSU is now converting to the "Jimbo Fisher way":

Is clearly more oriented toward running the ball and spreading it around to a lot of different players, two areas where FSU was significantly improved last year.

We discussed Jimbo's extensive use of the depth chart throughout the season and despite our concerns (that Ponder and his wideouts couldn't get in rhythm because the reps were spread too thin), it looks like it might be paying off.  Many players got significant reps last year, and despite losing three more wideouts than we expected (Carr was a senior), those losses might not be as bad because of the valuable experience gained by the backups.

Nobody wants to be in this situation, but there might be some ways FSU can cope with this unfortunate predicament. 

First, Jimbo can increase Ponder's carries.  I am not a fan of this idea, but it is likely to happen some.  Instead of increasing his total workload, I advocate smarter use of Ponder.  He needs to give the ball more often on the zone read, and eliminate the roll-out option.  Teams have now seen how dangerous his legs are and will gameplan to stop his wheels.  Just the threat of Christian running will be enough to make the handoff more effective.  The slightly more than occasional keep will be plenty to keep defenses honest.  The offensive line should be much improved, having almost 90 career starts, and their blocking should be better, allowing for a more effective rushing attack without having to run Ponder and using the RB as the 10th blocker (remember that on a handoff, there are only 9 blockers as the QB stands back out of the play).  Additionally, Ponder must slide on plays where a potential first down is not in question.  Not only will the slide help to preserve Christian, but when a player hits a sliding quarterback, refs often penalize the player 15 yards.  Christian is so sudden that he is sure to draw some of these.  For a guy who is so smart, his refusal to slide is maddeningly stupid.  Jimbo can help here as well.  He needs to call handoffs and not Ponder runs when the game is almost out of reach.  This takes the decision out of Christian's hands.  Also, when the game is effectively out of reach, either in our favor or against, Ponder must be pulled.  If we are up 14 with 7 minutes to go... Pull Ponder.  If we are down 10 with 3 minutes to go... Pull Ponder.  The season is about more than just one game and avoiding situations where he is likely to get hit really hard, via a "pin the ears back" pass rush when we're losing or a cheap shot from a  sore loser when the 'Noles are cruising.  I'd even argue that E.J. should start the Jacksonville State game.

FSU really needs Rod Owens and Richard Goodman to step up and play like 5th year seniors.  Goodman had really started to impress before his injury and Owens has a decent skill set.  The main problem with young but talented wideouts if a lack of rapport with the quarterback and a lack of experience in finding the holes in zone coverage.  Owens and Goodman must be the leaders in this area.

As for the rest of the returning talent... there is a good bit of it.  Bert Reed can continue to be a good slot guy and will be counted on to take that next step.  I think he can turn into a 50 catch 500 yard player this year.  This receiver corps will definitely be a lot bigger this year, however, and that could lead tpo some changes.  Fortson and Commack check in at 6' 3" and 6' 4" respectively.  Both were '08 4* recruits and one must step up.  Commack played sparingly last year and was behind the rookie learning curve while Forston showed promise but needs to become a lot more consistent.  That's expected from a young player.  Both must also improve their work ethics and practice with greater intensity.  If neither Fortson nor Commack step up, FSU could be in trouble.  I think Fortson can emerge as a 40 catch, 550yard type player this year.

This will also be an interesting opportunity for Cameron Wade, a player many think is unworthy of his scholarship and a relic of the nepotism era.  I am one of those people.  If he flops, we can hopefully cut him ask him to transfer and then free up a scholarship.  If he performs, it will be a shock pleasant surprise.

FSU has two promising tight end prospects as well, in Jabarris Little and Bo Reliford.  One of them will likely emerge as a good pass catching threat.  Additionally, we need Tight End Caz Piurowski to emerge as our zone-buster.  He has the experience to sit down in a zone and that is what we will need him to do. 

That is to say nothing of the incoming pass catching options.  Rodney Smith is good enough to make an immediate impact, probably to the tune of 20 catches and 320 yards.  Haulstead should also see some early playing time.  The real question in my mind, however, is Downs.  Everyone expects Downs to play safety based off an excellent performance in the Army All-American allstar game.  With our current situation, however, we might need him to play receiver.  We really need to find one wideout of the incoming class who we can count on to play immediately.

Of course, none of this will matter if teams can defend FSU's run game with 7 in the box, as BC, Wake, and Florida were able to do last year.  The main goal of the FSU offense is to obtain a numerical advantage and play the leverage game.  (If you're a new reader, the Bubble screen isn't a weapon as much as it is a check to keep the defense honest.  if the defense cheats, we throw the bubble.  Teams like BC and Wake could play us honestly, with 7 men in the box, and still crush our run game, thus the bubble was ineffective).

Remember that 8 of Ponder's 12 interceptions came in the 3 games where the opposition knew they could easily stop our running game and devote their entire defense to stopping the pass.  Our offensive line was terrible on non-play action pass protection.  This year they should be better, but this is still a team that needs to run to set up the pass.

Once we get teams cheating against the run and trying to compensate against the bubble, they will be extremely limited in the coverages they can run, and thus our passing game will have a lot more success in 2009.   receiver

Matt left us with this:

In contrast to the youth at receiver, the offensive line returns intact after improving the team's overall yards per carry by a full yard from 2007 to '08; with some help from Christian Ponder's scrambling, the running game was viable on a weekly basis for the first time in years. I'm sure I'll go into more depth on this at some point in the next six months, but for now I'll leave it at this: If the progression into a more rugged, "do your job" kind of offense under Fisher and offensive line coach Rick Trickett continues at that pace, anyone resembling the flashy blazers of yore will be much more of a luxury than they ever were under Mark Richt and Jeff Bowden.

 

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