Florida State Seminoles Spring Football Preview: The Backfield

Note: Florida State pushed back the start of spring practice to March 16.  The Noles were supposed to start on Monday, March 2nd, but Jimbo fisher decided it would be better to start after spring break, which begins on March 9, instead of starting practices and having a long layoff.  The spring game will still be on April 4, but now FSU will have two practices after the spring game.

Here's the schedule:  March: 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28, 30.  April: 1, 3, 4 (Spring Game), 6, 8

Part One:  Florida State's Spring Football Quarterback Battle

In the second part in a series of Florida State spring football previews, we'll discuss the backfield. 

Last year, under the direction of ACC Offensive Coordinator of the year, Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles had the top rated rushing attack in the ACC.  This was a huge improvement over the 2007 season which saw the 'Noles finish a pathetic 10th of 12.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
Team Off. Rushing S&P+
Florida State 123.7
Georgia Tech 122.4
N.C. State
    113.2
Miami
    110.4
Boston College
    101.9
Maryland
     96.6
Virginia Tech
     96.0
North Carolina
     93.7
Virginia
     93.5
Clemson 88.5
Duke
     84.7
Wake Forest 79.2

Click the link in the table header for an explanation of those numbers.

Let's take a look at what the 'Noles will need to do to equal last year's proficient rushing attack.

 

Opponent (ACC Games Only)
Rushes
Net
Wake Forest(3-12) 28 102
Miami (Fla.)(41-39) 52 330
North Carolina St.(26-17) 45 138
Virginia Tech(30-20) 38 89
Georgia Tech(28-31) 36 196
Clemson(41-27) 36 266
Boston College(17-27) 24 73
Maryland(37-3) 42 172

NOTE:  The above numbers include sacks. 

4.3 yards per carry, including sacks, is very good.

Here's a breakdown of the individual rushing performances.  I have crossed off the guys the 'Noles will lose due to graduation, discipline, or injury.

Florida State 2008 Individual Rushing (ACC Games)
Name Rush Net
Smith,Antone 104 418
Thomas,Jermaine 31 279
Ponder,Christian 91 299
Richardson,D'Vontrey 23 134
Jones,Carlton 5 20
* Parker,Preston 7 67
Sims,Marcus 21 61
* Reed,Bert 3 13
* Givens,Louis 2 24
* Easterling,Taiwan #
4 17
* Owens,Rod 3 12
Team Totals 294 1344

Note: Ponder had 174 yards in sacks, which are included in his total.
* Player is not a backfield member but is likely a wide receiver
Players who will not be playing in 2009 are crossed through.
# Player is injured and will not participate in spring practice, but may play in 2009.

Florida State is losing roughly 245 carries and about 1200 yards on the ground. 

The Seminoles must replace Antone Smith's production.

T1_smith_medium

via i.a.cnn.net

Many don't think Antone was very good.  I think he was a good college back.  He was never great, but he was decent.  Smith struggled to learn the Seminoles zone run scheme, which is not difficult to learn.  He never seemed natural out there.  I will always remember him for his huge effort in the Miami win.

Game (ACC Only)
Rushes Yds
Wake Forest 8 24
at Miami (Fla.) 27 92
at North Carolina St. 20 89
Virginia Tech 9 57
at Georgia Tech 9 35
Clemson 8 57
Boston College 10 19
at Maryland 13 45
Totals
104 418

That's about 4 yards per carry in ACC play.  There's a hidden advantage to losing Smith, however, and that is variance.  Smith was a boom or bust back. 

63 104 carries in ACC play.  He gained 481 yards and lost 63 yards.  That's a pretty high loss number for having only 104 carries.  Smith gained 5.23 yards per carry and lost .61 yards per carry.  That's probably  a new stat to you.  It is to me as well.  I like to use it to look at how often a back puts his team in a negative leverage down after he has a run (like 2nd and 9, for instance).  Modern football scholars almost universally agree that the median carry is a much better measure of running back value than yards per carry.  Part of this it is very much attributable to an offensive line that exceeded expectations, but was far from good.  Smith was frustrating in that never seemed smooth in his approach and often struggled to find the hole in the zone scheme-- which often did not designate a specific hole.  He also really faded down the stretch.  Antone also struggled with handling option pitches-- something that we saw was increasingly important in Jimbo Fisher's scheme.  He also struggled running out of the shotgun, a formation that the 'Noles increasingly resorted to as the offensive coordinator gradually migrated against the use of a fullback, which is a dying position in the sport.   As a receiver, he caught 10 balls for 100 yards, but 43 of those 101 came against Division 1-AA filler or in garbage time.  Antone was a good Seminole, who never embarrassed the program and really ran hard his senior year.  It wasn't his fault that the system didn't fit his style and I'm not wanting to bash a good Seminole like Antone.  

Antone basically contributed 104 carries and 418 yards.  Let's call his departure a deficit of 105 carries and 420 yards.  

Florida State needs to find someone to take D'Vontrey Richardson's carries

42338776_medium

via www.orlandosentinel.com


Rushes Yards
Western Caro. 4 68
Chattanooga 5 38
Wake Forest 8 46
Virginia Tech 4 21
at Georgia Tech 4 41
Clemson 1 7
at Maryland 6 19
Florida 3 14
ACC Total
23
134
Season Total
35 254

D'vo was good as a change up to Christian Ponder.  Running the student body left and right out of the shotgun.  He had issues that I'm not going to discuss here, but if you read every D'Vo article on our site you can probably get a feel for what he had going on.  He'll focus on baseball now and has some chance to play defensive back in the spring, but it is unlikely he will be back.  I don't want him back on the team as he won't be able to pick up defensive back and be productive in the remainder of his career.  We need his scholarship.  D'Vo was a very good runner, and importantly, a warm body to advance the ball and take hits that Ponder didn't have to take.  We will need to replace about 25 carries and 135 yards in ACC play due to D'Vo's departure.

What of Parker and Easterling's carries?

Florida State dismissed Parker and Easterling had Achilles surgery.  I doubt he contributes this year.  These two wide receivers combined for 15 carries and 107 yards overall, with 11 of those coming in conference, for 84 yards.  Next year, we'll need to replace that to the tune of roughly 14 carries and 110 yards.  The 'Noles could do without Preston Parker's fumbling problem.  I hope whatever team he lands with in the Florida Penal League knows about this.

 

The goal for Florida State in conference will be about 300 carries and 1400 yards. 

Quarterback Christian Ponder should continue to be an excellent runner.  I think an estimation of 90 carries and 325 yards (including sacks) is a reasonable expectation.  I came to this conclusion because I think Ponder will be sacked less in 2009.  I estimate that his yards per carry will improve by 10%, due to the reduction in sacks.  We still need 210 carries and 1076 yards. 

Jermaine Thomas should be good for 110 carries and 525 yards in ACC play.

610x_medium

340x_medium

via cache.daylife.com

Jermaine Thomas was made to be a running back in the zone scheme.  He has no use for a fullback.  Thomas understands the need to make one cut and get up the field.  His stride is deceptively fast.  At 6-1, 190lbs, his upright style is a thing of beauty to watch.  Let's do just that:


Personally, his running style reminds me of Ricky Watters.  Both Thomas and Watters played a fair amount of wide receiver in their prep days and both have a very upright gait. Here's Watters:


Longtime Tomahawk Nation contributor compared him to:

Jeff Cheaney.  Both seem real wiry and don’t look very strong, but seem to have a knack for contorting to shed tackles. They have odd cuts and sometimes seem to be dodging imaginary players.

Last season, Thomas went for 279 yards on just 31 carries in ACC play.  That's 9 yards per carry.  I think 110 carries for 525 yards is a reasonable projection.  Thomas is not a huge back.  He is not the type of player I want drawing 20 carries per game.  If Thomas can get 14 carries and 3 catcher per game in ACC play, that will be great for the Seminoles.  I have a feeling that Thomas will decline quickly if he gets anything over 125 carries in ACC play.  In fact, only 5 players had 125 or more carries in ACC play last year, and all were significantly bigger than Thomas.  Only one (Dwyer) had an average approaching what I expect out of Thomas.  It seems to me that Thomas' goal for Spring needs to be health and normal development.  He must stay healthy and continue to get stronger.  There is absolutely no need for Thomas to get extensive work in the spring and risk a possible growth stunting injury.  All he needs to do is to learn the blitz pickup schemes and the intricacies of the Jimbo Fisher offense, an offense I don't think is all that complicated for running backs.  Let's hope Fisher and staff manage him correctly as he can be a special weapon for the 'Noles in 2009. 

Based on my projections of Ponder and Thomas combining for 200 carries and 850 yards, the 'Noles will still need to get another 100 carries and 550 yards to reach my goal of 300 carries and 1400 yards.

Marcus Sims should see an expanded role in 2009. 

Florida_state_v_miami_ltbt1oaux1rl_medium

via www3.pictures.gi.zimbio.com

Most FSU fans know the story of Marcus Sims.  The brother of Seminole superstar linebacker Ernie Sims, Marcus was highly recruited and came to FSU on the promise that he could play running back.  Despite having a serious need at the linebacker position, FSU kept the promise.  That may now prove to be a good move.

Sims missed 4 games last year with various academic related suspensions.  He is a talented runner and can be a valuable bigger back in Jimbo Fisher's system.  To call Sims a fullback would be inaccurate.  He's essentially a 6' 0" 230lb running back.  He rushed 23 times for 21 times for 61 yards in 7 conference games.  Sims has very good receiving skills as well, catching 8 balls for 45 yards in 7 conference games.  His best performance coming against NC State, catching 5  balls for 38 yards, including 3 first downs. Sims really needs to put better effort into his blitz pickup in the passing game and give more effort in carrying out his fakes.  He also must hold onto the ball better.  Maybe embattled running back coach Dexter Carter can help him with his ball security issue?

The spring is a perfect time to work on all of those issues.  I think Sims can play at 235lbs and be a big time contributor for the 'Noles.  It's worth noting that he is a Junior and not a Senior, thanks to some scholarship finagling.  I expect Sims to get 55 carries for 200 yards this year in his 8 conference games.  Like Thomas, he needs to increase his understanding of the offense and maybe his new found eligibility youth will inspire him to become a leader on the practice field.

Adding Sims 55 for 200 to our 200 for 850, we come to 255 carries for 1050 yards.   We still need 45 carries for 350 yards to reach our goal.  We can pick that up with the remaining guys and the incoming freshmen.

I think E.J. Manuel will have a decent year rushing.  Most of his work in spring will be of the learning variety, however, and I doubt he focuses on running when he still needs to learn the passing game. 

Highly touted JUCO running back Tavares Pressley (from last year's recruiting class) will miss Spring practice as he continues to recover from his August ACL surgery.  I'm of the opinion that we should cut Pressley unless he makes significant strides this offseason.  I really doubt that he can stay eligible for three years anyways, being a JUCO guy with past academic struggles.  Here's some of his JUCO video for you to enjoy.  Please keep in mind that it is very unlikely that he will both recover from ACL surgery, regain his prior form, and remain eligible all within the same time frame.


That leaves us with two guys who will be playing this spring. 

 

The first is low-profile fullback Seddrick Holloway.  He's sort of a man without a role in Fisher's offense, as we try to move away from the fullback and more towards the traditional H-Back role.  Holloway is a good to very good blocker.  He's not an elite college blocking full back.  One of our members recently spotted Holloway and said that he is bigger than Kendrick Stewart.  Kendrick Stewart is 6-1 270.  Holloway is 5-10, generously.  I don't know how much Holloway weighs, but apparently he is really out of shape now.  He won't play if he doesn't get seriously committed to his conditioning.  We don't need lazy players on this team.  We really don't need waste of space seniors setting a poor example for the younger guys.  We don't need a fullback with a 42 inch waist.  Holloway only had one carry last year and is not a candidate to carry the football, though I guess he could rest it against his ample hip if need be.  All kidding aside, we will need Holloway for limited goal-line and short yardage situations and he is way too slow right now to flow with our quicker linemen.  He must get his act in gear.

Fatblackdude_medium

Come On, Seddrick!  Put down the burger!

 

That leaves us with Carlton "Ty" Jones, a sophomore from Tampa who has his own medical issues.  Jones is a very promising prospect with a major issue-- he has diabetes.  Right now, Jones is tiny.  He is under 200lbs, after suffering another major diabetes induced weight loss.  Jones cannot afford to mismanage his diabetes.  His Grandma used to make him special diabetes friendly meals when he was a kid in high school, but apparently he is not getting that taken care of at Florida State.  Know anyone who could help this kid out?

610x_medium

via cache.daylife.com

Jones needs to play at 220lbs to be effective.  He doesn't have the moves to be a running back at a school like Florida State if he is down 20lbs of muscle.  Jones is the kind of back who sheds tacklers with leverage and strength.  I think he can be a decent player if he can get to 210lbs, and he will get a bunch of work in spring.  Last year he rushed 11 times for 99 yards.  Clearly he is a back with a lot of potential.  Jones also has some intelligence issues working against him.  I don't want to call the kid dumb, but he had a qualifying scare, really didn't understand the offense last year and hasn't had the mental discipline to manage the diabetes.  Is it realistic to expect a college kid to manage his diabetes?    His real work will come this summer in the weight room.

The real key for the spring will be for everyone to work hard, for the backs to avoid major setbacks due to injury or otherwise, and for Thomas and Sims to learn their pass protection responsibilities.

 

 

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