Every day while catching up on my daily Nole must reads, I very often wonder to myself, "Are my 2009 Noles going to be better than last year’s team?"
In the first part of this series, we analyzed the Defensive Line. Today we will take a look at the Wide Receivers and Tight Ends to determine if this unit has progressed, is stagnant, or has regressed in comparison to last years group.
Even though Jimbo Fisher and WR Coach Lawrence Dawsey have already released the preliminary and projected depth chart, I am willing to bet that if you were to talk to either one privately and off the record, neither one really knows who our top receivers will be this season.
I will not, and I do not think any of us need to beat a dead horse any longer by rehashing the fiasco that was our WR corps last season. Therefore, I will ignore the logistic nightmares that this group caused the coaches and their teammates with their "issues", and only present what they accomplished when they were actually allowed to be on the field and allowed to participate.
While it seems that the coaches have a laundry list of players available to put into game situations this year, none of those players have yet earned a reputation or can be considered a pass catching weapon that will really scare any of the opposing defenses. Will this be a problem that could affect the running game?
Last seasons lack of a deep passing game (other than the occasional jump ball downfield) along with the poor pass blocking have been very well documented here, and is something most of our regular TN readers are all too familiar with. While these two factors did contribute to an inadequate passing game, much of the blame also lies with the receivers running lazy and sloppy routes, they lacked clean and crisp cuts, and had a high number of dropped passes during the ‘08 campaign. Relying only on my memory and without any research to back this up, I believe our passing game’s bread and butter consisted of the WR or bubble screen. Fortunately we had above average down field blocking that created some very nice gains and kept us competitive in many close games.
Here are a couple of interesting (sad?) tidbits.
A) Three out of the top five wide outs from last season, Greg Carr, Preston Parker, and Corey Surrency are no longer on the team and the third most productive receiver, Taiwan Easterling missed all of the spring drills with a ruptured Achilles. He is apparently recovering nicely and ahead of schedule and may be ready by the first game. The first few weeks of practice will be very telling as to his recovery and his potential to play. Of the 174 passes caught by receivers in 2008, players responsible for 91 of those receptions are gone, and 30 (Easterling) are questionable.
D) FSU should get a boost with the return of redshirt senior Richard Goodman who caught 20 passes as a junior in 2007, and now has his legal problems behind him, but who must still serve his music suspension.
Last year the tight ends were once again not a factor in the passing game since they had to stay at home to help with the pass protection, thus eliminating another receiving threat and allowing the defense to either double up on a WR, or send another defender to rush and to pressure our QB. When this last scenario occurred the blocking TE, usually Caz, was very often cancelled out by the extra pass rusher and in many cases, the QB did not have time to look at his first, much less his second read.
Caz was basically playing as an extra lineman more than a receiver to help a young and inexperienced offensive line. On top of that, the Seminoles’ other two tight ends were both true freshmen. Despite his decent work as a blocker, Piurowski still established single-season career highs for catches (8), yards (83) and touchdowns (1). For the second time in the last three years, Piurowski averaged over 10 yards a reception in 2008. Bo Reliford and Ja’Baris Little combined for just one catch in their true freshman seasons. The bottom line though, our TE’s only caught a total of 9 passes all season.
Jimbo has said on several occasions during this off season that the tight end WILL be a factor in the passing game this year. If he keeps his word, Ponder will have two different 6'7" targets that can release a few moments after, or at the snap, find a seam in the secondary, and do what opposing teams have been doing to us for longer than I care to remember. Also, if Jimbo keeps his word, our defense will be forced to cover the TE during practices, and maybe this will teach them that the TE is indeed a eligible receiver in football (but I digress and this will be covered at a later date).
Once again just as in the previous story, we realize we lost some very good individual talent. I ask that you please remember that we want to try to look at the unit as a whole when you finally do vote, as to whether this collective unit has progressed, has remained stagnant, or has regressed, compared to last years unit.
OK now we will compare the two groups of Wide Receivers and Tight Ends.
2008 X WR=Greg Carr started 12 games and Jarmon Forston started 1 against Chattanooga. Carr is gone (Rec=39, Yds=542, Avg=13.9, TD=4, Avg/Gm=41.7).
2009 PROJECTED X WR=Bert Reed and Avis Commack
2008 Y WR (Slot)=Taiwan Easterling started 8 games, Ja’Baris Little (TE) started one, and Marcus Sims (FB) started 4 games.
2009 PROJECTED Y WR=Taiwan Easterling and Louis Givens
2008 Z WR=Preston Parker started 8 games, Rod Owens started 3, Corey Surrency started 1, and Bert Reed started 1 game. Parker (Rec=40, Yds=372, Avg=9.3, TD=2, Avg/Gm=37.2) and Surrency (Rec=12, Yds=237, Avg=19.8, TD=4, Avg/Gm=21.5) are both gone.
2009 PROJECTED Z WR=Jarmon Forston, Richard Goodman (Suspended first 3 or 4 games), and Rod Owens
2009 PROJECTED TIGHT END=Caz Piurowski, Beau Reliford, and Ja’Baris Little.
OTHERS WHO CONTRIBUTED IN 2008 AND ARE NOW GONE=Corey Surrency (probably one of the best downfield blocking WR I have seen since Anquan Boldin).
OTHERS WHO MAY CONTRIBUTE IN 2009=Cameron Wade, Matt Dunham will play more of a H-Back role (think smaller pass catching tight end), Josh Gehres, Timothy Orange, Ashuwa Richardson, Willie Haulstead, Rodney Smith
Well there you have it. I guess the real question is not if Carr, Parker, and Surrency can be replaced, but whether their replacements will be able to make up the 10 TD’s, the 91 Rec’s, and the over 100 yards per game that left with them, and are no longer available to us. The question is whether any of the receivers will be able to provide the down field blocking that Surrency and Parker (sometimes) provided. The question is whether Easterling will return to close to 100% of his former self. The question is whether Fisher will keep his word and finally throw to one of the TE’s as promised, at least 3 or 4 times a game.
I believe these are a lot of obstacles to overcome. I also believe that we have heard the last of our WR "issues" and this will provide Ponder with the stability at WR which was so desperately missing last year. Things got so bad that we had TE’s and FB's starting games at WR, and WR's starting at TE, which I believe is something that is now behind us and in the past. I believe Easterling will be close to his old self. And finally, I believe Jimbo will make the TE’s a integral part of the offense like we have not seen in many years, because our OL should be much improved in their pass blocking to where Caz or Beau can finally be utilized as receivers.
MY BOTTOM LINE FOR THE WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT END=PROGRESSION.
What is your bottom line? Please vote now.
Now with the defensive line, receivers and tight ends out of the way, please stay tuned for the linebackers, secondary, backfield, offensive line, and special teams.