Florida State's Receivers Embrace New Roles

Taiwan Easterling hauls in a pass against Colorado. He will work mostly from the slot this year.

As redshirt freshmen in 2008, Taiwan Easterling and Bert Reed didn't think they would be relied upon, as Florida State returned senior Greg Carr and junior Preston Parker.  But they would soon be asked to come through on crucial plays.  Early in the first quarter against hated rival Miami, Easterling caught a 9 yard pass on second and 10, setting up an easily convertible 3rd & 1 which FSU converted on the way to scoring a touchdown for the early 7-0 lead.  As the half wound down, FSU was again driving, hoping to add to their 21-0 lead.  With less than a minute left, Reed took a short pass, made a 'Cane miss, and scooted 19 yards up the sideline for the first down.  FSU would add a field goal to close out the half.  Late in the third quarter as Miami cut the one time 21 point lead to just 9, and with the rain pouring down, FSU again dialed up Easterling's number, as quarterback Christian Ponder hit Easterling for a 27 yard strike on third and 13  as Taiwan ran a beautiful route on a drenched field.  Then in the 4th quarter, as the Hurricanes had cut the lead to just 2, Easterling ran a reverse for 20 yards.  The play was ballsy given the circumstances and it caught the 'Canes totally off guard.

The way Reed and Easterling were thrown into the fire was refreshing for Seminoles fans, who had become accustomed to an unnecessary amount of deference to upperclassmen under the previous offensive coaching staff, led by Jeff Bowden.  That's not to say that Carr and Parker weren't used effectively, but Easterling was the 'Noles best wide receiver in 2008 and Reed was a dangerous weapon who changed several games with his speed.  I sat down with both of them Sunday to discuss what we can expect to see from them and the receiving corps this year.

Taiwan will play mostly slot this year (the "Y).  This is good for the 'Noles because he is excellent at reading defenses and sitting down in the vacated areas in zone coverage.  He's also decent at running the bubble screens FSU used so well last year when teams showed certain alignments.  I asked Easterling about playing the slot.  "I can really play all over.  I know all the routes for all the positions. ," Easterling said.  He talked about making the reads in the slot.  "it's not harder than the outside, I don't know, it's just different.  You have to see the safeties and once you get the safeties you know the defense.  I just watch a lot of film and it seems to come natural to me."  He also credited his high school program with helping him get ready for the college level "we threw the ball a lot, no huddle stuff and the QB and I would make the checks at the line, so that helped me a little, but I didn't play there but for one year, so it was still a huge adjustment for me and I had to watch a lot of film."  

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Easterling is quite the film rat, and if he is recovered from his surgery (he says he is 100%, which is remarkable), he will be quite the weapon for FSU, particularly on 3rd downs.  On his recovery, Easterling had this encouraging nugget "I feel a lot more explosive, because when i was doing my rehab I worked a lot of my smaller muscles in my leg that I normally wouldn't work."  Easterling said he's a little sore, but feels good.  He's also a lot bigger in the upper body.  

Bert Reed was up next.  The speedster with the newly shaved head said that he was excited about his move to the "X", which is the outside.  "I really have to work on my release because the corners are up on me, and they weren't like that when I was in the slot, but I also don't have to block those 225lb linebackers, because at 175lbs that doesn't work too well."  "I'm excited about playing on the outside where I can get the ball in space and only have to make one guy miss, even though I won't be catching those bubbles any more."  [Realistically, Reed can and probably will still catch bubbles when FSU uses a trips (3-WR to one side) formation, or even in twins.  FSU won't stop putting the ball in his hands.]

Reed also talked about feeling a greater responsibility this year.  Last year, teams didn't respect FSU's run game (though it was very good), but they did respect the deep passing game (though it was poor), because FSU had two 6'6" wideouts in Carr and Corey Surrency.  I asked Bert about the challenge and opportunity he would face as teams are likely to play single coverage against the 'Noles.  "Oh we know they are going to try to stop the run game.  The pressure is on us to make them pay when they bring those safeties down and play single coverage.  But that also gives us opportunities for big plays.  Ponder has more authority this year.  If he sees them playing like that he'll let me know and I'll take off deep.  We have to stretch the field and prove we can get separation and big plays deep.  They have to fear us getting behind them."  I asked Bert if any team showed that look last year.  "Virginia Tech challenged us like you we expect to see this year, but other than that, nobody else really did.  I guess NC State did a bit.  Greg made Virginia Tech pay though with those two bombs."  "We have opportunities to make big big plays deep this year through play-action and when teams pack the box.  We were way short of our goal last year in big plays, and this year teams know we can run and we have to hit them deep if they try too much to stop the run."  

I asked Bert about the hidden things Corey Surrency did.  "His attitude was amazing, his attitude he brought to practice was great, and he did have the best things on our team.  The catches he had to make were really tough.  He was so tough and I made a lot of plays through Corey.  I'm gonna miss running them bubbles and having him drive his guy."  Bert thinks the wideouts need to step up to replace Surrency's blocking.

Bert also said that the game is really slowing down for him.  "It really is.  It's a comfort thing.  I started to see that my 2nd year of quarterback in high school.  Catching the ball now is almost effortless.  It is becoming second nature and playing wideout now in my third year helps that."  [Bert played QB in high school.]

Contrary to what Easterling said, Bert feels the reads at the "X" position are much easier than those at the slot (the "Y").  "Oh yeah, absolutely, because you have more time.  You have less guys to read, and you can see everything because you only have to look in, not both ways.  It makes it easier for me to know what to do."  It seems that Easterling in the Slot and Bert at the "X" should be a good fit.

For more on what FSU could do with their wideouts this year, see Strategy Session:  Bubble-N-Go

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