Florida State Spring Football Position Preview: Running Back

RB Coach Eddie Gran

This is second in a multi-part series covering the position groups as Florida State begins Spring practice.  Florida State only lost 1 starter from its record-setting 2009 offense.  That lone starter was WR Rod Owens.  The 'Noles also lost only 2 backups in Richard Goodman and Brandon Davis.  Remarkably, FSU returns 11 of 12 starters and 10 of 12 reserves.  With that returning depth, you might think that the Spring will be boring for the offense.  Some off-season surgeries, however, will make things interesting and give the younger players a chance to step up and show their talent.  Last week we looked at Quarterbacks.  Today we'll be looking at the running back position.

The running back position received a major upgrade with the addition of coach Eddie Gran.  FSU fans will remember that former RB coach Dexter Carter was effectively relieved of his duties as running backs coach around mid-season after his backs missed 70% of the proper holes in the Boston College game (backs combined for 15 carries for 23 yards).  Enter Gran, who is widely regarded as one of if not the top running backs coach in the country.  You can read up on Gran here.  And a tremendous profile of Gran the family man here.  Having coached backfields that led the SEC in rushing 5 times, Gran has a reputation for being very detail oriented.  Most teams stash their best recruiter at running back coach, even if he can't coach.  Gran is arguably FSU's best recruiter, but he is also a tremendous coach.  He's also an excellent special teams coordinator, a role he will continue to fill at Florida State.

Florida State carries 6 running backs and all 6 are healthy and available for Spring ball.  That's great news for the 'Noles as the FSU defense needs all the work against a great running attack as it can get.

RB Jermaine Thomas

The backs begin with Jermaine Thomas.  The Junior from Jacksonville's First Coast HS has been a standout performer for the Noles in his first two seasons.  The 6'1 200 LB Thomas led the Noles in rushing last season with 810 yards and an impressive 5.10 average.  Thomas greatly benefited from the Carter role reduction.  Just have a look:

Carter Post-Carter
Vs.
#
Yds (Avg) Vs.
#
Yds (Avg)
Mia 7 10 (1.4) GTech 19 98 (5.2)
Jax St 2 8 (4) @ UNC 4 17 (4.3)
@ BYU 6 23 (3.8) NCST 20 186 (9.3)
USF 1 15 (15) @ Clem 26 119 (4.6
@ BC 10 21 (2.1) @ Wake 25 149 (6)
Maryland 11 44 (4)
@ UF 7 21 (3)
WVU 25 121 (4.8)
Total
26
77 (3.0) Total
137
755 (5.5)

Thomas went from 3.0 yards per carry to 5.5 yards per carry under the instruction of the offensive line coach instead of the running backs coach.  It should also be noted that Thomas battled injuries earlier in the year, but the improvement was noticeable across the board for all of the backs. 

Jimbo Fisher was rumored to be very disappointed with Thomas early in the year.  Could it be that some of that frustration was caused not by Thomas, but by the guy instructing him?  In any case, Thomas is a very good back who seems perfectly designed for Florida State's zone scheme, thanks to his excellent balance and vision.   Some believe that Thomas will become Florida State's first 1000 yard-rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1993.  If he can keep his 5.1 average, he would need 196 carries to get there.  That's 33 more carries than last season.  It's possible, but remember that while at LSU, Jimbo Fisher's offense once led the SEC in rushing without having a single back eclipse the 550 yard mark. 

Thomas played a lot of receiver in high school and has excellent hands.  Look for him to have an expanded role catching passes out of the backfield in 2010.  He caught 17 balls for 129 yards last season and I would expect that to increase to somewhere north of 20 this coming year.  As for Spring, Thomas needs to continue to set the tone as the top back and continue to improve his blocking. 

Inside, you'll find the analysis of the remaining 5 running backs. 

A New Face

Next up is the 6'0" 240 lb Debrale Smiley.  Smiley is a Redshirt Sophomore who enrolled this January.  He originally played for Thomas County Central HS in Thomasville, Georgia and spent two years at Itawamba CC (Mississippi).  Smiley is a freak of an athlete and unfortunately it appears his film has been removed from Youtube due to the use of an unauthorized soundtrack.  He can move really well for a back his size.  I would compare him to a young Jerome Bettis.  There is a ton of hype surrounding Smiley. 

But that hype needs to be controlled.  Because he wanted to have three seasons of eligibility at Florida State, Smiley took a redshirt year last season at his JUCO and focused solely on academics.  He last played a football game in November of 2008.  His first carry in Spring ball will be the first carry he has had in 15 months.  He's not in great shape right now and FSU didn't expect him to be considering he took the year off.  But Smiley is a very mature guy.  He's 22 years old and is married with a kid (maybe two).  Suffice to say, he is not your typical sophomore. 

As for Spring, Smiley comes with a ton of questions.  What kind of shape is he in?  How is his hip flexibility?  How quickly can he grasp the scheme?  What plays can he run?  Can he catch?  How much fullback will he play (Smiley understands that he needs to play some fullback to showcase his talents to the NFL)?  How much of a role will he have in the offense? 

Answers to all of these questions should be forthcoming, but the one issue that is not in doubt is that he is a very large grown man who runs extremely hard. 

Sophomore Sensations

RB Lonnie Pryor

Next on the list is Lonnie Pryor.  The 6'1" 210 lb sophomore from Okeechobee was a sensation as a freshman.  Many felt he would need time to acclimate himself to Jimbo Fisher's scheme due to concerns that he did not fit within the zone scheme.  That was unnecessary, however, as Fisher simply did not ask him to do run in the zone scheme.  Pryor showed that he is an incredible team player and thrust himself into the offense with his willingness to block.  He understands the offense.  He blocks.  He has excellent hands.  And he really is the do-it-all guy for the 'Noles offense.  Pryor never seemed to mess up.  Ever.  Even at 210 lbs, FSU stuck him at fullback a few times and he excelled there.

But where Pryor really excelled was as a Shotgun back.  He protected Ponder and Manuel with crushing blocks.  He did a nice job on draws (including the game winner against Maryland).  And he was sensational catching the ball out of the backfield.  Oh, and he was tremendous on special teams as well.  And he's a great glue guy.  It's tough to do anything but praise Pryor. 

So how does a guy who was arguably the freshman of the year improve?  It would be tough.  Pryor could probably add 10-15 LBs to his frame without sacrificing much, if any quickness.  The bigger question is whether he has improved to a point as a runner where he can run in the zone scheme.  It's a minor worry, but opponents could pick up on a tendency when Pryor is in the game.  The best guess is that Fisher will continue to find ways to use the talented sophomore.

RB Chris Thompson

Next up is Sophomore Chris Thompson.  The 5'8" 178 lb spark plug from nearby Madison is another one of the promising players from the 2009 offensive class.  Thompson battled injuries and the death of his grandfather last season, but still played well when called upon.  Thompson rushed for 120 yards on 23 carries, a 5.2 average.   He also caught two balls for 10 yards.  Thompson has tremendous hands and it's entirely likely that he catches 20 balls next season as he becomes more comfortable in the offense.  Thompson is a quiet, no-nonsense, yes sir, no sir kid with a tremendous work ethic.  His goal for Spring should be to continue to add weight and improve his blocking. 

 

Two Question Marks

Our next two players each come with some questions.  Both have undeniable potential, but both have a lot of work to do.

RB Ty Jones

Carlton Jones, AKA Ty Jones came to FSU from Tampa Middleton HS as a relatively unheralded two-star recruit.  Even those who followed Tampa HS ball were not that impressed with Jones.  But he overcame some academic issues and made it to Florida State in the Fall of 2008.

But academics aren't Jones' biggest problem.  Jones struggles with Type-1 Diabetes.  He failed the manage it over the last two seasons and as a result, his weight fluctuated wildly.  He did not do what was expected of him and is essentially still a freshman in terms of physical development. 

Jones also struggles picking up the mental part of the game, with costly missed assignments and blocks. 

But when Jones is on, he can really play.  He's just wildly inconsistent.  This Spring, Jones needs to show a serious dedication to taking care of himself.  He has a ton of ground to make up in the weight room.  Jones is not an effective player at 200 lbs, but could be very good at 225.  It's very likely that Jones 2010 season will decide whether he finishes his career at Florida State or transfers.  And Jones must really put it together right now in order for him to even get a look during the regular season. 

RB Tavares Pressley

The second question mark has had some bad luck.  Tavares Pressley is originally from Arcadia (FL) and came to FSU as a Junior via California's El Camino JUCO program.  He's 6'1" 205 lbs and when healthy, is a really good back.  Rivals and Scout rated him as a 4* prospect and he was a top 3 JUCO back coming out in 2008.

Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in 2008 during Fall camp.  Pressley redshirted that season and missed Spring as well.  He struggled last season to recover from the ACL injury.  That's not uncommon as the ACL injury is typically an 18-month type injury.  Pressley tallied 40 yards on 9 carries. 

Running back coach Eddie Gran recently said that Pressley is his fastest back.  If TP can put it together this Spring and show his skills, he could get some serious playing time this season.  But he still has a long way to go, given that we haven't yet seen him block or catch.  How much of the scheme can he grasp?  Perhaps a specialized role would be best for Pressley.  This is his money year and you can bet he'll be giving it his all to get on the field and show his stuff for the NFL.

 

Spring should be pretty exciting with 6 capable and healthy backs under the direction of one of the nation's premier running back coaches.

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