Florida State Spring Football Position Preview: Wide Receiver

WR Coach Lawrence Dawsey

This is third 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 WR Richard Goodman and Guard 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.  So far we've looked at Quarterbacks and Running Backs.  Today we'll be looking at the Wide Receivers. 

This unit is coached by Seminole great Lawrence Dawsey.  2010 will be his fourth season as receivers coach for the 'Noles and he has done a tremendous job.  It was his group that was involved in the embarrassing union fight and had two DUI arrests (Parker and Owens).  But he cut the guys who didn't belong at Florida State and transformed the rest.  Last Spring, Florida State fans were very worried over the loss of Greg Carr and Preston Parker.  Additionally, Taiwan Easterling tore his Achilles tendon and many thought he could miss the season.  Bert Reed was rumored to be on his last strike (not true, as the incidents were overblown), while Rod Owens and Richard Goodman could never stay healthy. 

Name Yr Rec (2009)
Yards (2009)
Bert Reed RsJR 60 711
Jarmon Fortson JR 45 610
Taiwan Easterling RsJR 35 442
Louis Givens SR 7 78
Willie Haulstead SO 1 10
Rodney Smith SO 1 7
Josh Gehres RsFR 0 0
Cameron Wade RsJR 0 0
AJ Alexander RsSO 0 0
Total
149 1858

This year looks significantly better.  Rod Owens and Richard Goodman have moved on.  They accounted for 1084 receiving yards on 88 catches.  Those two accounted for 30% of the 'Noles passing game (about 37% of the yards from receivers came via Owens & Goodman).  But Goodman didn't play in the season's final 5 games, and some other players stepped up in his absence.  Let's have a look at what the 'Noles bring back:

149 catches and 1858 yards of returning receptions is very good.  It's certainly better than what FSU brought back going into last season (barely even 1000 yards).  But there are some new questions for this unit.  

And the questions are more about roles than they are talent.  Goodman and Owens weren't amazing physically, but they were two of the better route runners on the team.  Importantly, they were dependable.  Christian Ponder could trust they they would be where they were supposed to be. 

The man called upon to fill Owens shoes while still wearing his own will be Bert Reed.

36141_florida_st_ncarolina_football_medium

Reed made the transition from the slot position in 2008 to the outside "X" position last year.  It was a move that showed Reed's versatility and his willingness to be a team player as the 'Noles tried to replace Greg Carr and Preston Parker.  And Reed played pretty well, grabbing 60 balls for 711 yards.  And he showed a real willingness to go over the middle when needed.  On one play against North Carolina he was asked to do just that.  Florida State needed someone to threaten the middle of the field with TE Caz Piurowski out for the year.  Bert Responded:  

Florida State vs North Carolina - Bert Reed Square In

So what does Spring ball have in store for Mr. Reed?  I suspect we'll see Bert line up more on the inside (the "Y").  There are a few reasons for this.  First, Owens and Goodman did a nice job going over the middle last season and they are now gone.  Second, Bert did a nice job from the slot as a freshman in 2008.  Third, the slot man rarely gets press coverage and that helps Reed who is slight of build (5'11" 165) to get the clean release.  Fourth, Bert doesn't have much shot at an NFL job, but if he does, it will be as a slot receiver.  He's simply too small to play on the outside at the next level.  Fifth, the other returning receivers check in at 6'3" 235, 6'4" 205, 6'3" 210 (Fortson, Smith, Haulstead).  Reed is the player best suited to play inside.  This becomes especially important in the Fall if Taiwan Easterling doesn't return, but we know Easterling is out for Spring (baseball), so Bert is really the only available proven slot player.   This is purely speculation, but if I had to bet as to whether Easterling will be on the team in the fall or if he will go to baseball full-time, I'd bet on him sticking with baseball.  Easterling was a 6th round draft choice out of high school and was Mr. Baseball for Mississippi.

FSU also needs Reed to become more of a leader.  Despite rumors in 2008, Bert is not at all a bad guy.  He's a friend to everyone who occasionally is too trusting and found himself in some bad spots.  And he is hilarious.  The guy loves to joke around.  There's nothing wrong with that, but with Goodman (who was a good leader), and Owens (silent type) now gone, the pressure is on Bert to become the leader.  Fortson won't do it and Easterling will not be here in the Spring (and might not be in the Fall).  Bert needs to make sure that the receivers work at a championship level.

Bert is on a good path.  His hands have improved since he got here, he still has great speed, and FSU doesn't ask him to do things that he is physically incapable of doing.  Continue reading to see the rest of the wide receivers.

Jarmon Fortson

Next up is Jarmon Fortson.  He's arguably the best athlete on the team.  The 6'3" 230 lb Junior from Carver HS (Ga) has more talent than all but a select few college football players.  And when he is on, he is Terrell Owens.  When he's off, he makes you throw things at your TV.  Fortson is probably best known for dropping the would-be game winning pass against Miami.  

Fortson is already a good player.  He caught 45 balls for 610 yards and when he wanted to block, he absolutely dominated.  Fortson led all receivers with more than a 13.5 yards per catch average.  It was his first year as a major contributor and if he was any other player, 'Nole fans would be satisfied with his performance. 

But Jarmon is not just any wide receiver.  His athleticism and ability precludes him from being judged by normal standards.  He's a mix of Kevin Knox and Anquan Boldin.  And when he doesn't play to his potential, he gets judged on a different scale.  Fortson has a lazy streak in him.  He loafs on routes and his practice habits are poor.  His knack for making the spectacular catch is often overshadowed by his drops on potential easy catches. There are a lot of people in the program who don't believe he will ever put it all together. 

So for Spring, Fortson has to make a commitment to himself and the 'Noles.  He must decide that he will work hard on a consistent basis.  He must decide that his career won't go up in smoke.  The attitude concerns need to go away and Fortson must show the coaches that he means business.

Florida State's Jarmon Fortson Makes a SICK ONE HANDED CATCH (via BXSportsCenter)

Here's a link to a 3+ minute highlight tape.  It's really good stuff.

 

New Faces On the Outside

With the loss of Owens and Goodman, Taiwan Easterling focusing on baseball this Spring, and Bert Reed likely seeing increased time on the inside, Florida State is going to need two players to step up.

Rodney Smith

Rodney Smith was one of the top receivers in the 2009 recruiting class.  Rated a 4* by both Rivals and ESPN, the 6'6" 205 lb Smith played some offense and a lot of special teams.  He played for a tiny high school and was the star of an old school wing-t offense that didn't throw the ball much, Smith had a lot to learn about playing the position when he got to FSU.  Specifically, he needed to learn how to run routes, how to read defenses, and really how to play in an offense that wasn't the wing-t. 

What he didn't need to learn, however, was how to catch the ball, how to jump, and how to be a fluid 6'6" athlete.  You can't teach 6'6". 

This Spring will be the chance for Smith to show just how far he has come.  Does he understand the offense?  How much will Fisher ask him to do?  Can he run routes at a level that will allow him to play at a level benefiting the team?  Remember, Smith is very talented but extremely raw.  There's no indication that he has a poor work ethic, so hopes are pretty high.  Big wide receivers often take longer to blossom than the smallish slot-types, because they have to grow into their bodies.  

Willie Haulstead

But Smith wasn't the only elite-level receiver Florida State grabbed in the 2009 class.  Willie Haulstead was a star for Titusville High School.  But before he got to Titusville, he came from the Muck (Pahokee).  The 6'3" 205 lb prospect reminds some of Braylon Edwards from his days at Michigan.  Except that like Smith, he has tremendous hands.  He's not a burner, but Haulstead is a big wideout who will eventually carry 225 lbs on a 6'3" frame.  He's very difficult to bring down and should be a tremendous blocker.  Like Smith, Haulstead is a big body who was not forced to run precise routes in high school.  Haulstead must show that he understands the offense, can get separation from college defenders, and run the routes he needs to run.  Here are some of his high school highlights:

Willie Haulstead #2 Titusville Terrier Football Highlights 2008 (via cwludyga)

And then there are the other four players.

A.J. Alexander is moving from defensive back to wide receiver.  The 5'11" 175 lb former 4* from the 2008 class will be a Redshirt Sophomore this fall.  He didn't work out at defensive back, but he might have an opportunity to play the slot.  Nobody knows if he can catch, if he understands the offense, if he can run routes, etc.  But he is really, really fast.  And he'll get his shot this spring to show why he should remain on the team long term.  If Alexander can catch, he will likely see some time in the slot.

Perhaps the forgotten man for those not from Tallahassee is Josh Gehres.  Follow me here.  Gehres is a 6'3" 200 lb wideout from Tallahassee Lincoln.  He was recruited in the 2008 class (picked FSU over Iowa, Michigan State, USF, and Utah), but greyshirted (enrolled Spring 2009), and then redshirted this past season.  That makes him a redshirt freshman for this fall.  Gehres has amazing hands and catches everything.  But does he have the athleticism to play at this level?  He's reportedly a special teams ace and a great team player, but he must start to prove himself as a position player this spring.

Florida State also has Cameron Wade.  The 6'6" 200 lb redshirt Junior is not a good football player and Jimbo Fisher did not want to take him when he got to Florida State in February 2007.  Bowden made Fisher honor the scholarship that had been extended by Jeff Bowden.  Wade isn't a reliable player, embarrassed the team last year with his arrest for failing to take care of his warrants, and doesn't have a place in the offense.  He will need to show a lot of improvement to avoid being passed on the depth chart by guys with two years less experience than him.  Wade did not catch a pass last year.  Most consider Wade a prime candidate to transfer. 

Finally, we believe that Louis Givens will be on the team.  He is trying to get his 6th year.  Givens has trouble catching the ball but he is very fast, an excellent special teams player, a good glue guy, and is very useful on reverses.

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