Florida State Spring Football Position Preview: Tight End & H-Back

Offensive Coordinator & TE Coach James Coley

This is fourth 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, Wide Receivers, and the Offensive Line.    Today we'll focus on the Tight Ends and H-Backs.

The tight ends are coached by James Coley, who was recently promoted to offensive coordinator.  While most believe that promotion is simply for title and cash (Fisher will still run the show), Coley is a good offensive mind in his own right.  Coley will retain his Tight End coach position as his role as offensive coordinator will be more geared to game  planning and scouting.  Coley continues to be Fisher's "eye in the sky", giving Coach Fisher the overhead view of what a defense is doing.  He worked for Saban with the Miami Dolphins, has previously been an offensive coordinator at FIU, and is a beast of a recruiter.

And it is not easy to recruit tight ends to Florida State.  The Noles have rarely had productive tight ends, largely because their talent base includes a ridiculous amount of star receivers.  But FSU is looking to utilize the tight end a lot more often.  FSU is preaching this on the recruiting trail and it produced results in the most recent class as FSU pulled in freakish athlete Will Tye from Connecticut and 6'6" Tank Sessions from outside of Atlanta. 

But this is the Spring preview, so I'll discuss those two players in the fall preview come August.  For now, let's discuss what players are here for Spring, where they can go, and what they need to do to get there. 

FSU loses Senior Caz Piurowski.  Caz was playing great before he injured his leg against Georgia Tech.  He caught 13 balls for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns in only 6 games.  Caz is rehabbing and has some shot at an NFL tryout.  I wish him the best.  He was a great 'Nole, never embarrassed the team, did what the coaches asked of him (including a position change), and played well. 

In his absence, Beau Reliford was pressed into duty.  In truth, Reliford was probably not ready for the starting role.  Beau played part of one season of high school football, and the 6'7" 241 lb Sophomore was pretty much still a basketball player when he got to Florida State.  And he struggled early.  FSU was the top red zone offense in the conference this year by a large margin, but when it failed it was usually because of the blocking of non-offensive line players (tight ends), or because the backs chose the wrong hole.  FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett famously snapped at reporters when asked about his offensive line being the cause of a missed goal line opportunity, inferring that Bowden (who had trashed Trickett's guys) should watch the tape.  And Trickett was right.  His guys did not blow the blocks on the goal line.  It was the secondary blockers.  With a new running backs coach and another year of maturity from the tight ends, that problem should be remedied. 

But back to Beau.  He whiffed on some blocks early and looked really raw.  And when 6'7" makes a mistake the entire stadium can see it.  Beau really came on, however, at the end of the season.  His blocking was much improved against Wake Forest, Maryland, Florida, and West Virginia in the bowl game.  Beau didn't hit a ceiling because he had so much to learn.  There was an incredible amount of football that Beau had not played.  He's a very good athlete with a high ceiling.  Reliford caught 11 balls for 89 yards and 2 TDs last year, almost all coming in the final 6 games (after Piurowski went down Beau grabbed 9 for 79). 

He needs to continue to add functional size, but must maintain his flexibility.  I worry about a guy who is 6'7" is he gets to 270 lbs, but there's no reason to think Reliford can't play at 250 lbs this coming season.  He has to continue to get better at the mental parts of the game.  He doesn't always run the right route of make the correct coverage adjustment.  His route running needs to continue to improve.  He has to continue getting better at blocking.  Reliford isn't a natural ball catcher and likely won't ever be great, but he can become above average.  Finally, because he isn't being seriously pushed by anyone, he must be self motivated. 

Inside, I'll profile the other three tight end/ H-Backs taking part in Spring ball.

Up next is Jabarris Little.  The 6'4" 230 lb H-Back was a highly rated 4* prospect out of Tallahassee Lincoln HS.  Just so you know, think of an H-Back as a smaller, more versatile tight end who often goes in motion.  FSU prefers to use H-Backs over fullbacks in its offense.   He is a great example of why it is so important to work as hard as possible when healthy, because you never know when you might get hurt.  Little's injury put him behind schedule.  He should be 250 lbs and a beast catching the ball and blocking.  But he is not.  I've heard he has improved his work ethic since the injury.  Similar to Reliford, he needs to work on both the mental and physical parts of his game.  At this point, he realistically could be an average player for FSU this year, which would be fine for this offense given his limited role.   Perhaps in 2011 as a senior he can give FSU a dangerous 2 TE formation.

Up next is Matt Dunham.  This is not a joke.  Dunham is still on the team.  He is the only player who will be the same age as me.  Dunham was a very highly rated running back coming out of Georgia.  He broke all of Herschel Walker's records, though did it in a tiny classification against very suspect competition.  A member of the 2005 recruiting class, Dunham has had multiple stops at Junior College but came back last year.  He's 6'2" and played last season at a wildly out of shape 255 lbs.  I've seen some recent pictures of him and he looks to be considerably slimmed down.  I would guess he is about 240 lbs now.  And he can be a nice complimentary blocking h-back piece at 6'2" 240 lbs.  That's a lot more than I could say for him last season when he was just too slow, rusty, and out of shape to have the necessary footwork to block.  I didn't expect him to still be around when he came back last season but he is still here and at the very least that says something about his willingness to endure some intense conditioning.  Let's hope he can be a productive member of the team.  This Spring I would like to see him show a greater understanding of the blocking scheme now that he can focus on something other than getting back in shape. 

Finally, FSU has a walk on by the name of Jonathan Wallace.  He goes 6'7" 240 and played for Jacksonville's Lee HS.  His film looked like he could have had some other D-1 offers and his recruiting profile suggests that he had interest from Rutgers, South Florida, and Florida Atlantic.  If you wondered who the tall white kid wearing #47 was on the sidelines last year, it was Wallace.  He's not likely to press for much (if any) playing time, but he's considerably better than the average walk-on tight end and gives the defense a higher quality look against which they can practice.

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