Florida State Seminoles Season Preview 2010: Wide Receivers

WR Coach Lawrence Dawsey

This is third in a multi-part series covering the position groups as Florida State begins Spring practice. Florida State returns 19 of the 22 players from its record-setting 2009 offense and the attack again figures to be one of the best in the country.  Today we'll be looking at the Wide Receivers. 

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Line | Defensive Line | Linebackers | Defensive Backs 

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.  But we all know what happened with that group that was supposedly on the verge of disaster.

Returning Player Yr Rec (2009)
Yards (2009)
Bert Reed RsJR 60 711
Taiwan Easterling RsJR 35 442
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
97 1170

This year, Rod Owens, Richard Goodman and Jarmon Fortson have moved on.  They accounted for 1694 receiving yards on 133 catches.  That's about 30% of the 'Noles passing game (about 57% of the yards from receivers came via Owens, Fortson, & Goodman).  But Goodman didn't play in the season's final 5 games, and some other players stepped up in his absence. 

The 'Noles bring back 97 catches and 1170 yards of returning receptions.  That is pretty good.  It's 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.  They were dependable.  Christian Ponder could trust they they would be where they were supposed to be.  

The X-Men

With 80 catches and more than 1000 career yards, Bert Reed has emerged as one of Florida State's go-to wide receivers.

The man called upon to fill in for Owens is Bert Reed.  At 5'11" 175 lbs, Reed is a burner.  Reed made the transition from the slot position in 2008 to the outside "X" position last year.  "X" is the weak-side position.  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.  He showed a real willingness to go over the middle when needed.  

Bert also has the ability to line up on the inside (the "Y").  Bert did a nice job from the slot as a freshman in 2008.  The slot man rarely gets press coverage and that helps Reed who is slight of build (5'11" 175) to get the clean release.  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 (though he does it well in college).  If the larger guys on the outside at 6'6" 222, 6'3" 215 (Smith & Haulstead) really emerge, Reed could see time inside and out.  

Bert is on a good path.  His hands have improved since he arrived on campus, he still has great speed, and FSU doesn't ask him to do things that he is physically incapable of doing.  Reed could very well lead the team in receiving this season.  

Willie Haulstead

But Reed has company at the "X" position.  Florida State is pretty loaded with receiver talent after recruiting well for the last three years. Willie Haulstead one of those talented recruits.  Haulstead was a star for Titusville High School.  But before he got to Titusville, he came from the Muck (Pahokee).  The 6'3" 214 lb prospect reminds some of Braylon Edwards from his days at Michigan.  Except that he has good hands.  He's not a burner, but Haulstead is a big wideout who will eventually carry 225 lbs on his 6'3" frame.  And he gets open.  He's very difficult to bring down and should be a tremendous blocker due to his size and toughness.  Like Smith, Haulstead is a big body who was not forced to run precise routes in high school.  Haulstead only had one catch last year.  That's a concern for some, but Jarmon Fortson went from a single catch his freshman year to 45 catches and 610 yards last season.  But so far in Fall camp he has apparently shown a greater understanding of the offense.  Inspired by his performance in the final scrimmage, coach Fisher said Haulstead would start if opening day were tomorrow.  For the purposes of this preview, we will assume that Fisher was really excited about Haulstead's camp performance and not that he really meant Haulstead is the starter.  Haulstead does have a thumb injury right now and while there aren't any indications that it is serious, it does merit attention if it lingers.  

Inside, you'll find notes on the other 9 receivers.

The Z

Editor's Note:  Easterling will be starting at the Z but will likely slide back to the "Y" in multi-WR sets.

While Reed is a proven commodity at the weak-side "X" position, there is no such proven commodity at the strong-side "z".  There should have been, but Jarmon Fortson couldn't behave legally and was dismissed from the team.

Rodney Smith

In steps Rodney Smith.  Smith was one of the top receivers in the 2009 recruiting class.  Rated a 4* by both Rivals and ESPN, the 6'6" 222 lb Smith played some offense and a lot of special teams last season.  Because je 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 Smith showed that he had a grasp of the offense and that he can run routes at an acceptable level.  Smith is very talented is still a bit raw.  Much like Jarmon Fortson did last season, he will be learning on the job somewhat. 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. 

Smith is being counted on to start at the "Z" receiver spot.  If he can't get it done, however, Haulstead or Easterling will likely spell him.  It's even possible that Reed could move to the Z, leaving Haulstead at his more familiar X.  Smith does have a slight hip or upper-leg issue right now and while we do not think it it serious, it it something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Slotted For The "Y"

At the slot position (the "Y), FSU fans are happy to see a familiar face return.  As a 6th-round draft choice in baseball out of high school, many 'Nole fans expected Taiwan Easterling to bolt for professional baseball after he elected to play baseball in the Spring.  But baseball did not treat Easterling well and he returned to football this summer.

Taiwan is an incredibly savvy receiver.  At 5'11" 198 lbs, he isn't a burner.  But what Easterling does bring to the table is good route running ability and an innate ability to work the underneath stuff and get open.  In particular he excels against zone coverages.  He finds the open area and sits down.  Unlike Jarmon Fortson and some other talented but dumb players, Easterling doesn't run himself into coverage.  Easterling is someone who gets overlooked by fans who don't pay attention, but those who do watch closely see that he is an important piece of the FSU offense.  With 65 catches for 750+ yards in two years, he's a dependable option for the 'Noles.  And considering he is now a full year removed from Achilles surgery, he should be even better this season.

Kenny Shaw is a player in position to see some playing time as a freshman.  Shaw was one of the top receivers in this recruiting class.  He added 13 lbs to his frame and now stands at 6'0" 165 lbs.  Shaw has been described as the coaches as the most advanced route runner they have ever seen as a true freshman.  We described him like this:

Think Snoop Minnis, but quicker. Shaw is a speedster who will be a nightmare in the slot. He catches everything. He is a tremendous route runner. And there isn't a high school DB in the country who can cover Shaw 1-on-1 because he is so incredibly quick in and out of his breaks. His ability to do that is reminiscent of Chad Johnson.  He is weak and will need to play in the slot to avoid getting jammed.

Everyone was really surprised by Shaw's incredible strength gains in his short time on campus.  He has positioned himself to earn some playing time this year.  In fact, Shaw might be one of the reasons Easterling could see some time at the "Z" position should Rodney Smith falter.

The Others

The most talented receiver on the team is true freshman Christian Green.  A nephew of FSU great E.J. Green, Christian was one of the most highly touted receivers in this class.  Here's what we had to say about him on sining day:

Stud. Raw as a wide receiver but an absolute stud. Played QB for Tampa Catholic. Amazing athlete. Will probably play at 215lbs as a wide receiver. Extremely fast and quick. Amazing body control. He explodes. Considering he hasn't played much receiver, his hands are superb. Body control is excellent. Will be almost impossible to bring down in the open field. Very smooth too. A player who clearly gets it.  Two Florida scouts had one word to say about his March performance in the Tampa 7 on 7: uncoverable. He was the best WR and was named Most Outstanding Player at that event, which included Chris Dunkley, Lamarcus Joyner, Jeff Luc, Matt Elam, Da'Rick Rogers, De'Joshua Johnson, and a host of other top prospects. During the U.S. Army All American Game practices, Green was consistently one of the best receivers there.

At 6'2" 205 he is a unique blend of speed and power.  Green is somewhat raw, however, and has been a bit banged up through Fall practice.  No doubt he is on track to eventually be a superstar, but his ability to learn and grow within the offense has been limited to date.  Combine that with his lack of experience at the position and you have some uncertainty as to his role this year.  

Freshman Jared Haggins is another solid recruit who played quarterback in high school.  At 6'0" 185 he will likely contribute on special teams this year.  

Red-shirt freshman Josh Gehres (6'3" 200) and true freshman Greg Dent (4* recruit 5'11" 190) are also working some at the "X" position.  Both players have great hands.  Gehres lacks great speed and the question with him is his ability to get open.  Dent is quite old for a true freshman and the question with him is his knowledge and understanding of the offense.  Any meaningful contribution from these two youngsters would be gravy this season for the 'Noles.  

A.J. Alexander is moving from defensive back to wide receiver.  The 5'11" 175 lb former 4* from the 2008 class is now a be a red-shirt sophomore.  He didn't work out at defensive back, but he might have an opportunity to play the slot.  He needs to show that he can catch, that he understands the offense and that he can run routes, etc.  But he is really, really fast.  He might be used some on reverses.

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.  Wade is playing for the right to remain on the team in his 5th year.

Hold On To The Ball!

Just off the top of my hear I counted 8 receiver fumbles from last season.  I don't know what a normal amount of fumbles is for the receiver position.  I do, however, know that seven fumbles from receivers is not a good thing.  I don't know exactly how the team is addressing this, but it needs to be addressed.  These were the fumbles I could come up with by receivers last season.  

Louis Givens fumble lost -Jax State, Caz Piurowski fumble (not lost)- BYU, Rod Owens fumble lost - USF, Taiwan Easterling fumble lost- USF, Jarmon Fortson fumble (not lost)- USF, Bert Reed fumble (overturned but was a fumble)- UNC, and Taiwan Easterling fumble (not lost)- Maryland.


Bottom Line

The ACC is loaded with receivers.  Absolutely loaded.  Miami, Maryland, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, NC State, and Carolina all have future pros on their rosters.  And Duke has a solid crop as well.  It's easier to list the teams that do not have impressive receivers (Clemson, BC, Virginia).  FSU is similarly talented, though the truly special talent lies with the first and second year players.  As this article detailed, FSU has certainly has great receiving years while returning less.  And as I said earlier, players in this system have gone from 1 catch as a freshman to 45 catches and 600+ yards as a sophomore.  Smith and Haulstead enter the year with only one catch a piece and are similarly talented to Fortson, with better intangibles.

This group can be good or perhaps very good, but is a year away from being great on a national level or the best in the conference.  I think it's entirely reasonable to believe that Reed, Smith, Easterling and Haulstead can combine for 200 catches and 2600 yards.  That's some nice production from the quartet.  It will be exciting to see what the younger guys bring to the table as well.  The 'Noles hope to get up early in games and get some opportunities to put in the young pups.  With no expected losses after this season, 2011 looks to be an embarrassment of riches at the position for the 'Noles.

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