Florida State Seminoles Football Spring Preview 2011: Running Backs

This is the third in a multi-part series covering Florida State Spring football practice. Previously, we looked at quarterback and receiver.  For the second year in a row, FSU had an excellent running game.  FSU has a diverse attack featuring both zone and man blocking, behind a typically excellent Rick Trickett offensive line.  

The running back position received a major upgrade last year 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 2009 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.  In his first year with FSU, the 'Noles continued their excellent running game.

 Numero Uno

Chris Thompson

The diminutive Chris Thompson turned in an excellent season for the 'Noles in 2010 as a sophomore.

Last Spring I wrote:

The 5'8" 178 lb spark plug from nearby Madison is another one of the promising players from the 2009 offensive class.  Chris 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.

Thompson's 846 yard effort is one of the best 20 in Florida State history, though that history of rushing seasons is really not that impressive. Thompson's average numbers are definitely inflated by three 70+ yard runs against BYU, Miami, and Maryland.  It's not that the runs don't count, but that they do skew his average.

Thompson is extremely quick and pretty fast.  Thompson runs even lower than his 5'8" frame and is difficult to tackle.  He does an excellent job of hiding behind his blockers before bursting through the hole.  And it is typically the correct hole.  Thompson's best attribute is his consistency.  The coaches love him because he is consistently correct.  He hits the right hole.  He blocks the right person.  He takes the right angle.  He shows up to practice on time.  

But Chris Thompson would not have won the starting job without his dedication to the off-season program.  Thompson went from 178 pounds to 186 pounds thanks to the fourth quarter program, enabling him to run inside the tackles.  Relative to his size, Thompson is one of the strongest players on the team.  He stayed mostly healthy, but was hampered in the Virginia Tech game with an ankle injury.   Thompson likely will never be a 200 carry back, not that FSU would ask him to with its multiple-back system, but he can probably handle 150 carries.  EJ Manuel seems comfortable throwing him the ball as well.  There isn't an immediately-improvable aspect of Thompson's game that he needs to work on this Spring.  I'll say he needs to make sure to not fall in love with hitting home runs.  In baseball, a player often does poorly when he tries to hit a home run.  When the player tries to have a good swing in a good at bat, the results follow.  Much is the same for a running back.  Get the yards the play calls for and if the opportunity is there to spring, then spring.  I guess he could also work on his pass protections, though I think that is a function of his size.  He isn't missing spots.

Inconsistent Power Back

Ty Jones

5'10" 210, Senior

Last Spring I wrote:

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.

Jones did enough in 2010 to stick around, including handling his diabetes better.  He worked his way up to 210 pounds and provided some good running in some games.  But Jones was still inconsistent, was still kicked out of practice at times (including before UNC), and still had those troubling mental errors.  When he is good, he's a very good back.  But when he is bad he is a mess.  In sum, he's not dependable.  This is his last chance.  At least he will get his degree.  He needs to be more dedicated to the game.




 New Face

Devonta Freeman

5'9" 195 Freshman

Devonta Freeman took care of business in the classroom after winning a state championship for Miami Central and enrolled at Florida State this January.  All report so far have been positive.  Freeman already looks the part of a college back.

The first thing you notice about Freeman's film is his toughness.  He is a hard-nosed runner with excellent forward lean.  Freeman aggressively hits the hole and doesn't dance much. Freeman really does a nice job exploding out of his cuts, as opposed to some backs who must gather themselves and lose speed.

He has good but not great speed. When you watch his tape, he does not seem to be a huge home-run threat, but that is ok.  Freeman also is very willing to block and does a nice job catching the ball.

Freeman will dictate his playing time.  What I mean by that is he has as much ability as any back on the roster.  If he can learn the scheme and the protections (no small task), he could easily rise up and even be the starter.  That's not easy, but running back is a position where freshmen often contribute.  

















What Is His Role?

Jermaine Thomas

5'11" 190, Senior

Last Spring I wrote:

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. 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 good back who seems to fit Florida State's zone scheme, thanks to his 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.

It was a disappointing year for Jermaine Thomas.  He was still inconsistent, and had those troubling mental errors.  When he is good, he's a good back.  But when he is bad he is a mess who fails to run hard and plays at half speed.  In sum, he's not dependable anymore.  And he got hurt in the Clemson game.  This is his last chance.  Jimbo has clearly lost faith in him.  And he had two off-season arrests for driving on a suspended license, which isn't a big deal, but it doesn't look good for a guy who is already not dependable.  At least he will get his degree.  He needs to be more dedicated to the game.






Lonnie Pryor

6'0" 215, Junior

Lonnie Pryor has a case for being the best player on Florida State's team despite only touching the ball 35 times for 181 yards.  

Pryor is a tremendous all-around player.  His blitz pickup is excellent.  As a run blocker he excels in open space and holds his own inside.  It is difficult to describe just how good Pryor is.  Very few teams have such a dependable pass protector.    

He is also a good runner when called upon to do so.  Many believe that Pryor should be FSU's primary back, but the coaching staff believes his skillset is better suited for the role of an all-purpose back, here cast as the fullback.  But when he gets his chances to carry the ball he does pretty well with it.  And Fisher rewarded him in some prime spots, as the lifelong-Nole scored touchdowns against the 'Canes and Gators.   



Debrale Smiley

5'11" 231, RS-Junior

After coming in with a ton of hype, Smiley was a major disappointment.  But rumor has it that it was not all his fault.  A nasty concussion in Fall camp may have caused some of the mental lapses he was rumored to have in practice, thus keeping him off the field.  This year is likely his last chance to make something of himself at FSU.  If he doesn't, he could end up transferring to another school to find playing time.  That is, if he loves football and wants minutes.  

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