Last season Florida State's receivers were decidedly the most disappointing position unit on the team. Just ask FSU linebacker coach Greg Hudson, who recently said this:
"We didn't have great wide receivers. We had good, not great. He had to make things happen. His passing percentage was down because kids couldn't run routes right." -Star Tribune
It's not a stretch to say that FSU's receivers haven't scared anyone in a while. Why has it been that way? Talent? Coaching? Experience?
As is usually the case, it is a combination of all three. FSU didn't exactly recruit receivers all that well between 2006-2009. Why mention 2006-2009? That is the group from which FSU's receivers over the last few years came. But there was some talent recruited.
But two of the most talented receivers to come through Tallahassee in the last few years were Preston Parker and Jarmon Fortson. They were the best receivers coming back in 2009 and 2010, respectively, but neither would play a snap in those years as behavior problems saw them kicked off the team before the season. That pressed players into a larger role.
Sometimes, as was the case with seniors Rod Owens and Richard Goodman in 2009, players were ready to step in and fill the void left by the talented screwup. Other times, however, FSU wasn't so lucky. Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead were not ready to play at a high level last season-- at least not early on. Lesser-talented small guys like Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling were then asked to do things that their skill set did not support.
But should FSU have expected Smith and Haulstead to be ready? Or should Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling have been able to be the top receivers?
The results here are likely mixed. While talented, Smith is a very lanky kid who is still growing into and learning how to use his body. Further, he came from a small private school and really only ran two routes: a quick out/stop, and a go. While he's an exciting blank canvas for Lawrence Dawsey to develop, it was probably unrealistic to expect him to be a number one in just his second year in the program. Haulstead, on the other hand, did more in high school, and is older with better body acclimation. Dawsey should take some blame for not having Haulstead ready to be the number one from the first game. While Haulstead doesn't have elite talent, he should be good enough to be a decent number one for a BCS team. As for Reed and Easterling, they are nice complementary pieces.
Is Dawsey a good teacher of receivers?
On the one hand, he did develop Richard Goodman and Rod Owens nicely. And Jarmon Fortson showed improvement between year one and year two. Preston Parker definitely played quite well under Dawsey. And it's not Dawsey's fault that those two can't stay out of trouble.
On the other hand, Taiwan Easterling and Bert Reed haven't exactly improved much over the years. Is that because of a limited skillset? Perhaps in part, but Reed should definitely be more consistent, both in catching the football and in running routes.
While Dawsey may or may not be a good coach of receivers, there is no debate as to his ability to recruit. He has been the driving force in re-establishing the Seminoles in Tampa (formerly a UF stronghold). A young, charismatic, African-American coach who starred both in Tallahassee and the NFL, Dawsey gets it done on the recruiting trail.
And if there is a deficiency in his coaching ability, his recruiting can definitely help to cover it. FSU is getting more and more talented at the position each year. And with that comes increased competition. Over the last few years, if a talented player slacked off, there wasn't much recourse for coach Dawsey. Sure, he could bench the player and insert a less talented, but harder-working player in the lineup. But that punishes the whole team and not just the slacker. Now, however, if a player slacks off there should be enough talent to sit him down and insert another talented player who is willing to work hard. Dawsey might not be the best coaching receiver coach in the ACC, but he does compensate in other ways.
In addition, there is something to be said for the type of receiver FSU is now bringing in. In the earlier years, FSU was losing six games per year and having to take major chances on kids in order to get athleticism back into the program. Some of those kids, were quite frankly, pretty dumb and difficult to coach. FSU now seems to be bringing in more kids who are both athletic and coachable.
Finding the right combination of recruiting and teaching is the key. Some guys are going to be better at recruiting, while some will be better at coaching. And that style can work, both as a position coach and even as a head coach, as Bobby Bowden proved.
This is an Important year for coach Dawsey. He has all the tools in place to produce an excellent receiver corps. Breaking in new starter EJ Manuel will depend on it. If he does not, it will be cause to revisit the issue next summer.