Florida State spring football is in full swing, and we continue our preview series with a look at the receivers and tight ends. And for those who will point out that spring practice has actually started, you'd be correct. But full pads don't actually come on for another few days, and only bad news comes out of padless practices. Make sure to also catch up on the Quarterbacks, Running Backs and Offensive Line previous installments.
There are a few position groups that are truly loaded on Florida State's roster. One of them is receiver. The 'Noles had few playmakers from 07-09, but that changed in 2010 and really changed in 2011, as the recruiting efforts began to pay off in a major way. And it was really needed, as the group that had carried the offense to new heights in 2009 and 2010, the offensive line, took a step back.
Most of that group returns in 2012. In fact, the only loss is Bert Reed. Reed produced 170 career catches and 2022 yards during his time in Tallahassee. That might seem like a lot, but FSU won't miss Bert Reed. There's a reason Reed was not invited to the combine. He simply wasn't a special player. Last year, Reed totaled 403 yards on 29 catches. Defenses did not fear him and did not gamelpan to stop him. A program of FSU's caliber does not miss a player of Reed's.
The 'Noles have plenty of playmakers returning on the outside, including their top four receivers.
The lone senior in the group is Rodney Smith, the 6'6" presence on the outside. Smith has steadily improved each year he's been in the program, including a 25 percent increase in per-game production last season. Smith is naturally a difficult matchup for most corners because of his height, but it has been his improvement in other areas, like adding strength and learning the nuances of the position which have propelled his progression as a player. Jimbo Fisher has already praised Rodney Smith multiple times this spring, and Smith needs to consistently work hard and focus to take his game to the next level.
|Florida State Receivers|
|84||Rodney Smith||6-6||219||SR||67-1009 2010-11|
|80||Rashad Greene||6-0||175||SO||38-596 2011|
|89||Christian Green||6-2||206||RS SO||26-450 2011|
|81||Kenny Shaw||5-11||165||JR||34 418 2011|
|12||Jarred Haggins||6-1||187||JR||11-94 2011, broke hand|
|82||Willie Haulstead||6-3||233||RS JR||Concussions 2011, 38-587 2010|
|15||Greg Dent||5-11||185||JR||12-236 2011|
|1||Kelvin Benjamin||6-6||242||RS FR||RS|
|19||Josh Gehres||6-3||201||RS JR||Knee Injury 2011|
While everyone could see Rodney Smith's steady progression developing, the same cannot be said for Rashad Greene. As a freshman, Greene posted an incredible 38-596 line in only nine games! Greene's 66 yards/game mark was good for eight in the conference and FSU's best. Greene isn't a big player, but he has track speed and incredible quickness. A lot of blue-chip freshmen have that. What Greene has that other freshmen often do not is a special feel for the position, excellent hands, and solid route-running ability. Jimbo Fisher recently discussed the need to find even more ways to get the ball into Greene's hands. Even if that doesn't happen, if Greene can just stay healthy and play a full 13/14 games, he should post a 800/900 line, which is excellent. And if he does that, he'll be on pace to knock Greg Carr out of the top-five in all-time receiving yards.
On most teams, these two players would be the far and away studs. Yet at Florida State, that isn't the case. The 'Noles have a few more guys who would start for most teams in the country (you can see why I've advocated for FSU to run a lot more multiple receiver/spread formations. It's just optimal deployment of talent). Florida State does not have a Justin Blackmon or a Robert Woods, but it does have multiple NFL wideouts on this team.
One of those players is Christian Green. Green came in with the 2010 recruiting class and was called the best athlete in the class by many (including Tomahawk Nation). Then he got injured in practice and many foolishly forgot about Green as he missed the season. I wrote that he may need a year to break out and that the 2012 season would probably be the better bet for his breakout. I was wrong, sort of. While Green was raw in 2011, his first season coming off injury, he still managed to showcase his incredible athleticism to the tune of 26 catches and 450 yards (17 per catch). I happen to think the touchdown stat it a bit silly because it has a lot to do with opportunity, but Green was shut out on that front, despite having two (or three?) catches go inside the four yard line only to trip up. Green is a phenomenal athlete with top speed and strength. He just needs to further learn how to play the position in what is his red-shirt sophomore year. A 600-yard campaign would not be shocking.
That Kenny Shaw is the No. 3 or 4 on Florida State's squad speaks to the ridiculous level of talent at the position. He would be the No. 1 or 2 at most schools in the country, the 3 at a few, and the 4 at almost none, perhaps even including FSU (he and Green are basically interchangeable as to who is better). Shaw's year was limited by injury, but he still managed to post a very nice line of 34-418. Shaw is a great route runner who has a good handle on how to play the position. He has good speed as well, and can at times be difficult to jam because of his quickness. But if the defensive back gets his hands on Shaw, it's over, because at 165 pounds Shaw is not throwing anyone off him. He needs to work on getting stronger in the weight room and slipping the press.
Jarred Haggins started the year off very strong with 11 catches for 94 yards in his first three games. Workout out of the slot, he showed the ability to get open and help out E.J. Manuel. Unfortunately, he broke his hand in that third game and would not catch another ball all season. He was on pace for a 47-catch, 400-yard type year, which would have been very good. Haggins is a coach's favorite and should be right back in the mix in the slot.
Willie Haulstead didn't play at all last season after suffering a concussion in practice, his second in as many years. FSU claims that Haulstead was cleared to return late in the year, but rather than blowing his redshirt on a few games, they elected to hold him out. If healthy, Haulstead brings a physical toughness to the position, and a fearlessness over the middle. Whether he'll be as willing to go over the middle again after the two big concussions is unknown. It's also unknown if Haulstead can take a hit. He's been practicing, but there's a difference between practicing and taking hits during a live scrimmage or a game. Is he one hit away from a career ending shot? Technically everyone is, but those with past concussion problems are thought by some to be more likely to suffer another concussion. Haulstead is also overweight according to Jimbo Fisher, checking in at 233 pounds. That's roughly ~15 pounds more than his normal playing weight. The most important thing for Haulstead to do is to tell someone if he feels that he has suffered another concussion, even if it could end his football playing days. It could save his quality of life down the road.
Greg Dent posted a nice sophomore season of 12 catches and 236 yards, though 140 of them came against Charleston Southern, Louisiana Monroe, and Duke. But Jimbo Fisher said in his recent press conference that Dent cannot play inside/slot. That means the junior is limited to the outside, where there almost certainly four receivers ahead of him, if not five. It's hard to see a big increase in playing time without a shocking breakout.
Finally, there's Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin is one of the most discussed players on Florida State's roster despite having never dressed for a game. He's tall, athletic, and very big (80+ inch wingspan). He also turned 20 on February 5, and last year, he was out of shape and had a more difficult time adjusting to the college life than some other players, including academics and the need to bring a certain level of intensity when it comes to football and football training.
A housekeeping note: I recently wrote that Benjamin needed to make major, major improvements just to get to where he should have been as a freshman. And that if he didn't, I wasn't sure how long he'd be on the team. The point was made to stress just how far behind Benjamin was last year. Some took it the wrong way and believe I said FSU would kick him off the team. I didn't, nor did I mean to imply anything of the sort.
Word is that Benjamin has made those improvements. I expect him out at practice every day, and not missing team activities. He's in much better shape than he was a year ago. He's ready to start learning how to be a receiver. After redshirting last year, this is Benjamin's freshman season. And you'd be wise to consider it as such, and not in the more hyperbolic land of Twitter.
"Benjamin is making progress," coach Jimbo Fisher told Seminoles.com. "Understanding how to finish, understanding how to press all the time. (He) has gotten himself in really good shape now that he can control that body. (I) liked his progression. ... I like his attitude."
Benjamin is receiving national recognition. ESPN.com national FB writer Mark Schlabach tweeted he would be "stunned" if Benjamin isn't a star in 2012 and CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman listed Benjamin as on of the 10 most intriguing freshmen entering offseason practices.
If he could turn in something like Christian Green's red-shirt freshman year of 26-450 (I don't expect this), the people at Florida State would be thrilled.
I should also mention that under the tutelage of Lawrence Dawsey, FSU's receivers have been blocking quite well.
Florida State's situation at tight end is a bit less loaded. The 'Noles have three scholarship tight ends. Nick O'Leary had a very good freshman season for a freshman tight end, and at one point had the second most catches and yards nationally for a player in that category. I don't know if he finished second. In any case, look for FSU to move him around more this year, including more of the h-back role (TE/FB Hybrid).
|Florida State Tight Ends|
|35||Nick O'Leary||6-4||240||SO||12-164 as FR|
|6||Dan Hicks||6-4||275||RS JR||Former defensive end.|
If I remember correctly, O'Leary also battled a shoulder injury for much of the year.
Moving over from defensive end is Dan Hicks, who actually played the position in high school. I imagine he will mostly function as a blocker.
As for Will Tye, I really have no idea if he will ever put it together.