Nick O'Leary Could Provide Valuable Consistency Over The Middle

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - NOVEMBER 03: Nick O'Leary #35 of the Florida State Seminoles carries the ball as Steele Divitto #49 of the Boston College Eagles defends on November 3, 2011 at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I don't have a link to back this up or a way to sort the national stats, but I was told that Nick O'Leary caught more balls (12) than all but one true freshman tight end in 2011. If the spring game is any indication, those numbers should increase quite a bit in 2012.

It's no secret that quarterback EJ Manuel has struggled reading and throwing to the middle of the field during his time in Tallahassee. Part of that is Manuel's fault, but part of it has been a lack of reliable receiving options over the middle. Beau Reliford had the size, but wasn't particularly quick in and out of his cuts. And he really struggled to understand extremely simple assignments. Several times during his career (Maryland '09, Oklahoma '11, etc.) a Reliford missed assignment on a very simple thing that a QB should be able to believe will be executed correctly led to an interception. No quarterback could fully trust Reliford with his track record.

Additionally, though Manuel had a loaded receiving corps in 2011, he did not have Willie Haulstead. In 2010, Haulstead was a pretty good option over the middle.

I get the sense that fans are somehow disappointed in O'Leary, a consensus four-star recruit in the class of 2011. I don't understand that line of thinking. O'Leary did battle a shoulder (area) injury last season and was learning the offense. He looked good Saturday and had a good spring from all indications.

O'Leary can be a very valuable piece for the Seminoles in 2012 without being an All-American by simply playing the role of security blanket for EJ Manuel. Highlight plays are great, but if O'Leary can just consistently be in the right spot in the 5-10 yard range in the middle of the field, he'll be Manuel's favorite player and a major headache for opposing linebackers as he extends drives on 3rd-&-4, etc. If he can do that and catch 2-4 balls a game, he could end up as a 35-catch, 400-yard tight end. And with many of those catches going for first downs, that is quite a valuable contribution indeed.

To do that, he'll need to improve as a blocker so that Florida State can trust him to be on the field in more situations. Coach Fisher said O'Leary has been improving as a blocker. I imagine that's true, though he'll never be particularly proficient due to his size limitations.

There's a reason you see Florida State working O'Leary more as an off-set H-Back/wing as is shown here.

Sets like these can help him with achieve easier blocking angles, which in turn will help him to be on the field more in 2012.

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