Coming into this season, we weren’t really sure what to expect out of sophomore running back James Wilder, Jr. Not only was Wilder coming off a troubled offseason, but it was difficult to gauge Wilder based on the action he saw in 2011.
This was partially due to the fact that Florida State’s patchwork offensive line did not open a ton of holes for any of the Seminole backs to run through last season. But the O-line wasn’t the only reason that we weren’t able to get a great feel for Wilder Jr, as Bud noted in our preseason preview.
But when he did have holes to run through, he often didn’t recognize them, instead slamming into the backs of linemen. It was quite comical and became a bit of a running joke for readers in the comment section.
Based on his performance through the first four games of this season though, it’s apparent that JWJ put in a lot of work in the offseason. It was obvious coming out of high school that Wilder possessed an enormous amount of power, but he has been able to harness that power more effectively when carrying the ball this year and, as DKN noted in a recent TN email discussion, he looks like a running back, instead of a big athlete trying to run over everyone.
Wilder has been smoother in his runs and more patient behind his blocks. He’s given us a reason to slow down with the jokes about plowing into his own linemen by allowing blocks to develop and hitting holes the way he should. He has not been bad in pass protection, either. He entered the season as the third option in the backfield for FSU, but has overtaken Devonta Freeman and moved into the backup role behind the revitalized Chris Thompson.
And while he has developed as a runner, Wilder’s signature power hasn’t gone anywhere, making him a terror for defenses in the second half. Look no further than this past weekend against Clemson, when the tiring Tigers defense got a heavy dose of Wilder in the fourth quarter, when he ran for 58 of his 65 yards and averaged 8.3 per carry.
FSU’s big front five had worn down Clemson’s front seven over the course of the game, and then Wilder introduced himself to a national audience by wrecking his way to a 35-yard gain before finishing off the drive two plays later with a TD. No sane human being wants any part of tackling JWJ at that point in the game. He brings a tenacity to the position that the ’Noles haven’t had since Greg Jones was doing things like this, and his hard running is an excellent complement to Thompson’s speed and shiftiness.
Wilder is proving that he can be an effective running back and quieting the debate over whether his talents would be more serviceable at outside linebacker. His teammates have taken notice, as EJ Manuel called him a workhorse on Monday afternoon.
Jimbo Fisher said recently that we’re now seeing “the real James Wilder”, and it’s definitely a welcome sight for the Seminoles.