Forgive me. I'm writing this after just watching the ESPN Top 25 of 2012 replay of FSU vs. NC State, so I'm feeling particularly judgmental toward EJ Manuel. For the record I have always been one of Manuel's most vocal supporters. He will (and should be) remembered as one of the finest quarterbacks and young men who ever came through Florida State. I also have hope that he will develop at the next level. But the NC State game and several others since Manuel took over FSU's offense make me wonder whether or not he was, to some degree, holding the team back.
Again, forgive me. I'm not a stat geek, nor have I gone back and combed through footage of every FSU game, play by play. I'm just a fan. That's why I'm posting this, because I'd like to get some input from other fans and perhaps folks with more knowledge on the subject than I have.
The two biggest ways I think Manuel hurt FSU are his inability to read the defense, and his inability to find or reach open receivers. I feel like this was a consistent problem throughout his career, particularly the former. NC State was able to get so much pressure on EJ simply because he failed to read the blitz and adjust. How many fifth year senior quarterbacks can't pick up a blitz, really?
Also, and this is a big one, he seemed to either not see a lot of open receivers or else miss them with the throw. I vividly recall being at Doak for the UF game and seeing receivers get open, and often. Not an easy task against the 2012 UF defense. EJ had time to make the throws, but he never did for whatever reason. The same thing happened several times that I saw against NC State. Almost like EJ wasn't going through a progression.
Also in the NC State game he overthrew Kelvin Benjamin for a walk-in TD early in the second half, and overthrew a wide open screen pass to Chris Thompson who had three blockers and infinite green ahead of him. There were others, I'm just not remembering them.
I am in no way saying EJ was a liability for FSU. There were other problems on the offense throughout his tenure, including last year. But I do think these were significant weaknesses in his game, and that they hurt us at key moments last year.
Here's why I have some high hopes for FSU's offense in 2013.
Item one: the run game. FSU should be able to run all over just about every opponent this fall. Not saying they will, but they should. They've got a veteran offensive line loaded with talent, particularly in the interior. James Wilder Jr. is anxious to raise his draft stock, and he's got a remarkably talented trio behind him in Devonta Freeman, Delmarick Pender and freshman Ryan Green. But Wilder, I believe, will dominate. He improved significantly as a sophomore, and seems to have doubled down on his offseason training. As he said himself on Twitter, he's got a family to support. He wants to get paid. In many ways this is a "contract year" for him, and I expect to see some fireworks.
Item two: receivers. We have them. A lot of them. Rashad Greene should have a big year, and even though we lose Greg Dent, we've got plenty of talent ready to step in and show out. Everyone has been waiting patiently for the light to come on for Christian Green and Kelvin Benjamin. This very well could be the year. Can't wait to hear how they look in fall camp.
Plus there's Kenny Shaw who no doubt wants to make a statement in his senior season. Willie Haulstead, who was by far FSU's best receiver before he went down with those nasty concussions. Add Jared Haggins and any of the young talent that doesn't take a redshirt (Whitfield? Wilson? Jones?) there is hardly a shortage at receiver.
Finally, Nick O'Leary. He's now officially a veteran part of the offense. His time at FSU has been far from perfect. What I remember most about him at the moment is his ability to fumble fighting for extra yardage. But he was an elite talent coming out of high school and, despite my memory, has contributed in his first two seasons. He caught FSU's lone TD in the NC State game. 2013 should be a big year for him. Especially since young quarterbacks tend to rely on tight ends in the passing game.
Which brings me to item three: Jameis Winston. I'm not going to go long here gushing about him. His legend is big enough and, admittedly, based on nothing. But I asked Bud Elliott on Twitter back in the spring whether or not we had reason to believe Winston is "the most special talent FSU has had in a long, long time". Can't recall his exact answer but, in essence, he said yes.
I think behind a dominant line and running game, Winston will have an opportunity to show off his arm pretty often. It also seems like Winston is more comfortable taking off and making plays with his feet. Suspect we'll see a lot of that.
Whether or not the 2013 offense produces more than the 2012 offense, what I'm hoping for is greater consistency. A better "flow". Like the 2009 offense with Christian Ponder. With Manuel under center, FSU's offense frequently stalled out, even against any halfway-decent opponent. Think: Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in 2012. Virginia in 2011. Why else do you think Dustin Hopkins broke so many points records? Tons of field goals means tons of stalled drives.
I think Jimbo Fisher is an elite offensive coordinator, and I think FSU had plenty of talent to run his offense in 2012. So why did it often seem so stunted?
Don't get me wrong here. I don't think EJ Manuel was a bad quarterback. I think he and Jimbo Fisher were perhaps not a match made in heaven, and that Manuel never really "got" the offense. His quote in Buffalo about their offense being "easier" than Jimbo's speaks volumes.
In terms of talent and scheme, it feels like FSU had an 8 cylinder offense in 2012 that often ran on 6, and occasionally just 4.
My hope is that Jameis Winston is a better fit for FSU. Because if he is, he is surrounded with elite talent. I expect plenty of mistakes from a young quarterback. But I also expect Jimbo Fisher to simplify things for his young quarterback, and to make the most of the talented skill players surrounding him. Run, run, run. Play action. Repeat.
I mean, how did Johnny Manziel have such a big year? Braxton Miller? Everett Golson?
Is Jimbo Fisher willing and able to find ways to take advantage of an inexperienced, otherworldly talent like Winston? Because if he is, the FSU offense is a powder keg waiting to explode.