FSU spring practice kicks off March 20 and our Florida State football spring 2013 preview continues with a look at the running back position, which was a strong point for much of the 2012 season, as FSU turned in a top-25 offense (we are aware that FSU's traditional numbers, like total yards and points, are off the charts, but one must adjust for the quality of competition, and top-25 is probably much more accurate than top-five). New coach Jay Graham joins the staff to replace the departed Eddie Gran, and will put his own stamp on the group. Almost every player at this position has good upside and accompanying questions.
The goal is, as always, to maximize a player's talent and to get the best possible group on the field. And just because a player may be in a new position does not mean that he was misused by the former staff or is being misused by the new staff.
In some ways, however, it feels like FSU has already had to replace Thompson, as the star running back went down in the Miami game. After Florida State lost Thompson, its offensive efficiency took a dip, though the final games presented an opportunity to adjust and plan for 2013. Thompson was a superstar before he hurt his knee.
FSU also loses Lonnie Pryor, an extremely versatile multi-purpose fullback type. FSU does not have someone who can replace Pryor in Pryor's role.
Perhaps even more importantly, however, than the talent losses, are the leadership losses. Thompson and Pryor spent a combined eight years in Tallahassee, and were two of the major veteran presences on the offense. There is now a leadership void on offense, and the Seminoles must find players to step up and fill the leadership roles as well as the 202 touches and 1601 yards.
FSU does return quite a bit of talent here. Wilder Jr., Freeman and Abram combined for 125 rushes, 1315 rushing yards, plus 29 catches and 222 yards receiving. And they'll likely need to shoulder 35+ touches per game in 2013 to take the pressure off a first time starter at quarterback.
Wilder is a physical freak at 6'2 and 226 pounds. While he does run upright, he is pretty effective doing so, and was improved as a sophomore. Specifically, he improved his vision and understanding of the offense. This spring, he'll need to become a leader, and continue to work on his patience, vision and understanding of the offense. If Wilder can hit the correct hole more consistently, he'll actually take less punishment, and will be able to break off more big runs without having to stiff run as many people over.
Wilder is also very good at catching the football, and FSU should make a concerted effort to throw him the football more, including with more screens. Wilder has superstar potential, and he'll need to reach it this year to carry the offense.
Devonta Freeman will also feature prominently in the offense. Freeman came on stronger at the end of the season, as he recovered from experiencing a personal tragedy and was needed more after Chris Thompson went down. Freeman is very stout, though is not as powerful or as fast as Wilder. He is consistent, but if the light continues to come on for Wilder, Freeman is clearly not the best option. Still, 100+ carries should still be expected. Freeman can also be counted on in the passing game, and threw some nice blocks in blitz pickup last season.
The most intriguing option is clearly Delmarick "Mario" Pender. Pender was a mega recruit and has worlds of talent, including home run speed. But during his freshman year, he was injured and had all sorts of personal issues relating to maturity and responsibility, which ultimately led to him taking a red-shirt. This time around, it seems that Pender has matured some, is showing up to events (and doing so on time) more consistently, including class. Head coach Jimbo Fisher recently commented on Pender's off-field improvement, and there is hope that he can contribute to the offense in a meaningful way in 2013.
The fourth member of the spring backfield is fullback Chad Abram. A former safety, FSU moved Abram to fullback before the 2012 season. Abram is athletic and strong, but he's not the player that Pryor was. He is a good special teams player. This is a big spring for Abram. FSU's offense will actually be shaped in some part on Abram. If he performs better than expected, the Florida State offense will use more two-back sets. If he doesn't, expect FSU to use more one-back sets (three receivers or two tight ends).
Arriving this June
FSU signed 4-star running back Ryan Green, who has excellent quickness and speed, and could factor in to the rotation if he impresses early and picks up the offense.