Florida State spring football 2013: reviewing the receivers

US PRESSWIRE

Will Shaw or Dent emerge as the standout No. 2? Will Kelvin Benjamin put it together?

FSU spring practice kicks off March 20 at 3:30 and our Florida State football spring 2013 preview continues with a look at the receiver position, which was good, but not great in 2012, 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). FSU returns all but one pass catcher, and 75% of its receiving yards (though some of the lost yardage comes via running backs who have since graduated).

Florida State returns 75% of its receiving yards, one of five ACC teams to hit that round number. FSU has the talent to replace Rodney Smith, who was the third leading receiver on the team, but the replacement for EJ Manuel will be inexperienced.

Lawrence Dawsey returns to coach the receivers. The goal is, as always, to maximize a player's talent and to get the best possible group on the field.

The departed

FSU loses Rodney Smith, who was a disappointment as a senior. Smith was targeted 57 times (about 14% of FSU's pass plays), and caught 38 (66.7% catch rate) for a total of 524 yards and an average of 9.2 yards/target. Those numbers fell well short of star Rashad Greene, and were not considerably better than juniors Kenny Shaw or Greg Dent. Smith is unlikely to be missed, particularly because his yards/target dropped so much in passing situations (2nd & 7+, or 3rd & 5+), in which he averaged only 6.2 yards/target.

The talent

FSU really has a great group of receivers for breaking in a young QB. The top three are dependable veterans (8 years of varsity experience) who will be in the right spot, fight for and catch the football.

The star of the group is Rashad Greene, a junior from Ft. Lauderdale by way of Georgia. Greene followed up an excellent freshman year with an even better 2012. He was targeted 75 times (18.2% of all passing plays), caught 57 (76% catch rate) for 741 yards (9.9/target). And he was extremely good on passing downs (29 targets, 23 catches, 13). Greene is not the biggest receiver at 6'0 but he has tremendous quickness and good long speed. He is a good route runner, can elevate for the football, and has strong hands. He is FSU's star receiver, and needs to become more of a vocal leader, considering the amount of senior leaders FSU lost off the 2012 team. He should see his targets continue to grow in 2013. FSU must use him more, and throw the ball to him often enough to where he commands a double team. He's that good.

FSU returns two other seniors who should vie for the No. 2 job in Kenny Shaw and Greg Dent. Shaw was targeted 46 times, caught 33 (72% catch rate), for an impressive 11.6 yards/target. Dent caught 27 on 40 attempts, for 355 yards, and 8.9 yards/target. Shaw is quicker, faster and runs better routes, but he's also not very big and can get bullied when trying to make tough catches. Dent is not as fast or quick, and is not the route runner that Shaw is, but he is stronger and while his catch rate was actually lower than Shaw's, slightly, he was often asked to make tougher catches and does a good job competing for the football. Dent can improve on his route running, while I'm not sure what else Shaw can do with his game except for adding good weight.

FSU is in good position with two seniors in Shaw and Dent. They are solid No. 2 options, and Shaw is particularly nasty against single coverage, particularly when considering that the corner on him is often the No. 2 corner, because teams will assign their best cover option to Rashad Greene.

Then there is Kelvin Benjamin, who is really interesting. I am going to write some things that show how Kelvin Benjamin was not good for FSU in 2012, and then some things about why I think he can be better.

Benjamin was targeted 55 times and caught 30 of those throws (54.5% catch rate) for 9 yards/target. Despite the low catch rate, that is a very solid average. However, I am mindful that one of his "catches" was a de facto handoff in the Clemson game that went for 64 yards. Without that, his numbers look pretty pedestrian, with 54 targets, 29 catches, 431 yards and 8.0 yards/target. 8 yards/target for a receiver is really not very good indeed.

On passing downs (2nd & 7+ and 3rd & 5+), Benjamin was downright bad. He was targeted 25 times and caught only 9 of them (catch rate 36%) for 147 yards, which is an average of 5.9/yards per target. Compare that to Greene's 13.0, Shaw's 13.8, Dent's 9.3 or even Smith's disappointing 6.8.

The troubling thing is that Fisher's offense targeted Benjamin on passing downs 17.7% of the time. Only Rashad Greene was targeted more often. Given Benjamin's skills last season, this was a poor decision by coach Fisher and the offensive staff. There's also the line of thought that Benjamin played more to motivate Rodney Smith, who had notoriously poor effort levels in practice, and was anything but a senior leader. That backfired, I'm told, as instead of giving more effort because a red-shirt freshman was taking some of his playing time, Smith sulked and pouted.

One of two things need to happen:

  1. Coach Kelvin Benjamin up to an acceptable level, or
  2. Stop using Kelvin Benjamin so much

Benjamin has tremendous size, and for his size moves pretty well, but so far he has not displayed the ability to play receiver at the high BCS level. He runs poor routes, sometimes misses site adjustments, and perhaps most frustratingly, does a very poor job fighting for the ball when FSU elects to use him in 1-on-1 situations. Too often, he would run a lazy route, than around and backpedal the last few yards before the ball came to him. This would alert the defensive back as to what was coming. That's a problem, but it wouldn't be a huge problem except for the fact that Benjamin often mistimed his jumps or just did a poor job of jumping altogether, and failed to high point the football.

But there is hope! For the overall poor performance in 2012, Benjamin actually improved a whole lot on where he was as a freshman in 2011. In 2011, he had no idea how to run routes or play the position. And he had other issues as well, and used the 2011 season to get better in the classroom and get in shape.

Despite turning 22 years old in early February, Benjamin is just a sophomore. If he can make the same level of improvement from his red-shirt freshman 2012 year to his 2013 sophomore season that he did from his 2011 to 2012 years, he can actually become a good player. Perhaps very good, in time.

Benjamin needs to improve his route running to a level where defensive backs aren't immediately able to tell what route he is running. He needs to get better mentally, and needs to work on finishing his route and then jumping for the football. Many of those things could just happen with another year in the system, though there is no guarantee of that.

That's what Benjamin must do. The important thing for Fisher and the offense to do, however, is to not play and depend on him until he can consistently display these skills in practice (though I'll admit some of his drops were hard luck and his overall year would have been much better had he come down with a few more of the very close calls).

I'm also interested to see how Willie Haulstead bounces back from his concussions, now a year removed. I've been told he is in better shape. Will Christian Green ever put it together? And is Marvin Bracy anything more than a reverse and bubble screen threat as a receiver? We'll find out, starting this spring. One player we won't learn about, however, is Jarred Haggins, who is out with a knee injury.

Arriving in June

FSU welcomes three receiver recruits in Isaiah Jones, Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield and Jesus Wilson. Other recruits could play receiver as well. I do not expect any of them to make an impact at receiver as freshmen.

(h/t: Bill Connelly, for the receiver statistics)

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