Every day while catching up on my daily Nole must reads, I very often wonder to myself, "Are my 2009 Noles going to be better than last year’s team?"
So far we have analyzed, discussed, and you have voted on whether the Defensive Line, the Receivers/Tight End, and the Secondary will be better, the same, or worse than last years equivalent unit. Today we will take a look at the Offensive Backfield, to determine if this unit has progressed, expected to continue at the same level, or regressed, in comparison to last years backfield unit.
First the obvious. Florida State’s offense will only go as far as it’s backfield takes them because everything rest on that units shoulders. Speaking of the offense, here are some tidbits you may find interesting, uplifting, and/or depressing.
A) With eight starters returning, the offense returns the most starters since the 2004 season when nine returned. That was the last season the Seminoles won 10 games.
2) Players responsible for 71% of Florida State’s points in 2008 will not be back in 2009. That is the lowest number of returning points in the conference.
D) The ACC’s top two scorers in 2008 were both Seminoles, Antone Smithe and Graham Gano, and neither is back this season.
5) The Seminoles finished the year ranked first in scoring offense and second in total offense and rushing offense in the ACC.
L) FSU’s rushing offense improved from 91st in the nation in 2007 to 33rd last season. That was the ninth best improvement of any BSC school.
Here are some of my biggest question regarding the backfield as we get ready to start the 2-a-days this Friday.
Will Christian Ponder throw crisp and accurate spirals, proving he's gotten better this year with the experience he gained by starting every game last year?
Will he follow up with a more consistent performance?
Or will he be hearing the crowd chanting "EJ, EJ", which will surely come if he fails to deliver?
Will Jermaine Thomas be able to maintain the incredible 7.0 yard average from last year as the feature back, and stay healthy while taking the pounding that comes with being a feature back?
Will he put together a breakout season where he establishes himself as one of the ACC’s elite workhorse backs?
Or will Jimbo Fisher decide to make the tailback position a position by committee, and split playing time between Thomas, Ty Jones, and Tavares Pressley?
Before we get into the specifics of the positions in the backfield unit, if you haven’t already read these two very interesting perspectives by missourinole, I encourage you to do so. In both of his stories, What So Great About Ponder? and Jermaine Thomas: The Next Warrick Dunn? he presents some very good analytical comparisons with past FSU greats, and you the TN members told him how you felt. Some of the issues addressed in his stories might seem redundant here today, but the performance of these two positions will dictate what kind of season we will have, and how we will be talking about it come January.
QUARTERBACKS, TAILBACKS & FULLBACKS
2008 QUARTERBACK=Christian Ponder started all 13 games. His stats for last year were: EFF=115.0, PA=318, PC=177, YDS=2006, PCT=.557, TD=14, INT=13, LNG=54, AVG/GM=154.3, RA=119, YDS=597, LOSS=174, NET=423, AVG=3.6, TD=4, LNG=45, AVG/GM=32.5 (Total Offense=423R + 2006P = 2429 or 186.8 AVG/GM).
Ponder was backed up by D’Vontrey Richardson and Drew Weatherford who are both gone.
Christian Ponder had one of the best seasons in school history for a quarterback when it came to the ground game. The sophomore rushed for 423 yards finishing with the fourth-highest single season rushing total by a QB in school history. However in recent history since 1950, only Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward rushed for more yards in one season than Ponder did in 2008 and he is just the fourth FSU QB to ever score a rushing touchdown in four consecutive games. Ponder completed passes to seven or more receivers in seven of 13 games in 2008, and he hit eight or more receivers with a pass four times.
2009 PROJECTED QUARTERBACK=Christian Ponder. Redshirt freshman E.J. Manuel will back up Ponder but has not thrown a pass in a collegiate game up to this point. Even though Manuel did not see any action in 2008, he was instrumental to the team’s success earning scout team MVP for the offense.
2008 TAILBACK=Antone Smith started all 13 games. His stats for last year were: RA=177, YDS=868, LOSS=76, NET=792, AVG=4.5, TD=15, LNG=60, AVG/GM=60.9
Replacing Antone Smith’s 177 carries and 15 rushing touchdown’s is the top priority for the Seminoles this season. If you remove quarterbacks from the equation, Smith’s 117 carries accounted for almost 55% of all the running plays by the Seminoles in 2008.
2009 PROJECTED TAILBACK=Jermaine Thomas is the projected starter with Ty Jones and Tavares Pressley expected to give him breathers.
Jermaine Thomas had a breakout season as a true freshman averaging 7.0 yards per carry on 69 attempts. Thomas finished behind only Sean Jackson and Warrick Dunn in Seminole history for yards per carry by a true freshman. He also had the sixth-best true freshman season in school history for rushing yards. One of Thomas’ greatest strengths in 2008 was his ability to make positive yards on almost every touch. The freshman lost only 10 yards rushing all year.
Carlton "Ty" Jones, a true freshman running back showed flashes of brilliance throughout the 2008 season but was slowed by an ankle injury most of the year. He showed what he was capable of in the Champs Sports Bowl when he rushed four times for 55 yards including a TD. His average of almost 14 yards per carry was more than six times better than any other FSU running back in that game. That final game of the 2008 season illustrated just how good he can be in a backfield with fellow freshman standout Jermaine Thomas. He also had a career high run of 30 yards in the first game of his collegiate career against Western Carolina.
Tavares Pressley was redshirted in 2008 after suffering an ACL injury in his left knee, but most recent reports indicate he will be ready to go this season. After a few days of practice, we should have a better idea of his prognosis.
2008 FULLBACK=Marcus Sims started 4 games and Sederick Holloway started 2. Sims has transferred and apparently Holloway is no longer on the team.
2009 PROJECTED FULLBACK=NONE. Apparently we will not be using a true fullback this year. Matt Dunham has rejoined the team but is expected to be used more in a H-Back role, similar to a smaller pass catching tight end.
OTHERS WHO CONTRIBUTED IN THE 2008 BACKFIELD AND ARE NOW GONE=D’Vo Richardson (RA=35, YDS=288, LOSS=34, NET=254, AVG=7.3, TD=3, LNG=55, AVG/GM=25.4, PASS EFF=121.27, PA=44, PC=23, YDS=315, PCT=.523, TD=3, INT=3, LNG=39, AVG/GM=31.5).
Drew Weatherford and Preston Parker also contributed and are also gone.
OTHERS WHO MAY CONTRIBUTE IN 2009=Lonnie Pryor (RB), Chris Thompson (RB), Corey Eddinger (QB), Will Secord (QB)
So there you have it. Considering this will be Ponder's second season running the Seminole's offense, it's likely we could see improvements made considering he'll have a better understanding of Jimbo Fisher’s offense, and his available weaponry. Manuel should also be better considering he too has had a full season in this offense under his belt.
The running game should have a much improved offensive line, so maybe that will improve their deceiving production of 4.8 yards per carry in 2008. I say deceiving because many of the long runs which inflated this average, were runs by the QB’s, which hopefully will not come down to that again this year.
Again, a lot rests on this groups shoulders. If the Seminoles receive favorable answers to those questions I posed above, Florida State will win the ACC’s Atlantic Division, will be playing in the ACC Championship Game come December while continuing the nations longest streak of Bowl appearances with 28 consecutive bowls, in what hopefully will be the Orange Bowl, at least.
MY BOTTOM LINE FOR THE OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD=PROGRESSION
What is your bottom line? Please vote now.