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Florida State football: Running back preview

Tomahawk Nation is previewing the Florida State Seminoles 2014 season with a series of roundtable responses. Our authors chimed in on questions that piqued their interest.

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Florida State lost Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr. to the NFL at the running back position, but has recruited extremely well there, with four former four- or five-star recruits on the roster.

What percentage split do you see each of the following running backs to have this year? (Karlos Williams, Ryan Green, Mario Pender, Dalvin Cook)

Florida State season preview

Bud: Let's set the baseline. Last year, Devonta Freeman got 44 percent of the carries from running backs (and fullbacks!). That seems very high for the Jimbo Fisher era as head coach. But he has ridden a back harder before, like in 2008, when Antone Smith received 63 percent of carries, and Jermaine Thomas got 60 percent in 2009.

I can see Karlos Williams getting to 200 carries if he really emerges and FSU runs the ball 400 times with its backs, so, 50 percent is as high as I'll go. I also don't buy Williams as a Heisman candidate, by the way. Fisher likes to throw the ball a lot, and even if he gets 225 carries at 6 yards/carry (very high estimates), that's only 1350 yards.

I don't know who will get more carries between Cook, Pender and Green. I do think Green will need to show some tough running if he wants to get an equal share among the backups, and he hasn't stayed healthy. As usual, and especially if they want to get meaningful carries, pass protection will be key. Fisher won't be running out a guy who might get the most valuable player in college football hit unnecessarily.

DKfromVA: 50% sounds right to me for Karlos. I agree on the Heisman discussion. As much as Jimbo has expressed interest in being a 2-TE, ground-first offense, we just haven't seen many real indications that he'll actually go there. That's a question that I had for this position group as well. Given that FSU had a phenomenal trio of wideouts last season and lost two of them, is green in terms of replacing them, returns an excellent offensive line, finally has two competent tight ends, and has this much talent in the backfield, is this the year we see an identity shift of sorts? The counter to that is the returning Heisman winner at quarterback, the enormous success of last year's offense, and Jimbo's propensity to go to the air. I've already tipped my hand in terms of what I expect, but I certainly wouldn't be opposed to going to a ground-heavier attack this season.

I'm going to play a hunch and say Dalvin Cook emerges as the second guy at this position. I think he gets 20-25% of the carries, leaving 10-15% for each Green and Pender. I just think that of the three backs in question, Cook is going to be the best runner between the tackles and therefore the most versatile. I think he'll pass block as well as the other two, present a receiving threat second only to possibly Green, and won't get caught being too quick to abandon his read in the system to try to get outside. Obviously these three are very similar players, and my hunch is only a hunch based on a borderline uncomfortable fandom of his film.

Onebarrelrum: Karlos gets the bulk as expected. We'll call it 46%. I think it will be Pender that emerges as the second back and gets quite a bit of carries. I'll say 24%. Cook will get to play the majority of clean up time. That leaves Green with not a lot of reps. Green being injured and not taking a lot of reps this fall camp isn't helping his chances of seeing the field.

By season's end, who do you expect to be FSU's best outside runner?

ricobert1: Karlos Williams. This man breaks to daylight like a mid-Atlantic sunrise.

DKfromVA: Agree, Karlos. Was excellent in the OZ runs last year without really knowing what he was doing.

jmnpb996: Agree with the guys above. Like DK says, he's a natural stretch runner. FSU's stretch already looked like a freight train when it got going downhill, even moreso with Karlos.

Onebarrelrum: I'm going to say Pender. I think he is quicker than Karlos (not much faster top end speed, but quicker) and he will surprise this year in outside runs. Karlos will still have more yards, no matter the running play just because of the amount of reps he gets.

By season's end, who do you expect to be FSU's best inside runner?

ricobert1: Not Karlos Williams. I question his ability as an inside runner. I don't know if he's that one-cut back FSU's zone scheme thrives on (Devonta Freeman, Chris Thompson). But his ability to break big plays makes him an overall good back. I haven't seen enough out of Pender, but I think it's him or Cook that ends up our best one-cut back by season's end.

DKfromVA: Dalvin Cook. I think he may be the best inside runner already. His film is nasty.

Bud: I'll go with Karlos Williams. I saw him make some nasty cutbacks in 2013, and I think he has great power. And sometimes freshmen have too much youth ball in their games (looking to bounce the ball too much).

jmnpb996: I agree with Bud here. Karlos hasn't just made nasty cutbacks outside the tackles, but has shown that he has quick feet in the hole, and isn't going down for weak contact. He's naturally the total package, and should've been splitting carries with Chris Thompson years ago.

I think Cook will also be good inside (and outside, for that matter), but I disagree with Rob here - and others (like onebarrelrum or others that have been to open practices/scrimmages) may disagree with my take - Pender seems to have had more Pop Warner Bounce-It-Outside than anyone else in this backfield did in HS. He's going to have to prove on the field he's willing to take on contact in the hole before I believe it, even if he's received rave reviews.

Alan Mundy: Karlos is probably not the most natural inside zone runner, but he brings something to the table that the other guys don't: raw power. He can bulldoze and fall forward for positive yards even when he doesn't make the perfect cut. Karlos obviously has tremendous top end speed, but doesn't have a lot of burst or short area quickness. As an inside runner his primary attribute is size and power. After several consecutive punishing runs, the quickness of the other backs will be very difficult to deal with. In that way I think the dynamic between Karlos and the other backs will be similar to what we had with Greg Jones and Nick Maddox in 2001. Maddox was largely ineffective as a starter, but when he came on after Jones had punished the defense repeatedly his burst would lead to big plays against defenders who were accustomed to hunkering down and trying to tackle a tree.

ScottCrumbly: I also believe it will be Karlos Williams. As Alan said, he may be more naturally suited for outside zone, but at 225-230 pounds Los has similar power to what we saw from James Wilder Jr., but his vision and quick feet -- even as a freshly converted safety -- were beyond anything we ever saw from JWJ. Naturally he will only improve as he becomes more nuanced at the position.

FSU: I'll add a wildcard to the mix on a potential hunch. Jonathan Vickers (fullback).

Onebarrelrum: I'm going to say Karlos. We have to remember last year was his first year playing RB at the college level. With his size, power, speed combo, hard to imagine he won't figure out how to run better in limited space.

The backs will be better/about the same/worse this year. Why?

Bud: I think they'll be better, but I'm not sure if it will be by a lot or just a little. Devonta Freeman was really, really good in 2013. He was great in pass protection, caught the ball well and overall did a very good job running, not losing yards -- everything but hitting explosive plays.

I am expecting more explosive runs out of this group. They simply have more explosion in their game. But do they have the vision? The feel? The ability in pass protection? With four talented backs, I'm willing to project that they do.

Alan Mundy: As ball carriers they will be as good or better. The area where I anticipate some dropoff is in blitz pickup. All regular TN readers will be familiar with Winston's incredible numbers vs. the blitz, but may not realize how much that had to do with Devonta Freeman being one of the most consistently excellent pass blockers I have ever seen in the college game. He wasn't just good at it, he relished it and his skills in this area allowed FSU to generate a lot of explosive plays.

FSU: Better, because I believe they'll be involved in the intermediate passing game more both in the screen game and stretched out on the perimeter in receiver positions pre-snap.

Onebarrelrum: I'm going to say about the same. There will be more explosive runs and long TDs. I think Pender and Karlos will each have their fare share of long runs. But I'm with Alan, I think blitz protection will lag behind what it was last year. Freeman was great and Wilder was more than adequate. I think Karlos will be as good as last year but I worry about Pender and Cook.