When I do these Ask a Beat Writer posts, I really only ask for a paragraph or two for each answer. After all, it’s a bit of an imposition for me to as another team’s beat writer to help me out with these things. So I’m grateful for whatever I get.
For Florida State (read part I here), I asked Coley Harvey of the Orlando Sentinel for some thoughts on the Seminoles. He responded by writing, oh …. roughly 2,200 words. To which, I say, wow.
Here are the usual plugs, and, given how much Coley helped me out with this, I urge you to check them out: read his work here, peruse his blog (aptly named “The Chopping Block”) here and follow him on Twitter here.
To the questions …
AB: Quarterback EJ Manuel has shown a lot of promise over the years, yet question marks persist about his ability to be an elite quarterback. What will he have to do this season to take that next step? Does he have the receivers to help him out?
CH: “The questions about EJ Manuel probably won’t fade until after he walks across the podium at the end of whatever bowl game the Seminoles attend this season. OK, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic. But in all seriousness, Manuel has truly faced questions from FSU fans and ACC fans alike throughout his career, as they wonder whether he really is the quarterback he has been hyped to be since high school.
“In Tallahassee, many of the criticisms about the Virginia Beach native have revolved around his strong throwing arm. Sometimes, that arm is too strong, some fans say, citing what they feel are consistent over-throws on his part. In all honesty, though, Manuel enters his final season as one of FSU’s all-time completion percentage leaders and has a real chance to cement himself firmly in the record books in that statistical category. A big-bodied, very mobile signal-caller, Manuel’s dual-threat capability is what has made people believe he has elite quarterback potential. Getting there is just a matter of staying healthy, and using the tools around him.
“Last season, injuries slowed some of Manuel’s progress. He was playing for the first time as the full-time starter at quarterback. A separated shoulder in arguably the year’s biggest game (vs. Oklahoma) sidelined him for parts of a three-game stretch in which the Seminoles went 0-3. During the Champs Sports Bowl last December, he apparently broke a bone in his leg, although he played the entire game, and helped author FSU’s dramatic 18-14 comeback win over Notre Dame. As for playing through pain, he can do that. If he doesn’t get any major injuries this season, look out. One could argue that with his presence from start to finish in the parts of three games he missed, FSU could have gone 2-1. Tack that record onto the Seminoles’ regular season tally, and they would have gone 11-2, and would have earned an ACC Championship game berth against Virginia Tech for a second straight season.
“As far as making himself better, Manuel has spent part of this offseason working with George Whitfield, the quarterbacks guru who famously spent time with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton before he was drafted two years ago.
“With respect to weapons at receiver, FSU may very well have the best pass-catching corps in the nation this season. Counting tight end Beau Reliford, the Seminoles only lost two veteran receivers off last year’s team. Senior Bert Reed was the other. Rashad Greene, Rodney Smith, Christian Green, Kenny Shaw, Greg Dent, Jarred ‘Scooter’ Haggins and tight end Nick O’Leary all return to catch passes from Manuel. Smith is the lone senior of the group.
“In addition to that septuplet, the Seminoles also are welcoming one of their recent receiving leaders, Willie Haulstead, back in the lineup after he took a year off to recover from a bout with concussion-like symptoms. The junior will be joined by redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin, who could be one of the newcomers to watch in college football this fall. Not only are the Seminoles talented at wide out, but they have a good mix of speedy slot guys (Green, Shaw, Dent, Haggins) who can match up with their 6-foot-4 and taller trees at wideout (Smith, Haulstead, Benjamin). Greene can play anywhere and do anything. As a true freshman, he caught 38 passes for 596 yards.
“Oh, and we can’t forget about an Orlando native who has a chance to put his immediate imprint on the program. Marvin Bracy, an Olympic hopeful who announced less than two weeks ago that his dreams will have to be put on four-year hold, is set to arrive in Tallahassee in the coming weeks and days to participate in the Seminoles’ preseason conditioning exercises. A hurt hamstring forced him to miss the U.S. Olympic Trials, which are taking place this weekend in Oregon.
“The speedster won the state of Florida’s 100-meter championship earlier this year and set a world-record, wind-aided 10.06 100 meter during an indoor race during another meet. If he’s not catching passes this year, he’ll certainly be getting his hands on the ball in the special teams game.”
AB: The ‘Noles were so beat up by injuries last year that they started four freshmen offensive linemen in the Champs Sports Bowl. What does that unit look like this year?
CH: “If there is a spot on FSU’s roster that truly has question marks surrounding it entering the season, it’s the offensive line. As you said, the Seminoles were so beleaguered by injuries last season that four true freshmen started on the o-line in the Champs Sports Bowl. Early in the game, their inexperience showed.
“The Seminoles allowed four sacks in the first half of the bowl game. When Manuel wasn’t sacked, he was running for his life, having difficulty getting set in the pocket. It’s not clear when Manuel’s leg injury took place in the game — he didn’t know when it happened — but the fact that he was constantly seeing opposing players in his face in the first half is an indication it could have happened then.
“The good thing about FSU having four freshmen on the offensive line in that game? They all are now sophomores and come into their second campaign with true big-game experience. In many ways, the offensive line could be considered one area with extremely high potential and high promise. In the spring, coaches mixed up players all along the offensive front, putting tackles at center or moving guards to tackle, just to help teach a little bit more and to bring added versatility to the line. One of head coach Jimbo Fisher‘s buzz words this spring was ‘versatility.’
“Perhaps where the Seminoles could see the biggest offensive line changes is at tackle. Before getting drafted by the Buffalo Bills in April, Zebrie Sanders was a right tackle who was forced, due to injuries, to start at left tackle. Freshman Bobby Hart, who came to camp last year 16 years old, was then inserted at Sanders’ old right tackle slot. Now, Hart is in a fight for a starting job as he competes with sophomore Bryan Stork for time at right tackle. At left tackle, the Seminoles brought over former defensive tackle Cameron Erving. If there was a star of FSU’s spring practices, Erving was it. Coaches, and Erving’s teammates, were wowed by how quickly and easily he made a very smooth transition to the position.”
AB: FSU ranked 10th in the ACC in rushing last year, ahead of only N.C. State and Duke. Is there hope that the ‘Noles will get the ground game going in 2012?
“A large part of the Seminoles’ run-game deficiencies last season were the byproduct of a young, weak, injury-depleted offensive line. The linemen weren’t protecting, linebackers were blowing right past them, and the running backs just couldn’t seem to get much going on the year.
“Another part was the running backs themselves. Senior Jermaine Thomas, who missed part of the preseason with a concussion and other injuries, never seemed to get fully comfortable last season. Hopes were high that after a strong sophomore season and a decent junior year, that Thomas would blow up as a senior. That just never happened. He was slow out of the gate, seldom, it seemed, given the ball in the first half of the year. Until FSU played Maryland on Oct. 22, the most times Thomas carried the ball in a game was seven.
“Combined with Thomas’ difficulties, the Seminoles were hit early in the year with a season-ending loss to reigning rushing leader Chris Thompson. The back was hit awkwardly in a game at Wake Forest and fractured a vertebra around his spine. As bad as the injury looked and seemed, however, he was back at practice in the spring, seemingly running without hesitation and with the same explosion.
“If the Seminoles can get Thompson, 2011 leading rusher Devonta Freeman (who was a freshman last year) and sophomore bruiser James Wilder Jr. going, they will see dramatically improved run-game numbers. Better ground game numbers, and the passing game should have opportunities to catch opposing defenses napping, and flourishing in the process. Despite legal issues that kept Wilder from much of the spring’s practices, Fisher in April appeared impressed with his offseason improvements. The second-year player will be another vital piece to the Seminoles’ rushing puzzle.
“Along with those upperclassmen, true freshman Mario Pender enrolled early this January. After what seemed to be a mostly positive spring, he is expected to contribute to the rather deep stable of running backs the Seminoles have, as well.
“So, there’s hope. But there’s also some of the same hope that existed last summer for the running game. The jury, for now, is still out on how good FSU’s rushers can be.”
AB: The defense, with eight starters back from a unit that ranked fourth nationally last year, appears to be loaded. What’s the strength of the group? Any weaknesses? And could it be the best defense the ‘Noles have had in years?
CH: “When the year is all said and done, this unit could be one of the best college football has seen in a very long time. Yes, the 2011 Alabama and LSU defenses will be tough to match or even overcome, but if there’s a group that could do all of that, this could be it. Heck, like you mentioned, the Seminoles’ ‘D’ was ranked fourth nationally last year, and the Seminoles were using a slew of second-year players under a defensive coordinator who was only in his second season in Tallahassee.
“In about five minutes, the jury deliberated, came back and gave the judge its final verdict: this defense will be very good.
“Defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are two potential first-round talents (Jenkins could have gone for the NFL Draft this season, and likely would have been picked up in the first three rounds) and defensive tackles Everett Dawkins, Timmy Jernigan, Anthony McCloud and Jaccobi McDaniel are equally imposing in their own respectively physical manners. Joining them up front are two five-star talents in true freshmen Mario Edwards Jr. (son of former FSU defensive back Mario Edwards Sr.) and Eddie Goldman. Goldman will join the meaty men in the middle, while Edwards will rush from an end position. Goal line situations could be nightmarish for opposing offenses. Passes rushes could be even more frightening for quarterbacks.
“At linebacker, FSU should be OK. The departure of Nigel Bradham (draft) and Jeff Luc (transfer to Cincinnati) will leave a bit of a void, but Nick Moody, a converted safety who will play Bradham’s spot, seems up to the task. Known for his hard-hitting mentality and style of play as a DB, Moody is expected to bring that same energy to his new position.
“In the rest of the defensive backfield, cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes return, with safety Lamarcus Joyner playing a role that he thrived in last season. The trio will be joined by up-and-comer Terrence Brooks, who had a key interception against Notre Dame late in the Champs Sports Bowl. Brooks was pegged by coaches last season as a safety to watch. Freshmen Tyler Hunter, Karlos Williams and Nick Waisome will also play a role in some of the Seminoles’ nickel and extra-DB packages. Whereas Bracy is for sure the fastest player on offense, Williams is the fastest on defense.
“Depth and talent. Those two things should make the Seminoles go from No. 4 in the country in total defense to even higher.”
AB: We seem to hear that Florida State “is back” every year. At the risk of falling into that trap again, is Florida State back this year? Is this team and Jimbo Fisher really capable of playing for the national championship like some prognosticators are picking?
CH: “Every year this time, the ‘back’ talk starts. Every year since roughly 2006 it seems, by Weeks 3 or 4 or 5, that chatter dies back down. It’s not to be, college football fans across the nation say in late September.
“But this time around, I personally believe there is reason for the Doak Campbell Stadium faithful to remain optimistic. Last offseason, most in Tallahassee were pointing to 2012 as being the year it all changed anyway. While back-to-back 9-4 finishes doesn’t really indicate an upward trend, FSU fans take solace in the fact that their program had only dropped four of its games last season by a combined 21 points. The Seminoles were in every game.
“With a much less difficult schedule looming on the horizon this fall, they shouldn’t just be in every game, they should be favored to win every game.
“The most difficult test the Seminoles will face will be that Nov. 3 date in Blacksburg. I’ve personally only covered one game at Lane Stadium, but even that one game showed me just how great the Hokie faithful can be. Of all my college football experiences, taking in a Thursday night game in Lane Stadium ranks among the best. The Seminoles are obviously aware of the atmosphere. They know they’ll be going into hostile territory. They know the fans and Virginia Tech players will be intense. They know Virginia Tech will want to use that game as a resume-builder as the season goes on. They know they’re in for a challenge.
“Whether FSU can get past Clemson and Virginia Tech will help determine just how ‘back’ the Seminoles are. Win both of those games, and they’re back in the ACC Championship for sure. Win the ACC Championship with a potential one-loss or undefeated regular season, and ‘Noles fans would consider themselves on the cusp of being ‘back.’ What will make them fully arrive? A date in the national championship.
“Phil Steele believes FSU is the team to beat this year, and the Seminoles would like to think the same thing. As to whether this is the year all of that happens and the ‘back’ monkey can finally be shaken off? Well, let’s just say that I don’t share Phil Steele’s level of optimism, but I don’t think he’s too far from the mark.”
Big thanks to Coley, who went above and beyond in his response for this. I appreciate the help.
As for the game, this should be a good one. Really, FSU and Virginia Tech look like mirror images of each other. Both have defenses that should be among the best in the nation, the strength of which being a deep, athletic defensive line. Both have quarterbacks who are the key to the offense (and ACC Player of the Year contenders). Both have some talented wideouts who could do interesting things. Both have question marks both at running back and on the offensive line.
People say Clemson is the game to look forward to most this year for Virginia Tech. I say it’s the Seminoles, who I think are better than the Tigers, who have major question marks on both of their lines. The Thursday night game between FSU and Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium on Nov. 8 could be an ACC championship game preview. If that’s the case, the teams could play the rubber match of their title game showdowns. I don’t think anyone would be disappointed by that.
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- Duke — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Clemson — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Miami — Team overview | Ask a beat writer