July 30, 2012

Five things to watch in Fall Camp: Offense

Florida State opens up preseason camp on Monday August 6. With expectations high once again for Jimbo Fisher and company, Warchant.com gives you five things to keep an eye on offensively in August.

No. 5 Which true freshman will be ready to contribute this fall?

With just five true freshman on the offensive side of the ball this fall, there won't be a youth movement like we saw a season ago for the Seminoles.

Certainly quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Sean Maguire are prime redshirt candidates with three other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.

Freshman running back Mario Pender enrolled in the spring and saw plenty of action. He is the true freshman most likely to have the biggest role in the 2012 offense. Teammates and coaches were impressed with him the spring, despite just 23 yards on 10 carries in the spring game.

The other two freshman likely to see the field this fall are receiver Marvin Bracy and tight end Christo Kourtzidis. With his speed Bracy will certainly have an opportunity to make an impact in the return game, but he will need an impressive couple of weeks in August if he's going to earn reps among FSU's stacked receiving corps.

Kourtzidis doesn't have quite as many depth chart hurdles to see the field and will likely compete with Will Tye for No. 3 tight end spot, and perhaps even challenge Dan Hicks for the No. 2 tight end role.

No. 4 Nick O'Leary's role in the offense

With a bevy of talent at the wide receiver position, Fisher will have to find a way to balance using his weapons out wide along with dynamic sophomore tight end Nick O'Leary.

O'Leary caught 12 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown last season as a true freshman. Despite his limited role in the offense, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end's talent was undeniable. In fact O'Leary received the second-most votes (16) last week at the ACC Kickoff by the media for the tight end spot on the preseason All-ACC team.

Despite running a pro-style offense, a tight end has yet to catch more than 17 passes in a single season since Fisher has been in Tallahassee. O'Leary certainly has more talent than the other FSU tight ends in that time span, so we'll see if that warrants moer passes thrown his way in 2012.

O'Leary will also likely be involved in the offense out of the backfield in an H-back like role. O'Leary line up off the line of scrimmage at times in the spring and the move to H-back for certain packages could be a way to get the O'Leary out into his routes quicker and could end up being a boost for the running game if opposing defenses focus their attention on O'Leary when he's on the move.

No. 3 How tight is Clint Trickett's grip on the back-up QB job?

After another solid spring and exceeding expectations when he saw action in 9 games in 2011, Clint Trickett is currently penciled in as the No. 2 signal caller on the depth chart. Trickett completed 12 of 23 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns for the garnet side in the spring game.

However redshirt freshman Jacob Coker was also very impressive this spring. Also playing for the garnet team, Coker was 8 for 11 for 137 yards during his spring game reps.

Trickett's 6-foot-2, 195-pound physique is improving thanks to a gluten-free diet, but he's still a bit behind Coker's 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame. Trickett is a more than serviceable backup quarterback, but does the coaching staff feel that he really could be the guy in 2013?

If Fisher believes that Coker, or perhaps even Winston or Maguire, is a better candidate for the starting job next season then it stands to reason that he would want Coker instead of Trickett to be prepared to get live reps during the season. If Coker was able to close the gap in the spring for the No. 2 job, then he could use preseason camp as another opportunity to further show he is ready to be the guy behind EJ Manuel. While Trickett will attempt to show that he is not only the most capable backup, but perhaps the best candidate for the starting job in 2013.

No. 2 How healthy are the FSU tailbacks?

2010-leading rusher Chris Thompson played in just five games a season ago before suffering a season-ending back injury against Wake Forrest. Sophomore Devonta Freeman, who led the team in rushing with 579 yards in Thompson's absence in 2011, missed the entire spring with a lower back injury. Thompson made a surprising return in the spring but was limited to non-contract drills as he continues to recover.

Fisher said that he expects both Freeman and Thompson to be back to full strength during preseason camp, but just how confident is he that both will be able to handle the bulk of the carries this season? With both Freeman and Thompson out for the spring, and James Wilder Jr's legal situation further mucking up the tailback situation, it was early-enrollee Mario Pender who took the majority of the reps.

If Freeman and Thompson aren't quite ready to carry the load at running back it will be interesting to see if Fisher goes with Pender, Wilder Jr. or perhaps even fullback Lonnie Pryor who worked at tailback some in the spring. While Pender took the majority of the reps he still is a true freshman, which makes the starting job right out of the gate unlikely. Wilder Jr. was third on the team with 160 yards on the ground last season, but due to his off-the field issues he has been able to get the needed reps in the spring.

The other thing to keep an eye on is if both Thompson and Freeman are healthy, who takes the fist-team reps?

No. 1 Who will start at offensive tackle?

It's fairly safe to assume that guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias, along with center Austin Barron have starting jobs locked up barring injury.

That leaves the starting jobs at tackle left open for debate. Sophomore Bobby Hart started nine games last season as a true freshman (eight at right tackle, one at left), but spent the spring behind veteran utility man Bryan Stork at right tackle. Stork has started 14 games in his career and played guard and center last season.

On the other side it was converted defensive tackle Cameron Erving who worked with the starting offense in the spring at left tackle. Junior college transfer Daniel Glauser worked with the second-team offense.

With camp set to begin next week we'll finally have an answer as to whether or not Stork and Erving are actually the front-runners for starting jobs, or if their first-team reps were more a product of spring experimentation. It's hard to fathom that offensive line coach Rick Trickett and Fisher would use two weeks worth of starter's reps to see how well a player fits in at a certain position, which makes Stork and Erving the likely starters not just on August 6, but September 1 as well.

Certainly Glauser and Hart, along with junior college transfer Menelik Watson, will push Stork and Erving for their starting jobs in camp.

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