Returning to the Warpath: The 2009 Florida State Football Preview
Going into 2009, the Florida State Seminoles and Head Coach Bobby Bowden are coming off their best season in four years.
They face significant personnel losses, mostly on the defensive side, yet have turned around after several disappointing years. Jimbo Fisher has brought a new attitude to the offense, which has improved the overall confidence of the team.
While the team has one of the toughest schedules in the nation heading, they will also have to overcome the negative aura of the ongoing appeal to the NCAA Committee of Infractions for the cheating scandal of 2006-2007.
The defense has suffered more losses to graduation, but the team has an optimism for this season that seems based more on actual performance than prediction, unlike the past two.
Part 1: The Offense
Offensive Coordinator Jimbo Fisher had said he wanted to run the ball more at FSU, and that’s just what they did last year.
By pounding the rock, FSU finished as the top-scoring offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 33.4 points per game. They also ranked second in total offense and rushing offense at 371.8 yards per game and 179.1 yards per game, respectively.
Expect more of the same in 2009, although one would hope that the passing game improves some with quarterback Christian Ponder’s second year as a starter. At only 192.8 yards per game last year, the passing game needs to become a larger part of the offense.
With the loss of playmaking receivers such as Greg Carr, Preston Parker, and Corey Surrency, this task appears daunting, but Ponder’s numbers should still improve from just over 2000 yards and a 14/13 touchdown to interception ratio.
The most important stat for the 2009 season, however, might be that all five starters are returning from what proved to be a very capable offensive line.
With Christian Ponder returning for his second season as a starter, expect not only an improved passing attack, but also improvement from a leadership perspective.
Due to EJ Manuel’s spring injury, Ponder went through 100 percent of the reps with the starting offense. At summer workouts his teammates have gone as far as to describe him as a “second Jimbo.” His knowledge of the offense is extensive, and he should lead the offense to greater heights in 2009.
Also, the playmaking ability of his legs should be a weapon for the FSU offense. Ponder proved a dangerous runner in 2008, including a 100+ yard performance against Miami, most of which came in the first half to help give FSU a 24-3 halftime lead and a 41-39 victory.
As far as depth goes, EJ Manuel should be the backup as a redshirt freshman. Don’t be surprised to see him to take over D’Vontrey Richardson’s role for some of the option play packages due to his athleticism.
At least expect the former top recruit to get some playing time this season regardless of Ponder’s success.
The other QBs include recruit Will Secord, and Cory Eddinger, who received more practice with the second team squad during spring camp due to Manuel's injury.
The position of running back takes the loss of the graduation of Antone Smith, who led FSU in rushing with 702 yards and led the ACC with 15 rushing touchdowns.
However, the position returns explosive runner Jermaine Thomas, who averaged seven yards a carry as a freshmen, as well as sophomore Carlton “Ty” Jones. Jones made little impact during the regular season but showed great potential in the Champs Sport Bowl where he rushed for 50+ yards and a touchdown.
These two should make a terrifying tandem running behind FSU’s offensive line. Thomas is the likely starter due to his experience and obvious talent. He also has exceptional receiving abilities.
The X-factor in the backfield equation is Taveres Pressley. A top junior college recruit, Pressley was expected to back up Smith last season, but fell to a season-ending injury during August practice.
Fully recovered, he is motivated to make a significant impact this season, so expect him to get some carries as well.
Incoming freshmen Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor are both highly talented, but are likely redshirts due to the position’s depth.
Both fullbacks, Seddrick Holloway and Marcus Sims, made an impact last season, and should expect to share time and get some carries and looks like they did last year. Sims proved to be a threat as a red-zone back as well, but needs to improve his ball-carrying. Both are able pass-catchers.
Headed into the 2008 season, the wide receiver position appeared to be the Seminoles' deepest position.
Heading into the 2009 season, it appears to be their weakest.
The ‘Noles lose their leading receiver and one of their best red zone threats ever in wide out Greg Carr, who graduated after four strong, albeit inconsistent, years.
One of the more disappointing stories of the offseason was the dismissal of Preston Parker, who led Florida State in receptions.
Parker, who had several previous run-ins with the law, had seemingly turned his act around after last summer. He took a leadership role during the early season suspensions by having the suspended players for gatherings to watch the games, while also attempting a more active role in the community.
It was one of the more disheartening moments for myself and other fans to see him fall from grace yet again.
However, the biggest heartbreak for the team might have been the loss of Corey Surrency’s final year of eligibility due to participation in a semi-pro football league.
In all honesty, the NCAA does not appear to be distributing eligibility equally, considering a four-year basketball player at Duke can get an extra year of eligibility to play football at a school of his choosing. Yet Surrency, a highly touted JUCO prospect from the 2008 class, is penalized for participating in a ragtag league while trying to keep his family finances afloat.
Sorry about that. I tend to ramble on such issues.
Now for the actual player analysis.
What remains of the receiving corps includes Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling, both young playmakers who shined at moments in the 2008 season but have much potential and room for improvement.
Easterling fell to an Achilles injury during spring camp, but is recovering well and will hopefully participate for the majority of fall camp.
Reed, who was suspended several times last season, has taken a leadership role to keep an oft-maligned group of receivers out of trouble. He has shown improvement over spring camp with a greater amount of reps.
After those two, expect to see some new faces getting more catches.
Jarmon Fortson should be a name to remember. He only had eight catches last year, but should see an expanded role. He has shown potential to be a dangerous deep threat with a 17.1 ypc average. His 6’3” frame could become an asset when compared to the barely 6'0" Reed and Easterling.
Another “smurf” who has shown potential has been walk-on Louis Givens. At 5’8”, he’s not going to be doing much in the way of fade routes, but has shown electric speed and quickness, and his stature adds to his elusive nature.
He is long overdue in the grant of a scholarship, and after this season it will be earned.
Other factors could be seniors Richard Goodman and Rod Owens, but both are currently in trouble with the law and their future is in doubt. Cameron Wade also has several issues to resolve, but should still remain on the team.
With all this uncertainty, count on several members of the Seminole’s top-ten recruiting class on catching a few passes.
Willie Downs was considered the top receiving threat, but after failing to qualify he will have to attend junior college and will likely not play this season. Rodney Smith, a four-star prospect with a 6’6” frame, has the chance to step right into the shoes of Greg Carr as the team’s top red-zone threat.
Expect receivers Willie Haulstead and Xavier Rhodes to factor in as well.
Running back recruit Chris Thompson could see some time at receiver if the coaches choose not to redshirt him, as well as cornerback recruit Greg Reid.
As far as tight ends go, Caz Piurowski will remain the starter. Jimbo Fisher is excited about Piurowski’s potential in an expanded role this season to compensate for the lack of depth at receiver. He will be more of a playmaker this year.
The other tight ends include Ja’ Baris Little and Bo Reliford, who each saw some time on the field last season as freshmen.
Also note that Matt Dunham will be returning on the team for a second chance opportunity, and should see some time at tight end as well as fullback.
If expectations for the receiver position were that of darkest night, the offensive line’s aspirations would be bright as day.
This is vice versa of last season, where expectations were grim for such an inexperienced line. Yet it turned out to be one of the better lines FSU has had in a number of years, and with all five starters returning, it could be the team strength this season.
This lineup of big guys has been ranked as high as No. 5 nationally by preseason magazines and includes a pair of All-America candidates in junior center Ryan McMahon and junior guard Rodney Hudson.
This line may not be the most massive, but they are certainly one of the most athletic, the preference of highly touted O-line coach Rick Trickett.
Considering the rest of the starters are sophomores, ‘Nole fans should be overjoyed at even the slightest possibility that this line could return for two more years.
Zebrie Sanders, David Spurlock, and especially Andrew Datko all performed well as true freshmen. If this line stays healthy, they should be one of the top lines nationally.
Trickett has some capable backups available in A.J. Ganguzza, Brandon Davis, Rhonne Sanderson, and Antwane Greenlee. They lost Will Furlong, who was a part-time starter, after transferred and apparently had issues with Coach Trickett.
Regardless, this will likely be the top line in the ACC.
This offense shows a certain similarity to another team’s last year, one that FSU fans will be happy to hear.
This offense returns a strong offensive line, but not as many proven playmakers.
This is quite similar to that of Alabama.
Bama's offense showed the success that a good offensive line can bring, which is why it is considered the most important asset of any offense.
Considering the offense should be more run-oriented (like Alabama’s), expect the offense to build on the success of 2008 despite shortcomings at receiver. Also note they had a quarterback who was inconsistent at times but grew as a game manager into a strong-willed leader.
(For those of you who enjoyed those similarities I noticed [I know they were a little off-kilter and that there are major differences], one should also note that Glenn Coffee, who shot up the depth chart to be Alabama’s leading rusher, wore No. 38, the same as Jermaine Thomas. I only noted this because it is not a very common number for a running back. Hopefully its another sign!)
Regardless of these, the offense should be in the top three of the ACC this year. They will likely build on last year’s success and be a run-first pro-style offense with a good deal of play-action passing.
Expect the passing game to improve, despite the receiver losses. Don’t be surprised if the offense makes up for the defense’s losses more than it did last year. Hopefully the offense’s improvement will be able to help keep the ‘Noles close with the Gators this year!
Look for my next installment of Returning to the Warpath when I analyze the defense.