I know, I know FSU went 3-1 with E.J. Manual at quarterback after Christian’s season ending shoulder injury. In those 4 games, the overall production from the quarterback position was down about 100 yards per game.
With Ponder fully healthy and an offense that only lost 1 starter, he appears ready for a stellar senior season. In fact, FSU is launching a Heisman campaign on his behalf.
So for the sake of argument, I’m going to say that Christian Ponder is FSU’s most important offensive player.
Now let’s look at some other key players that are vital to the offense’s success this season.
Think back to the goal line struggles against Miami, USF and Boston College from last season. No ask yourself if those outcomes would’ve been the same if we had a 240lb running back in those situations. Welcome Debrale Smiley. He is the “big back” that Jimbo seems to love in his offensive system.
He is cross training at both tailback and fullback but I believe his biggest impact will come in short yardage situations. I would not be surprised to see Smiley end up with double digit touchdowns this season.
Reliford is a 6’6 260lb ex basketball player who is in the process of learning how to be a Tight End. He filled in admirably at the position when Caz Piurowski’s season was cut short by a tear in his ACL. Bo finished the season with 10 receptions 95 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Going forward, Reliford will need to expand his role in the passing game. His combination of size and speed creates matchup problems for linebackers. He will also have to improve his blocking and further assist in the running game.
Rod Owens and Richard Goodman have both graduated. We know what we have with Jarmon Fortson and Bert Reed. After that, the rest of the WR segment is a mystery. We don’t know if Taiwan Easterling will resume his football career or focus solely on baseball. The next 2 receivers on the depth chart are Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead. With the amount of 3 and 4 receiver sets Jimbo likes to run, it is imperative for both of these rising sophomores to become dependable and step up their production.
Rodney Smith stands 6’6 220lbs. His height gives him an automatic mismatch over defensive backs. When you take into account that he has the speed and quickness of a smaller receiver it’s hard not to get excited about his production this season.
Willie Haulstead checks in at 6’3 215lbs. Having played primarily on special teams last season, we’ve yet to see what Willie brings to the table as a receiver. Jimbo was very complimentary of him during spring practice. We know Jimbo doesn’t give praise for the sake of giving it, so that in and of itself has me anxious to see what Haulstead can do this season.
If Rodney Hudson stays healthy, he’ll almost certainly be a 1st round pick in the next NFL Draft. He anchors what most consider one of the best offensive lines in the country. Rodney didn’t allow a sack or quarterback pressure last season. His versatility could prove to be invaluable. He is capable of playing center or tackle if the need arises.
Facing imposing defensive lines from Florida, Oklahoma, Miami, Clemson and North Carolina, Hudson’s performance and leadership will be vital to the offensive production.
Fortson has NFL size: 6’3 225lbs. Fortson has NFL ability in terms of speed and quickness. Fortson is a beast when it comes to physicality. He could’ve been charged with assault on some of the blocks and tackles he made last year. What Fortson has lacked is consistency. He has a flair for the dramatic with some of catches. The touchdown against Georgia Tech and the one arm grab against West Virginia immediately come to mind. However, he has also routinely dropped catchable passes. I would bring up the Miami game here but the memory is still too painful.
In all seriousness, Fortson is entering his 3rd season in Jimbo Fisher’s offensive system. With Rod Owens and Rich Goodman no longer on the team, Jarmon must step up and be a leader both on and off the field. There should be no more incorrect routes run. The dropped passes have to be at a bare minimum.
Although Jimbo Fisher’s offensive scheme spreads the ball around, Jarmon Fortson needs to step up and be the go to receiver for Christian Ponder in crunch time and in crucial situations.