ACC: Christo Kourtzidis

The image is now part of Florida State lore, etched into the history books for all time. Jameis Winston lofts a pass into the end zone in the final minute of the national championship game. As he’d done so often in 2013, Kelvin Benjamin -- all 6-foot-5, 240 pounds of him -- overwhelmed his defender and hauled it in for the score.

The touchdown was the capper in the Seminoles’ third national title, but it was also the finale to Benjamin’s career in Tallahassee. He’s off to the NFL, where he’s projected as a potential first-round selection.

Now, Florida State is left to find a replacement, and Jimbo Fisher has a sense of humor about the difficulty of the task, joking with reporters he’d simply stack two of his current receivers atop each other.

At least Fisher can laugh about it, but the truth is, Florida State simply doesn’t have an obvious replacement because, well, players like Benjamin don’t come around very often.

Benjamin wasn’t always the most refined route runner or sure-handed receiver, but his raw physical ability was unparalleled. He was a mismatch every time he was on the field. While Florida State retains its best receiver in Rashad Greene, has some developing talent in Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones, and has three prized prospects arriving this summer, none provide the same physically imposing target that Benjamin did last season.

So, who picks up the slack for the 89 targets Benjamin received from Winston last season (not to mention the 74 for Kenny Shaw or the 38 for FSU’s departed backs)?

Fisher’s answer is probably somewhat accurate. The young receivers will all play their part, but none are likely to replace Benjamin’s production on their own. It will have to be a combined effort, and the new arrivals will need some time to adjust to the college game.

Of the receivers that remain, Jones is the tallest at 6-4, but he’s 50 pounds lighter than Benjamin and perhaps the least refined of the Seminoles’ current receiving corps. No other receiver on the roster -- including the incoming freshmen -- measures taller than 6-2. And size does matter. Since Fisher took over as playcaller in 2007, FSU has always had at least one receiver 6-5 or taller catch at least 30 passes for at least 450 yards. That won’t happen in 2014.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Florida State will be without a physical mismatch in the passing game. It’s just likely that mismatch will come from its tight end.

Last season, Nick O'Leary blossomed to the tune of 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns. It was a breakthrough campaign for the junior tight end widely considered among the best in the nation coming out of high school.

O’Leary’s big season was a necessity, too. Florida State had no other options at the position after Christo Kourtzidis transferred and Kevin Haplea went down with a knee injury. Giorgio Newberry was moved from defensive end to tight end, but he was targeted just twice all year, once resulting in an ugly interception when Winston attempted to force the ball to his makeshift tight end against Wake Forest.

Now, there is some depth. Haplea is healthy. So, too, is redshirt freshman Jeremy Kerr. Two more tight ends arrive this summer. None possess O’Leary’s skill set as a receiver, but all could fit as blockers should FSU decide to run a two-tight end set with any regularity.



But O’Leary (6-3, 245 pounds) again will be crucial this season. He was targeted 42 times last season. Aside from Greene, all other returning receivers were targeted a combined 18 times by Winston last year. Winston routinely referred to O’Leary as his favorite target. That O'Leary caught eight of nine passes thrown his way on third down and had five grabs in the end zone only reinforced Winston's faith in him.

Still, three of O’Leary’s red-zone catches came in Week 1. After hauling in five catches for 161 yards against Clemson, O’Leary didn’t have more than three catches or 55 yards in any game the remainder of the year. He scored just once in FSU’s last seven contests. He was shut out in the national title game.

So why did O’Leary disappear as the year went on? It was likely as much because of FSU’s needs for him to be a blocker and Benjamin’s emergence as the physically dominant downfield target as it was any regression by O’Leary. Neither will be an issue in 2014, and Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary’s receptions reach the 45 to 50 range by year’s end.

“You can do a lot of different things with Nick,” Fisher said. “He’s grown into this offense. I think he will be critical."

No, Florida State won’t have another Kelvin Benjamin this season. The Seminoles would be lucky to get another receiver with that skill set and body type again this decade. But there is talent at the position, as Fisher has made clear, and there is still a player who can provide some brute force in the passing game. It’s just a matter of opening things up for O’Leary and seeing if he can take the next step in an already promising career.
Kelvin BenjaminAP Photo/Phil SearsJunior wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has shown flashes of potential in his two seasons at Florida State, but the Seminoles need him to truly break out this season.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State is finally set to open fall camp today, and while the enthusiasm surrounding new faces on the coaching staff and the roster has been high, there are some big question marks remaining before Jimbo Fisher's crew takes the field at Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.

Here's a quick look at the biggest storylines to watch during the next few weeks.

Can anything keep Jameis Winston off the field?

While most Seminoles fans have anointed Winston the next big thing, Jimbo Fisher still hasn't officially handed him the starting job. Instead, Fisher said he expects Jacob Coker -- fully healed from a broken foot that hampered him this spring -- to push Winston for reps. Regardless, Fisher raved that both quarterbacks have handled the offseason work -- and the immense hype -- well.

Has progress been made on defense?

The Seminoles got a four-week crash course this spring on the scheme being implanted by new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but that still left plenty of questions. It's a complex attack, and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said FSU's defense -- which ranked among the top three in the nation in each of the past two seasons -- is still learning. The first few days of fall camp should provide some insight as to how far along they are in that process and how many of the incoming freshmen have proven to be quick studies.

Who's playing tight end?

Since the 2012 season ended, Florida State has lost its tight ends coach (James Coley) and three players (Kevin Haplea, Christo Kourtzidis and Will Tye), while the incumbent starter (Nick O'Leary) survived a horrific motorcycle accident. Needless to say, the position will be in flux this fall. Fisher said he plans to shuffle some players around, potentially giving one or more of his defensive ends a crack at playing tight end, to provide some depth.

Are some key third-year players ready to step up?

A lot might be riding on the likes of Kelvin Benjamin, Bobby Hart and Karlos Williams this season. All three members of the 2011 signing class will be stepping into bigger roles this season, and all three have ample talent to get the job done. Still, question marks surround all of them. Fisher specifically praised Benjamin's progress this offseason, but all three will have a spotlight on them as camp begins.

How will playing time be split in the secondary?

Joyner is perhaps Florida State's best defender, but his move from safety to corner this offseason certainly created some waves. He said he hopes to be on the field for nearly every snap this season, but that would cut into playing time for a slew of other talented DBs, including Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome and Tyler Hunter -- all three of whom missed spring practice with injuries.

Is four weeks enough time to prep for ACC play?

The clock is ticking from Day 1 for Florida State this season. Unlike recent seasons, there's no cupcake game against an FCS opponent to kick off the year. Instead, Florida State opens against ACC foe Pittsburgh -- on the road, in prime time on national TV -- meaning there won't be much time for refresher courses early on. FSU needs to hit the ground running to ensure its clicking on all cylinders when the season begins. Luckily for Fisher, he'll finally have the luxury of a new indoor practice facility to ensure the weather doesn't wreak havoc with the schedule for a change.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State tight end Christo Kourtzidis will transfer, his father, Akis, confirmed Thursday. The move leaves a gaping hole at a key position on the Seminoles' roster.

Kourtzidis played sparingly as a freshman in 2012, but figured to see more action this year after senior Kevin Haplea suffered a season-ending knee injury during summer workouts.

Kourtzidis was battling his way back from his own injury as well. He suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder in Florida State's Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois in January but continued to work out through the first week of spring practice. After a half-dozen practice sessions, however, the team determined surgery was the best option.

With Kourtzidis' departure, Florida State has just two scholarship tight ends on its roster -- freshman Jeremy Kerr and junior Nick O'Leary, who is also recovering from serious injuries following a motorcycle accident this summer.

O'Leary is expected to be ready for the start of fall camp -- which opens Aug. 6 -- but coach Jimbo Fisher said earlier this week that the team was already going to have to be creative in filling voids at tight end.

"Kerr has got to come on, and then we also have some of our big linemen," Fisher said. "You can flip-flop, bring extra linemen in the game, do different things to create those edges. We'll have to work and make sure we do have a plan."

Kourtzidis was a three-star recruit out of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran in FSU's highly regarded 2012 signing class.

True freshmen to watch in ACC

August, 23, 2012
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Now that we are closing in on the start of the season, we have a much better idea of how many true freshmen could make an impact in the ACC this season based on preseason practice time and early depth charts.

Maryland could end up playing the most, and having players who make the biggest impact. You have quarterback Perry Hills starting in place of the injured C.J. Brown. Highly touted athlete Stefon Diggs has had an outstanding preseason camp. Don't forget about running backs Albert Reid and Wes Brown, who also have looked really good.

Here are a few young players to keep an eye on at each school.

Boston College: Justin Simmons, DB. Defensive back is an area where Boston College needs help, especially after the loss of Al Louis-Jean, who's out six to eight weeks with a foot injury. Simmons already has made his presence felt. In a scrimmage last weekend, he had two interceptions. Also watch for defensive back Bryce Jones and linebacker Steven Daniels.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
John Albright / Icon SMI The versatile Travis Blanks may line up at a number of positions on defense for the Tigers.
Clemson: Travis Blanks, DB. One of the top defensive backs in the country out of high school, Blanks enrolled early and had an impressive spring showing. He has followed that up with a great preseason, and will line up in a variety of positions -- nickelback, cornerback and some linebacker as well. On offense, watch for Germone Hopper, who has had some pretty explosive plays this fall.

Duke: Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell, RBs; Ross Martin, PK. Duncan and Powell have turned heads during the preseason, and coach David Cutcliffe said he would feel comfortable using both players in the opener against FIU. Martin is sure to get plenty of game experience as the starting kicker this year. Others to watch: receiver Max McCaffrey, tight end Erich Schneider and safety Dwayne Norman, who had an interception return for a touchdown in one scrimmage.

Florida State: Ronald Darby, CB. Do not be surprised if Darby ends up starting in the spot vacated by Greg Reid. Darby and Nick Waisome are competing for the starting job. Coaches like both players, but there is something special about Darby. Said coach Jimbo Fisher: Darby is "going to be a very, very good one." Also watch for defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and tight end Christo Kourtzidis.

Georgia Tech: Anthony Autry and Micheal Summers, WR. Georgia Tech only has four other scholarship wide receivers, so that increases the chances for Autry and Summers to play this season. Autry seems to have a slight edge over Summers. Others to watch: defensive back D.J. White.

Maryland: In addition to Hills, Diggs, Brown and Reid, several others could make an impact this year. Punter Brad Craddock is competing for the starting position with redshirt freshman Nathan Renfro; and cornerback Sean Davis could be starting on opening day because he has done well, and there are some injuries on defense.

Miami: Ereck Flowers, OL. Flowers is listed as a starter right now at right tackle, helped in part because of Seantrel Henderson's absence. Offensive line coach Art Kehoe has been extremely impressed. Others to watch: defensive back Tracy Howard and running back Duke Johnson. Howard is listed on the two-deep behind Ladarius Gunter but has drawn raves so far and so has Johnson, who should also return kickoffs this year. Deon Bush is in the mix for a starting safety spot.

North Carolina: Quinshad Davis, WR. Davis missed some early practice time because of a medical issue but has returned in the last week and has a big chance to make some noise. The Tar Heels are lacking depth at this position, and the way Larry Fedora likes to spread the ball around, he will take as many good receivers as he can.

NC State: Charlie Hegedus, WR. Receiver is a position of need for the Wolfpack, and Hegedus has seen more reps during fall camp with the injury to Bryan Underwood. One player NC State hopes you do not see this year is backup quarterback Manny Stocker, a true freshman behind veteran Mike Glennon.

Virginia: Maurice Canady, CB. Coaches are extremely high on Canady, who is in the mix to earn a starting spot in a secondary that has to be rebuilt this year. He has been working with the first team recently. Others to watch: Michael Moore at outside linebacker, and Eli Harold at defensive end.

Virginia Tech: J.C. Coleman, RB; Donaldven Manning, DB. Both players enrolled in January and are virtual locks to play this season. Coleman has separated himself from another true freshman, Trey Edmunds, despite a hand injury. He has had an outstanding fall camp. Manning has had to deal with a hamstring injury, but his early enrollment works in his favor.

Wake Forest: The Deacs rarely play true freshmen. But if there is one player who has a shot this year, it is defensive end Tylor Harris, who has stood out this fall for his pass-rushing ability -- something Wake Forest needs help improving this year.

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