Saturday, August 25, 2012
Fisher: Freshmen must be ready to go
By David M. Hale
Florida State is a week away from its first game, and while the veterans are counting down the minutes until there is real football to be played, it's getting a bit anxious for the freshmen.
"There are a lot of these young guys that still have a lot of work to do," Jimbo Fisher said. "They need to come on, because we're going to need them. A lot of them are doing good, but we've got to get them game ready."
Unlike last season, when FSU had freshmen in a number of prominent roles -- including four starters on the offensive line -- that need isn't quite so great this season. The advantage of Florida State's depth is that it isn't reliant on inexperienced players at most key positions.
That means Fisher can be somewhat cautious with which freshmen he puts on the field, and that's a decision he'll need to make soon.
"I think quite a few of them will get in there," Fisher said. "Some might be ready, but have a good quality number of guys in front of them, and you want to be careful not to waste a year on 50 plays. We've got to evaluate that, and in the next day or two, we'll make some decisions."
A year ago, 13 of Florida State's 22 true freshmen saw action, including eight as occasional starters. This year, only one freshman, Ronald Darby, appears to be in competition for a starting job, and the overall need for contributors is less. But a look at each player underscores the idea that there aren't many who can't contribute.
Here's our breakdown of which freshman are likely to see action, and which ones could be saddled with a redshirt.
Roberto Aguayo, kicker
Aguayo was expected to gray shirt this season until a scholarship opened when Greg Reid was dismissed. That put him on the roster, but with a potential All-American in Dustin Hopkins handling the kicking, Aguayo will still need to wait a year before getting playing time unless an injury occurs. Chances of playing: 5 percent
Cason Beatty, punter
With the departure of All-American Shawn Powell, the punting duties now fall to Beatty, so the question isn't so much of whether or not he'll play but how much trust he's earned from Fisher already. With a potentially dominant defense, there's little reason to take chances on fourth down, but if the punting isn't up to par, Fisher may roll the dice with EJ Manuel and the offense a bit more often this year. Chances of playing: 100 percent
Colin Blake, cornerback
Reid's dismissal has thrown the cornerback mix into flux, which makes Blake's position on the depth chart a bit too tenuous to write off the possibility he'll see the field. Blake has spent the bulk of the fall wearing a blue non-contact jersey, but it hasn't kept him from practicing. Meanwhile, Xavier Rhodes is still recovering from a knee injury, and the field corner position isn't likely to be settled by the opener. Blake won't be needed immediately, but it's possible he could contribute on special teams and there's certainly a chance he'll work his way into the mix on defense at some point this season. Chances of playing: 40 percent
Marvin Bracy, wide receiver
Perhaps the fastest man in college football, Bracy has obvious potential on special teams, but that's not going to guarantee him playing time. Fisher showed last year with Kelvin Benjamin that an impressive skill set isn't enough to get a player on the field, and Bracy has been limited since the spring with a nagging hamstring injury. Still, the contributions he can make as a returner and on gadget plays on offense should warrant a few snaps a game at the least. Chances of playing: 60 percent
Chris Casher, defensive end
Casher is a freshman, but you wouldn't know it to look at him. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, he's every bit as physical as starters Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins, and although he didn't play as a senior, teammates have already raved about how fluid he looks at defensive end. The one thing that might hold Casher back is the number of established veterans ahead of him, but Mark Stoops likes to rotate on the defensive line, and it's hard to see Casher sitting out a second straight year of football. Chances of playing: 70 percent
Ronald Darby, cornerback
He might not have arrived as the most highly touted freshman in this class, but none have earned more buzz this fall than Darby. He's fast enough to match up with any receiver in coverage, and he's big enough to play physical near the line of scrimmage. From a technique standpoint, there are details to iron out still, but Fisher is already on record saying Darby will play early and often. Chances of playing: 100 percent
Mario Edwards, defensive end
Edwards is in a similar situation to Casher -- strong, physically developed, relatively refined and highly touted, but squarely behind three potential NFL draft picks on the depth chart. Add in impressive redshirt freshman Giorgio Newberry, and FSU is a legitimate six deep at the position right now. But Edwards isn't just any freshman. He was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation. And he's not just a defensive end. His size -- already close to 300 pounds -- offers some versatility if FSU needed him to move inside on the line. Chances of playing: 90 percent
Markuss Eligwe, linebacker
In a perfect world, FSU's young linebackers would be given ample time to develop. FSU's linebacker depth chart, however, is far from a perfect world. It's going to be trial by fire for both of FSU's freshmen at the position, because aside from Vince Williams, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, no one on the roster has any significant experience at linebacker. Chances of playing: 85 percent
Eddie Goldman, defensive tackle
A five-star recruit who already looks the part of a senior from a physical standpoint, Goldman didn't need to prove his ability. But since arriving on campus, the 310-pound Goldman has also shown he's plenty adept at his position already, too. Manuel said Goldman might have the quickest first step on the team, and other defensive linemen have sung his praises, too. Given the pec injury that's kept Anthony McCloud out all fall, the likely redshirt for Jacobbi McDaniel and defensive coordinator Stoops' penchant for rotating linemen, and there's no reason to think Goldman won't get his share of snaps starting in Week 1. Chances of playing: 90 percent
Christo Kourtzidis, tight end
Had the NCAA not come down with devastating sanctions against Penn State in July, Kourtzidis might be in better shape for playing time right now. Instead, FSU picked up Penn State transfer Kevin Haplea, and that might be enough to keep the talented Kourtzidis on the sidelines this season. An injury to Dan Hicks could still open up a spot, but Kourtzidis still needs to add some size and iron out some fundamentals before he's ready to hold his own as a blocker, and FSU already has a talented pass-catching weapon in Nick O'Leary. Chances of playing: 20 percent
Sean Maguire, quarterback
Fisher has praised Maguire's arm this fall, and the New Jersey native's pro-style pedigree has helped his transition to the college game. Still, he's fifth on a depth chart with a ton of talent ahead of him. Chances of playing: None
Reggie Northrup, linebacker
No one is making the case that Northrup is ready for a big role -- "I'll make a call, and he'll look at me like -- what happened?" Vince Williams said of Northrup's grasp on the intricacies of the defense -- but there really isn't much choice. The depth chart at strongside linebacker includes two other players who also have never taken a snap at the position -- Nick Moody, who moved from safety, and redshirt freshman Terrance Smith. And while it'll be a learning experience in the early going, getting Eligwe and Northrup playing time will be essential for FSU, which loses both Williams and Moody -- and potentially Jones -- after this season. Chances of playing: 90 percent
Mario Pender, running back
With Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman coming off serious injuries and James Wilder's legal troubles this offseason, Pender looked like he could be in the mix for some serious playing time this spring. But a groin injury required surgery, and Fisher announced early in camp that Pender would miss the season. Chances of playing: None
Justin Shanks, defensive tackle
Shanks may be a freshman, but he's already the biggest player on the field, checking in at about 340 pounds. That's a load to block for any offensive lineman, regardless of how refined Shanks' skill set is, and he could step in immediately and be able to clog running lanes. But it's not just size that gives Shanks some immediate upside. His teammates have been impressed by how well he's performed in fall practice thus far, and with McDaniel expected to redshirt this season, there may be room for some playing time. Chances of playing: 60 percent
P.J. Williams, defensive back
Of all of FSU's true freshman, Williams may have gotten the least amount of buzz this fall, but it's through no fault of his own. He's at a position where the vacancy at field corner and the transition at safety have earned the headlines, and his development has taken a bit of a backseat. But while Williams isn't likely to see much playing time at either of those spots, he has the size and quickness to handle the nickel job behind Tyler Hunter, he's gotten reps in the return game, and he's a nice addition to the other special teams units, too. Chances of playing: 50 percent
Jameis Winston, quarterback
When it's all said and done for the 2012 recruiting class in five years, there's a chance that none will have made the impact Winston might leave at Florida State. He's immensely talented, and he's already endeared himself to his offensive teammates. But despite all the talent, there's no sense in rushing Winston into action, and he has three quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart that are well ahead of him in terms of preparation. Winston's future is bright, but it won't start until 2013. Chances of playing: None