Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Fisher unlikely to overhaul offense
By David M. Hale
Don't expect Jimbo Fisher to change his play-calling from what has worked in the past despite the presence of redshirt freshman phenom Jameis Winston.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The calls for innovation began in ernest after Florida State's unconscionable loss to NC State last October, when the Seminoles went scoreless in the second half. Still, Jimbo Fisher held his ground. He's the mastermind behind the Seminoles' attack, and he's going to do things the way he wants.
In the 10 months since, much has changed. Florida State waved goodbye to four different offensive assistants in a two-month stretch, including its offensive coordinator -- a title withheld from anyone on the new staff. Fisher's last quarterback became the first one drafted in this year's NFL draft, and EJ Manuel's presumptive replacement is already being hailed as a future Heisman winner. The power structure has shifted dramatically, except, of course, for Fisher.
So, how much does Fisher plan to change the offense in 2013?
"Nothing has changed in any way, shape or form," he said.
According to Fisher, the new assistants will script practices the same way the old ones did. The new starting quarterback -- whom Fisher still hasn't named officially -- will run the same system Manuel did in 2012. And when it comes to creating enthusiasm, he's not pointing the spotlight at Jameis Winston. He's pointing to the supporting cast.
"The system's not going to change," Fisher said. "If you change that for him, then you change for everybody else. The one thing you have as a constant is they've been through it so long and been so productive in it. When you change it for him, you change it for them, and that's not always a good thing."
That's not necessarily what a vocal contingent of the fanbase wants to hear, even after a season in which Florida State won 12 games, an ACC title and an Orange Bowl. After offensive struggles against NC State, Virginia Tech, Florida and Georgia Tech, there was some hope that Fisher would hand off play-calling duties to a new assistant or open up the offense to accommodate Winston's prodigious ability.
Neither scenario appears likely, and Fisher has ample evidence to support staying the course.
"We were 10th in scoring in the country, [fourth] in yards per play in the country," Fisher said. "How much better are you going to do than 7 yards a play and 39 points per game? The key is being consistent in every game."
Indeed, Florida State's offense was among the most efficient in the country last season, with only Georgia, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State averaging more yards per play. But dig a little deeper, and the news wasn't all so upbeat.
FSU ranked 10th overall in scoring, but 33rd against FBS teams with a winning record. The Seminoles moved the ball efficiently, but in an age of up-tempo offenses, they ranked 91st nationally in plays per game. And while the overall numbers look good, the offense clearly sputtered down the stretch, finishing 59th nationally in yards per play from Nov. 1 through the end of bowl season.
Those numbers don't necessarily undermine Fisher's impressive track record throughout his career, but it puts a slightly different spin on the situation Winston -- or, perhaps, Jacob Coker -- will step into when the season begins at Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.
For most fans, it's Winston that offers hope for a more consistent attack in 2013. He comes highly touted, the top quarterback recruit in the 2012 signing class. He comes with a big arm, quick feet, and strong enough grasp on the nuance of the game than most players his age.
"He studies the game, and that's a process at quarterback you have to learn to do," Fisher said. "For a young guy coming in, he's done a great job of studying the game and the why's of it, not just, 'I'll throw a ball in there because I have a better arm' or 'I'll make this play because I'll scramble and I'm a better athlete.' He takes a lot of pride in what he's doing mentally, which is a very key component."
Indeed, Fisher's offense likely will go only as far as Winston is ready to take it.
It's entirely possible Fisher will scale back the passing attack in the early going this year, choosing instead to rely on his veteran runners and offensive line while Winston gets acclimated. FSU ran the ball 54.5 percent of the time last season -- a tick below Fisher's average of 57 percent since arriving as FSU's offensive coordinator in 2007.
And all those up-tempo teams haven't exactly swayed Fisher's approach to play-calling either. He believes the quick-strike attack puts added pressure on a team's defense, and Florida State's defensive unit is also in a state of flux after losing seven starters to the NFL from last season and, like the offense, changing three assistants, including the coordinator.
Fisher admits there is room for tweaks along the way, but there's little reason to assume Florida State's offense will look much different in 2013 than it did in 2012. Fisher will call his game, and Winston will be responsible for maximizing his potential under those constraints.
"Depending on what he's capable of handling, what he's capable of doing, how the guys around him are playing, and what we think will work in that game," Fisher said, "that's what we'll base it off of."