Breakout coming for receivers

Limited action for EJ Manuel and his receivers has led to ho-hum results

Updated: September 13, 2012, 9:06 AM ET
By David M. Hale | NoleNation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The fade pattern against Savannah State was run with precision. EJ Manuel's pass floated into the corner of the end zone, and Kelvin Benjamin was in perfect position to snatch the ball from midair.

It was the first time the duo had connected for a touchdown, but it looked like a play they'd run a hundred times.

That's because they had.

Rashad Greene
Melina Vastola/US PresswireTBD by Editor
"We work on those every day, all day," Benjamin said.

Until now, the work has largely been done behind the scenes. Against Murray State and Savannah State, Manuel has seen precious few snaps, and even when he's been in the game, he hasn't been asked to do much.

Florida State's receiving corps appears deep, but to date, it's been tough to establish a rapport with Manuel or iron out timing issues on game day. Saturdays have been easy. Mondays and Tuesdays, on the other hand, have been a test.

"We get more timing and stuff done in practice than in the game," said Rashad Greene, last year's leading receiver, who has been limited to just 49 yards on five catches so far in 2012.

Manuel insists all that work on the practice field, going up against teammates Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner, has ironed out any kinks in the passing game, and the on-field results thus far largely support that notion. Save a few drops from receivers, Manuel was nearly perfect against Murray State and Savannah State.

But just how the passing game will look this week against Wake Forest, on the other hand, is still tough to tell. With so little of the offense on display during the first two weeks, many of the more intriguing wrinkles have yet to be unveiled.

"I'm excited to get some different looks," Greene said. "It'll be more of a surprise to defenses. The first two games were just basic stuff, but we're opening it up and it's very exciting."

What might that mean?

For one, Florida State could find more ways to get Benjamin on the field. After a quiet debut against Murray State, the redshirt freshman caught two touchdowns against Savannah State and added 16 more yards on a reverse.

Jimbo Fisher raved about Benjamin's strong weeks of practice, and he said the 6-foot-6 receiver has done a good job of building trust with Manuel.

"He'll have the ability to make some big plays," Fisher said. "As do other guys on the team."

There's plenty of talent to go around with FSU's receivers, but there's only one football, and that's where things get complicated.

Through two games, Kenny Shaw has been Florida State's leading receiver, hauling in seven passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. But Shaw's most memorable play during that stretch might have been his bobble against Murray State, which bounced off his hands and into the clutches of a defender for an interception.

Benjamin's six receptions and 96 yards are second on the team, but he remains third on Fisher's depth chart, and the bulk of his production came later in games, when the starters had already taken seats on the bench.

Senior Rodney Smith accounted for the biggest play of the first two weeks, a 61-yard touchdown grab on the opening drive against Savannah State that wound up as the longest touchdown of both his and Manuel's career. Like his teammate, Smith chalked up the long scoring play to the midweek drills.

"We get there through practice," he said. "You work on those things."

Manuel has promised a more featured role for tight end Nick O'Leary, too. In summer seven-on-seven drills, Manuel said O'Leary was consistently able to get open underneath, and perhaps as a result, tight ends have been popular targets the first two weeks of the season.

Of course, O'Leary was responsible for an ugly drop in Week 1, and he sat out of Florida State's second game with a thigh bruise.

In other words, the possibilities for FSU's passing game are extensive, but a blueprint for how those weapons will be put into action is tough to come by.

That, of course, is just how Florida State likes it.

"It might pose a tough week for Wake Forest to prepare for all the things we can do as an offense," Manuel said. "But the guys have the confidence they need going into this third game."

A year ago, Greene put together the biggest game of his career against Wake Forest. He's certainly shown flashes during his first month, including two 98-yard games, but against the Demon Deacons, he exploded for 12 catches, 163 yards receiving and a touchdown.

And it could happen again, Greene said. After only five catches the past two weeks, he's ready for more work.

Or it could be Benjamin with the big day, or O'Leary or Smith or Shaw or any of nearly a half-dozen other receivers who will see work against Wake Forest.

The difference, Greene said, is that this year, they're hoping that whoever has the breakout performance also results in a win.

"Last year, it may have been a breakout game for me, but we still lost," Greene said. "I don't want to have a breakout game if we're going to lose. I just want to contribute and help us win."