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Reaching new heights

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- There's little sense in reading too much into the numbers from a scrimmage, but for Florida State receiver Rashad Greene, this year's coda to the spring presented yet another reminder of what's possible.

Greene grabbed a 20-yard pass from Jameis Winston along the sideline for a touchdown, and he absorbed a huge hit from Christian Jones on a throw over the middle. He made big plays and a bunch of little ones, and by game's end, he racked up 11 catches for 120 yards.

There might be no more dynamic, versatile offensive player than Greene, and yet even during that spring game, he was upstaged by more prolific performers.

"That's what you need," Greene said afterward. "Coaches always need to have options."

This isn't cliche for Greene, whose talent should easily place him among the conference's elite receivers but whose stats are easily overshadowed by the ACC's more high-profile pass catchers. He's genuinely ambivalent about how many balls come his way or how much hype would follow. He's measured his success in wins and losses rather than catches and yards.

But as Greene approaches his third season as Florida State's No. 1 receiving target, there remains hope that this year will be a turning point, when the under-appreciated star blossoms into an All-ACC performer. Of course, Greene's not making any early projections.

"That would be great if I could have a season like that, but you never know how things are going to work out," he said. "You just can control what you can control. That's what I plan on doing, just continuing to get better, work hard, and if anything comes my way, I try my best to catch the ball, to get open and just do my job to help the team win."

Greene has certainly made strides in his two years with Florida State, but he started from a rather lofty perch.

As a freshman in 2011, Greene accounted for 98 yards receiving in just his second game. A week later, he hauled in a 56-yard, game-tying touchdown pass against Oklahoma. Two weeks after that, he racked up a whopping 163 yards receiving in a losing effort against Wake Forest.

The stage was set for Greene to become a superstar, but that's where the spectacle ended.

An injury thwarted much of the remainder of Greene's 2011 campaign, and although he enjoyed a few highlights early in 2012, he never seemed to be a focal point of the FSU offense. In the 15 games following his monster performance against Wake Forest, Greene missed four contests with injury, averaged just 36 yards receiving in the other 11, caught just two touchdowns and had only one game in which he hauled in more than five passes.

On top of that, keeping pace with the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Conner Vernon or Sammy Watkins wasn't easy.

"It's different organizations, different offenses," receiver Kenny Shaw said. "We've got four, five, six, seven guys who can get the job done, so that's a hard thing to do to put together a Sammy Watkins season."

It wasn't just the offense that thwarted Greene's efforts early in 2012 though. His job on special teams likely played a role, too.

Greene opened the season as Florida State's punt returner, and while he posted some huge games -- and two touchdowns -- he also struggled with fumbles. The mental strain of overcoming those miscues combined with the physical impact of the extra reps in practice and on game day appeared to limit his offensive production.

"It wasn't a distraction for me, it's just, towards the end of the year coach [Jimbo] Fisher talked to me about it and wanted to let Kenny and Tyler [Hunter] do the punt return thing," Greene said. "It helped my legs stay fresher, and just have my main focus on being a receiver and doing what I could do to help the offense. It worked out good for my team, my teammates and myself."

Greene was replaced as the starting punt returner after eight weeks, and the impact on his offensive numbers was noticeable. During his eight games as the top returner, he averaged 38 yards receiving per game and made just 27 catches. In the six games that followed, he nearly doubled his receiving output, hauling in 73 yards per contest, and tallied 30 receptions.

By season's end, Greene had rebounded from his almost year-long slump, catching at least five passes in five of his final seven games, mustering his second career 100-yard performance (including a game-winning touchdown) against Virginia Tech, and ending the year as the team's leading receiver for the second straight season. No other receiver on the roster finished with more yards after the catch (307) or a higher completion percentage (57 receptions on 76 targets) than Greene.

"I felt like there were more balls coming my way, but I felt like I got better each game," he said. "It wasn't anything crazy where I just felt I was playing bad in the beginning, it's just always progression with me. I want to get better every week, every day. I was just getting better and it just so happened the ball was coming my way."

If Greene is poised for a breakthrough season, it won't come because the stars simply aligned properly. It will come because he's gotten better, played smarter and overcome the obstacles in front of him.

"That was something that I'd like to see, but to me, that doesn't exist," Greene said. "You're always going to be in situations where you're playing hurt. Everything's not going to always click. But it's the players that do things right when things aren't clicking and fight through -- that's the guy I try to be. You've got to fight through the battles."