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Burning Questions: Who will replace Cam Akers?

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Another burning question heading into the 2020 season for FSU is who will fill the huge void left by the graduation of running back Cam Akers, who will be playing for the Los Angeles Rams this year?

There are two answers to this question. One, you don’t. Cam was the most valuable, dangerous and productive offensive weapon last season. Akers ran for 1,205 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry, often making positive yardage when defenders should have stopped him behind the line of scrimmage. He also was the third-leading receiver on the team, lined up at quarterback and was the heart and soul of the FSU offense. The second answer is you most likely replace Akers by committee. And there are multiple reasons for this in my opinion.

Cam had a unique skill set and the back most like him that was set to be on the 2020 roster was Khalan Laborn, who was kicked off the team by coach Mike Norvell in late July. Laborn certainly was full of potential but had issues last season when then interim head coach Odell Haggins suspended him prior to the Florida game, which led to him missing the Sun Bowl against Arizona State. The other reason Norvell is likely to go with running back by committee is because of the pandemic-shortened spring practice period and the coaches are still learning what they have in the backfield and how they can utilize this position group’s individual and combined skill sets. That’s not to say that someone can’t separate themselves in preseason camp and someone may be standing out in the NCAA-approved 20-hour off-season program, but that decision will likely not be made until they put on pads in preseason camp. Even then you would think multiple backs will be utilized in Norvell’s offense.

Let’s take a look at the personnel Norvell and running backs coach David Johnson will be working with this season:

Redshirt sophomore Jashaun Corbin has the most major college experience after transferring from Texas A&M in January. He did go through spring drills and is the Seminoles’ biggest running back at 6-foot and 220 pounds. In 14 games with the Aggies he totaled 1,025 all-purpose yards, including 483 rushing yards rushing. The bulk of that came as a true freshman in 2018, where he rushed for 346 yards on 61 attempts. He also had 422 yards in kickoff returns that season. If the Seminoles have what you would consider a “power” back, Corbin is it.

The rest of the backfield we just don’t know much about because they either haven’t played much or just arrived on campus. Norvell signed four running backs in his initial recruiting class, but only one, Ja’khi Douglas, enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. The other three signees, Lawrance Toafili, La’Damian Webb and Corey Wren didn’t report to campus until June.

Douglas, 5-9 and 193 pounds , and Wren, 5-10 and 185 pounds, will both be true freshman and will likely line up at both running back and at slot receiver in Norvell’s offense. Douglas is an outstanding athlete who played quarterback and wide receiver in high school but who lined up at running back during spring practice. He ran for over 1,700 yards in high school and totaled over 650 receiving yards as well. Wren can flat out run. He ran 10.4 in the 100 meters in high school and that speed transitioned to the football field, where he averaged over 11 yards per carry in 202 career rushing attempts.

Webb, 5-9 and 190 pounds, will be a sophomore after spending a year at Jones County (Miss.) Junior College where he earned second-team JC All-American honors after rushing for 940 yards and averaging over 6-yards per carry. He possess great balance and quickness and showed the ability to be equally effective running inside or outside the tackles. Webb doesn’t have the experience catching the ball out of the backfield that his fellow signees do but did total 13 receptions as a senior in high school. Toafili, 6-0 and 180 pounds, will also be a true freshman. He has good size and above-average speed but not quite the big-play threat as Douglas and Wren are. However, he was highly productive throughout his high school career, where he ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his last three seasons in high school.

Others that could find themselves in the mix are redshirt junior Deonte Sheffield, 5-10 and 209 pounds, and redshirt freshman Treshaun Ward, who is 5-10 and 191 pounds. Both saw action in the Sun Bowl due in large part to Akers sitting out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft and Laborn’s knee injury. Sheffield ran for 144 yards last season and Ward ran for 48 yards.

The group as a whole is young and inexperienced but full of potential. As a group they also offer a diverse skill set, which is something Norvell showed he could take advantage of with the running backs he lined up with at Memphis.

Corey Wren is among the newcomers who could make an impact this fall. (photo courtesy 247Sports)

Corbin a likely No. 1 in talent-rich RB room

If you were writing out a list of preseason concerns for 2020 and Florida State’s offense, who will carry the ball is lower on the list. Offensive line is what keeps you up at night while quarterback – who is the best fit in the Norvell offense? – is what intrigues you. 

Running back thus is a source of some uncertainty but there’s also the knowledge that FSU has accumulated a wealth of talent. FSU would have loved to have Cam Akers back for year 1 of Norvell, but we all presumed Akers was going to the NFL a year early. It’s what effective college running backs should do – leave early and pursue the paycheck in pro football.

FSU will miss Khalan Laborn’s potential but not his attitude. Even without Akers, Laborn and Anthony Grant, the Seminoles have options in Jashaun Corbin, La’Damian Webb, Lawrance Toafili, Ja’Khi Douglas and Corey Wren. Even if you consider Douglas and Wren to be more of receivers out of the backfield and here-and-there rushers, they have a resume that’s filled with their rushing exploits and could be valuable in the screen game or as return men.

Corbin doesn’t need to be the workhorse back but he is capable of the job. He’s 6-foot and 220 pounds and showed what he can do as a runner and kick returner at Texas A&M (Corbin’s waiver was approved and he’s eligible to play this fall).

If Corbin can handle 10-15 carries per game, look for Norvell to blend in an explosive runner like Webb. The junior-college star is just 5-8 but a capable runner and receiver. Toafili also had three 1,000-yard seasons in high school and could be in the mix.

Yes, we can all day dream about what Akers may do in a Norvell offense. The reality is Norvell now has a deep group of runners who can be used in multiple ways. 

Bob Ferrante

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