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FSU 2021 Spring preview: RB, WR and TE

The questions about who will be FSU’s starting quarterback coming out of spring, how to utilize Jordan Travis if McKenzie Milton wins the job and will the offensive line improve its ability to protect the quarterback are all important. And FSU’s coaches are seeking those answers but questions at running back, tight end and wide receiver are all equally important.

Running Back

There is of course the question of what FSU’s running game will look like depending on who plays quarterback. Travis led FSU in rushing last season with 666 yards on 107 carries. It is highly unlikely that FSU coach Mike Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham envision running Milton that much if he lines up behind center.

Last season FSU was mostly running back by committee with Jashaun Corbin (6-foot and 215 pounds) finishing second on the team and first among running backs in carries (81), yards (412) and rushing touchdowns (five). However, FSU must replace La’Damian Webb, who carried 69 times for 392 yards and three touchdowns. So if it is running back by committee again, who are the candidates to split time with Corbin in the FSU backfield?

Lawrence Toafili, 6-foot and 185 pounds, showed glimpses of his ability to make plays as a runner and receiver as a true freshman. He was fourth on the team with 364 rushing yards but proved to be elusive once he had the ball in hands, where he averaged 9.6 yards per game. Toafili was also sixth on the team with 12 receptions and fourth on the team with 120 receiving yards. He has shown the ability to make plays whether he is lined up in the backfield or as a wide receiver. Toafili should benefit from a regular off-season program heading into spring and fall camps and be ready to carry a bigger load in 2021.

Auburn transfer DJ Williams (5-10 and 222 pounds) will also be a part of the battle to see who will be RB1 for the Seminoles. Williams ran for 599 yards on 122 carries in 19 games over two seasons for the Tigers. He also caught 12 passes for 72 yards. Corey Wren (5-10 and 183 pounds) will also compete for playing time at running back. He could bring a nice change of pace to the backfield because of his combination of speed, change of direction and ability to line up and be utilized as a receiver. Deonte Sheffield (5-11 and 214 pounds) should provide depth and experience to the position after rushing for 137 yards and appearing in 13 games over the last two seasons.

Wide Receiver

The question at wide receiver: Can this group play with consistency? There have been too many dropped passes over the last several seasons by FSU receivers. How many reliable playmakers will emerge from this group? Who develops into a reliable go-to guy on third down? Who will have the ability to stretch defenses vertically and bring the deep ball back to the FSU offense?

Tamorrion Terry left the program during the 2020 season but never really lived up to his potential. Ontaria Wilson (6-0 and 173 pounds) was FSU’s leading receiver a year ago with 30 catches for 382 yards and two scores. He should solidly be a part of the two-deep coming out of spring. Wilson could line up either in the slot or as an outside wide receiver. But beyond Wilson the answers at wide receiver are not so clear.

Keyshawn Helton (5-9 and 175 pounds) is back but he needs to improve his production from the slot after catching just 14 passes for 119 yards in 2020. Ja’Khi Douglas (5-9 and 183 pounds) has moved to wide receiver for the spring and should push Helton for playing time in the slot if not for the starting role. As a true freshman he caught seven passes for 116 yards and scored two touchdowns. Jordan Young (6-2 and 212 pounds) is also back after starting two games last season but like Helton needs to improve his production after catching seven passes for 85 yards in nine games.

Bryan Robinson (6-1 and 208 pounds), Kentron Poitier (6-3 and 208 pounds), and Darion Williamson (6-3 and 194 pounds) all saw action as true freshmen, which should benefit them greatly heading into spring practice. Robinson could play any one of the three wide receiver spots while Poitier and Williamson project as outside wide receivers.

Two true freshman who enrolled in school in January will also have a chance to make their presence known during spring practice. Malik McClain (6-4 and 195 pounds) and Josh Burrell (6-2 and 217 pounds) have already made an impression on their coach in off-season conditioning and could really help FSU’s offense if they do the same thing in spring drills.

“I can tell you we had five freshmen who came in and we hit on all of them,” said Norvell of all of FSU’s early enrollees. “You talk about the type of young men, the work ethic, ability, the relationship aspect … they’re remarkable. Looking forward to getting them out there on the field. But guys like Malik McClain, Josh Burrell, they don’t look like freshman receivers. I mean, Malik, he’s explosive at 6-4, 6-5 to run like he runs, the change of direction, it’s going to be fun watching him go out there and play the game. Josh Burrell is one of the strongest freshmen coming. He is a true physical presence out there, very mature, great young man. Excited about him.”

Tight End

The development of the tight end position is critical to the success of Norvell’s offense and the second year head coach likes what he sees in a room that returns Camren McDonald (6-4 and 242 pounds), Wyatt Rector (6-2 and 245 pounds), Preston Daniel (6-4 and 251 pounds) and Carter Boatright (6-4 and 226 pounds), all of whom saw action in 2020. Markeston Douglas (6-4 and 289), Austin White (6-5 and 244 pounds) and Ben Ostazewski (6-3 and 261 pounds) also return and could end up in the mix as well.

“You talk about Cam, who’s already showed himself to be a great weapon for us,” said Norvell of his returning tight ends. “But then the development of guys like Wyatt Rector. He’s pushing 240-245 pounds. Guy who converted from quarterback has been remarkable what he’s done in the offseason program. You look at Wyatt, he was a four-team starter there on special teams for us last year and he was in his first year playing tight end. But he’s really come in to his own. Very confident with the things he’s being asked to do now. I think he’s going to bring a different dynamic. Preston Daniel, who played really good ball for us throughout this last year as a true freshman, just kind of getting his feet wet last year. I think the depth at that position is gonna be night and day from what it was. That’s a group I’m really excited about. Anyone who’s watched our offense through the years, that tight end position is going to have a very significant role. The versatility of those guys and theirs strengths, I think it’s going to be a group where we see a huge jump up.”

The offense and tight end position should also benefit greatly from the return of Jordan Wilson (6-4 and 262 pounds), who missed all of last season due to a knee injury sustained in fall camp after transferring from UCLA. The group should benefit from a normal off-season both pre- and post-spring practice but Wilson does allow FSU the versatility and size to be a threat as a pass catcher and end-of-the-line blocker but most importantly as a lead blocker in the power running game from H-back, fullback, off-set tight-end alignments. True freshman Jackson West (6-4, 235 pounds), is enrolled early and could compete for playing time because of the relative youth at the position outside of McDonald and Wilson.

“He will be very limited in what he does,” said Norvell of Wilson. “He will have gone through the program. He’s made great strides physically, but there are still some things he’ll be limited with in his availability throughout the course of the spring. But he’s remarkable. His size, speed, the athleticism that he has, the physicality of what he brings to the position at that size, I think that can be a huge boost to the position.”