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FSU’s backs showing versatility as pass-catchers

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Florida State’s best pass-catchers of late have been running backs. Catching passes out of the backfield or lining up in the slot is an essential part of Mike Norvell’s offense.

FSU is shorthanded at receiver and, in Saturday’s win over Duke, nine of the 14 receptions were by running backs. True freshman Ja’Khi Douglas had two touchdown receptions, including a 68-yarder. Douglas, Jashaun Corbin and Lawrance Toafili each had three catches in FSU’s 56-35 win.

“It hasn’t been that hard, being able to go from running back to receiver,” Douglas said. “We have different personnel, where I can be at the running back position and playing the receiving spot. Running backs have to do everything outside of the box, too.”

When FSU (3-6, 2-6 ACC) travels to Wake Forest (4-4, 3-4) on Saturday, who will be available at receiver is again a major question mark. Tamorrion Terry, a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, opted out midseason. Ontaria Wilson was injured in the first half of the game against Duke, leaving his status for the Wake Forest game in question. Wilson is FSU’s leading receiver in 2020 with 30 receptions for 382 yards. It’s also not clear if Jordan Young or Warren Thompson will be able to play, although coach Mike Norvell indicated Young had done more in practice earlier this week.

That leaves FSU with few options as true receivers. Wilson’s return would be a big lift. Keyshawn Helton, Young, Thompson and a group of freshmen, like Kentron Poitier, could be used. But it’s also worth reminding that after Wilson, tight end Camren McDonald is FSU’s second-leading receiver (23, tied with the departed Terry). 

Corbin (19 receptions, 115 yards), Toafili (12 receptions, 120 yards) and Douglas (seven receptions, 116 yards) are often the check-down option when the pass rush is on Jordan Travis. But they also are much more than that, showing the ability to pick up first downs as well as produce yards after the catch.

“We had a lot of moving pieces, especially when Ontaria went down,” Norvell said. “We were playing multiple running backs at the receiver spot. That’s part of this year. Adversity has shown up. Like I tell these guys, ‘That’s our opportunity to show the response and show the heart that we have.’ ”

Douglas’ numbers are inflated by a 68-yard touchdown reception vs. Duke, but it also illustrates his speed as well as play design by Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham. Catching the Blue Devils off guard, Douglas showed off his speed — all the way to the end zone.

“During the course of the game, we had been running a toss play, and the secondary just leaned towards the toss,” Douglas said. “So coach was like, ‘We are going to do this. We are going to run the toss, and you are going to be wide open.’ And when he said that, I knew I would be wide open. And they threw the ball, and I scored.”

A year ago at this time, FSU fans and writers were curious about a few members of the 2020 signing class. Was Douglas a running back or wide receiver? That was one of the questions. And now the answer is Douglas is a running back by definition but it doesn’t really define all he can offer to the Seminoles. Versatility is valued, whether it’s Douglas, Corbin or Toafili.

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