Johnson talks RBs, recruiting during pandemic

One position group that FSU coach Mike Norvell has been consistently positive about since fall camp started has been the running backs. Almost the entire running back room is full of new faces and that includes the man in charge of that room, running backs coach David Johnson. The coach tasked with replacing all-everything Cam Akers met with the media for the first time since FSU began preseason practice 10 days ago.

Redshirt sophomore Jashaun Corbin is the most experienced back on FSU’s roster and he has yet to suit up in a game for the Seminoles after transferring from Texas A&M in January. Because of that experience Corbin is thought to be the front runner to nail down the starting job in FSU’s backfield.

“He has been a leader in that room,” said Johnson of having Corbin in the backfield and in the running back room. “Really dominant. I like how this kid runs behind his pads. Really smart player. He understands the game of football. He is a really mature kid. We couldn’t wait to get him full contact and as he has shown throughout practice, this camp, he is doing a really good job.”

Johnson’s room is also filled with four more scholarship players who are new to Florida State, including three true freshmen. True freshman Ja’Khi Douglas arrived on campus as an early enrollee and went through the pandemic-shortened spring practice period. The three other newcomers, sophomore La’Damian Webb and two more true freshmen, Lawrance Toafili and Corey Wren, all arrived on-campus this summer.

“I think they have been doing a really good job,” said Johnson of his young backs. “They understand the system that we have. We are going to use the running backs in different ways. These guys are really smart. Webb is a guy that makes people miss in the open field. He can really catch the ball out of the backfield. Ja’Khi is an all-around really good player. He is really young. He has done a really good job understanding the offense. Every day we are kind of putting new things in, trying to see how much these guys can retain. They have been doing a good job with it.”

Wren is expected to line up at running back and slot wide receiver because of his elite track speed, which Johnson says translate over to the football field.

“Yeah, he is extremely fast,” said Johnson of Wren. “You could see it from Day 1. One thing about him, this kid is really professional. He takes everything serious. He wants to be the best at what he is doing. We’ve been able to kind of put him in different places, using that ability to kind of stretch the defense.”

Johnson also says he likes the diversity of the skill sets in his room, which also features junior Deonte Sheffield and redshirt freshman Treshaun Ward (both walk-ons saw action in the Sun Bowl in December after Akers skipped the game to prepare for the NFL draft).

“I think one thing about the running backs in our system, you have to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, protect the quarterback, be a really tough and smart player,” said Johnson. “I think all of these guys bring something to the table and we have to use them all. In college football, you don’t just go with one or two guys, you try to get three or four guys, dependable guys, because they take so much pounding. The kids have been doing a really good job. I’ve been able to coach them extremely hard and push them. They have been responding really well to the coaching and everything that they have been able to retain on the offensive side.”

Johnson also serves as Norvell’s recruiting coordinator and spoke to the challenges of the recruiting process with the NCAA implementing an extended dead period that lasted through the summer due to Covid-19, which has since been extended until at least Aug. 31.

“I think the biggest thing with recruiting, and I think a lot of people don’t understand it, you have to listen to the kids,” said Johnson. “A lot of these kids that we talk to, they want to talk. They want to tell you what is going on. They are going through a lot right now with wondering if they are playing, not playing. So you just try to listen to their stories and get a chance to talk with them a little and let them know that whenever we are able to open back up, they will be allowed on campus. We’ve been in real good communication with all of the recruits and continue to talk to them. We continue to paint a positive message that one day this will pass, and we have got to move on.”

Ja’Khi Douglas runs upfield in Saturday’s scrimmage. (photo courtesy FSU athletics)

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