Florida State University

Once a position of concern, receiver becomes a strength for FSU Seminoles

Florida State entered fall camp able to divide its receiving corps into two groups.

There was Rashad Greene, the senior All-American candidate who has led the Seminoles in receiving for each of the past three seasons.

And then there was everyone else.

Three weeks later and with FSU’s season opener against Oklahoma State (8 p.m., ABC) on the horizon Saturday, that dynamic hasn’t changed.

What’s become clear, though, is just how big that “everyone else” group will be.

Coach Jimbo Fisher said recently that as many as eight receivers could see significant work this season. That’s a far cry from the mostly three-man group that helped the Seminoles to the nation’s top passing attack in 2013.

Greene, fifth-year senior Christian Green and sophomore Kermit Whitfield project as starters. And fifth-year senior Scooter Haggins, sophomore Jesus Wilson and freshmen Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja’Vonn Harrison all have a spot on the two-deep.

“I feel as confident right now in those other guys as I [ever] have,” Fisher said. “I am very pleased with where they’re at in their development.”

Fisher credited quarterback Jameis Winston with playing a large role in that development. He said that, along with the usual summer 7-on-7 work, Winston also spent hours with the receivers practicing an individual route maybe hundreds of times.

The idea is to know exactly how each receiver runs each pattern. His speed, body language and any other quirks that might show themselves. It’s a technique that Winston picked up from NFL star Peyton Manning while working at the Manning Passing Academy this summer.

“Everybody doesn’t run their routes the same way,” Green said. “And [Winston is] able to see, ‘OK, when he does this move or he plants this way,’ where I’m going to be or Rashad or Scooter or whoever. We get all our timing down.”

Those efforts have apparently paid off. After issuing some lukewarm reviews early in camp, Fisher began to see the receivers make strides.

As practice progressed, Fisher said they began to get open against different styles of pass defenses. And they started to understand not only their own routes, but how each pattern fit in with the offense’s philosophy. That, in turn, taught the receivers how to complement each other.

“It’s like when you move into a new neighborhood,” Fisher said. “When you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know your way home, every stop sign you stop and look at – ‘Am I going the right way?’

“Now they’re running the stop signs. They’re going through them fast and getting through them holes.”

Encouraging signs or not, replacing the production of the departed Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin will be a tall order. The veteran duo combined for 108 receptions, almost 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns.

More importantly, each established himself as a reliable option for Winston. Shaw earned a reputation for his willingness to go over the middle and absorb a big hit to make a catch. And Benjamin, of course, was the go-to receiver for FSU’s title-clinching touchdown at the BCS Championship Game in January.

Still, Winston says he’s not worried about life without two of his favorite targets. He’s confident in FSU’s new receiving corps and, no surprise, he’s confident in his ability to bring them up to speed.

“As a quarterback, it’s my job to influence those guys to play on levels that they never expected themselves to play on,” he said last month at ACC Kickoff. “As long as they buy in [everything will be fine], because our new guys, they’re ready, locked and loaded.”

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