Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mid-Season Grades

Okay, I know that we reached mid-season a week ago, but since I got a chance to attend the Boston College game I wanted to wait to grade the team's progress - or lack thereof - until after I'd seen them for myself. As much frustration and anger as there is in 'Nole Nation right now, if you look objectively there's also been a lot to like in this sub-par season. Keep your head up FSU fans, for hope is not lost. On to the grades...

-- A --
The Linebackers. Led by senior Buster Davis the FSU linebackers have been easily the most dominant and consistent group on the team. Despite losing starting WILL Geno Hayes and key back-ups Marcus Ball, Jae Thaxton, and Derek Nicholson the LB corps has continued to play at an extremely high level. Davis has been an iron-man as the only healthy MIKE on the team. Junior Lawence Timmons has been great in coverage when he's not blowing up running backs, and true freshman Dekoda Watson - a converted DE - stepped into a starting LB role against Boston College and delivered with eight tackles. If you want to quantify how amazing the LBs have been, consider that the DT position has been ravaged by injury yet the 'Noles still rank in the top 15 nationally against the run. Kevin Steele has done an amazing job with these guys and next year if Ball, Nicholson, and Thaxton can come back healthy this could be far and away the best LB corps in the nation.

The Freshman Class. A large part of FSU's downfall this year has been the forced reliance on freshman in key spots. Against BC a whopping FIVE freshman were forced into starting roles, and freshman mistakes contributed to the loss. However, when you look at the speed and skill the incoming class has brought to team it wouldn't unrealistic to say this is the best class FSU has brought in in a decade. Everywhere you look freshman are making huge contributions: TE Brandon Warren has been the team's most reliable receiving threat, LB Marcus Ball was a revelation at SAM LB and on special teams, SS Myron Rolle has been steady in the secondary, and the aforementioned Dekoda Watson has come up big wherever the coaches play him. And that doesn't mention the contributions of Caz Puirowski, Kevin McNeil, Matt Hardrick, Justin Mincey, or Patrick Robinson. When FSU fans howl about the state of the team they would do well to realize that while dark clouds are hanging over the current season the future is bright for the 'Noles new crop of stars.

The Kicking Game. After his debacle against Penn State in the Orange Bowl last year a lot of people thought that Gary Cismesia would be a liability in 2006. We all remember what happened to Xavier Beitia after his miss against Miami in 2002, and FSU fans conditioned to expect kicker melt-downs were sure we'd see "Weed" go up in smoke as well. Much to my surprise Cismesia has been a rock this season going 9-10 on FGs, with his only miss coming in the Troy debacle. Converted place-kicker Graham Gano has been outstanding at Punter as well. His average per punt has steadily climbed throughout the season, peaking with a brilliant performance against BC where he average 47.5 yards/punt and would have had two punts downed at the one-yard line had Joslin Shaw not gotten too cute with the first one. It's almost painful to think of how many times the kicking game has done in FSU in the past, only to see the kickers come through just as the rest of the team is falling apart.

-- B --
The Defensive Line. Despite being absolutely gutted by injury the DL has continued to produce no matter who Odell Haggins plugs in. It's hard to belive how many injuries have hit the Defensive Tackles, which looked to be one of the deepest positions on the team coming into the season. It's been so bad that DEs Alex Boston and Justin Mincey have been moved inside, hurting FSU's pass rush. Fortunately Everett Brown (another stand-out freshman) has stepped up and is starting to pressure opposing QBs with regularity. The rush isn't up to FSU standards, but with our best pass rusher playing tackle that's to be expected. In light of all the injuries you have to be impressed with the steady production of Andre Fluellen and the determination shown by the whole unit. Odell has proved once again that he's one of the premier DL coaches in America.

-- C --
Jeff Bowden. The running game hasn't progressed as much as expected, and in a few games we've seen the issues with Time-Out usage and clock management resurface, but Bowden the Younger has made unmistakable progress as a play-caller in this, his sixth season in the role. I wooul dprobably be rating him higher than this if not for the abysmal decision to throw short right before the half against BC and the tendency of the offense to start off slowly. Still, for the firsts time we've started to see signs of competence in the booth: setting up defenses, shifting formations, integrating the TE and FB into the offense, and long sustained drives are all signs that the light may be turning on for JB. The epic 99-yard drive against NC State alone is worthy of a C. We still need to get the offense going in the first quarter so we're not forced to come back all the time, and obviously the running game must pick up, but for the first time I'm starting to think that Jeff can be an asset to this team instead of a crippling liability.

The Running Backs. Obviously I realize that FSU's running game is still a shambles, but that has more to do with the offensive line than the backs. When given enough opportunities Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith have shown that they can produce. And even when they're not getting carries they've been instrumental in the passing game, illustrated by pair combining for 14 catches for 150 yards against BC. FB Joe Surratt has provided the physical running the team lacked last season - though he's been mysteriously absent the last few games - and now that Jamaal Edwards is coming back hopefully he can start to contribute as well. I'm sure the backs are frustrated because as much as they've contributed there's no question they are talented enough to do so much more.

Drew Weatherford. Maybe too much was made of Weatherford's freshman season when he led the ACC in passing and showed tremendous toughness even as he killed FSU in a couple games. His progression hasn't been as great as expected and he's still prone to the killer mistake such as the game-ending pick against NC State. He struggles with his accuracy on long throws, he runs too soon sometimes, and his ball fakes are terrible. And you know what? I love the kid. He's probably the toughest SOB we've ever seen at QB, he works his ass off, and he's always willing to take responsibility for bad plays or bad games. I still think he's the guy for this team, and if you don't agree consider the case of Chad Henne, another talented QB who endured a shaky sophomore campaign and is now at the helm of the undefeated Michigan Wolverines. If we can get Drew some decent coaching (more on that later) he could be another great one for FSU.

-- D --
The Secondary. Oh, what might have been had Antonio Cromartie returned for his senior season! Instead of an All-American shut-down corner FSU has made due with some under-performing upperclassmen and some talented youngsters. The result has been a pass defense ranked 70th nationally, far below FSU's lofty standards. The loss of Trevor Ford looms large as JR Bryant has continued his disappointing career, forcing true freshman Patrick Robinson into the starting line-up at Boundary Corner. The excellent Tony Carter has been dinged up leaving the diminutive Michael Ray Garvin to take on the daunting challenge at Field Corner (where the DB is often in one-on-one coverage). Roger Williams, expected to be the leader of the secondary, got off to a terrible start missing tackles, dropping interception, and getting caught out of position time and time again. Myron Rolle has been steady and has played great for a true freshman, but we need him tobe more of a playmaker. The secondary wass directly responsible for the NC State loss and simply hasn't been good enough to allow Mickey Andrews to play his sstyle of defense. With the talented youngsters growing up in a hurry there's hope for the future, but if FSU is going to win out the secondary must play better NOW.

The Offensive Line. The sad thing is that a 'D' is actually an improvement from last season's 'F-' performance. The pass blocking has actually been very good. Drew hasn't been pressured nearly as much as he was last year, which has contributed to the drop in interceptions an dthe development of the short passing game. However, the run blocking is still abysmal. The line simply gets no push against the defense and FSU's backs are constantly hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. After an entire summer spent on conditioning and focusing on the run the effort of the line has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. As if that wasn't enough, mental mistakes have cost the 'Noles dearly as well. For whatever reason whenever FSU reaches the red zone the OL tends to make a stupid mistake that kills the drive and costs FSU points. Against BC at leat 10 points were taken off the board by dumb penalties and bad snaps. It doens't matter how good our backs are, how much Drew progresses, or what plays Jeff calls - if the line can't block FSU won't win. Period.

The Wide Receivers. I really thought FSU's receivers were going to surprise the nation this year. It seemed that we had the perfect mix - the lightning-quick Chris Davis in the slot, the powerful DeCody Fagg patrolling the midde, and Greg Carr providing the deep threat. Unfortunately it hasn't worked out that way. Davis has been plagued by fumbles and drops, Fagg has been injured as usual, and for some reason Carr has disappeared from the game plan as FSU has gone away from the deep ball. What's left is a disappointing crew of talented yet enigmatic performers. The sophomores - oft-injured Rod Owens and drop-prone Richard Goodman - aren't going to provide any immediate relief, but freshmen Preston Parker and Damon McDaniel have looked great in limited opportunities. For FSU's offense to click we MUST get the receivers more involved in the offense. Hopefully that will start against Maryland thiss weekend.

Kick Returns, Coverage, and Blocking. As good as the kicking game has been, the return and coverage units have been well below FSU standards. Chris Davis hasn't been able to fill the void left by Willie Reid's departure, and the coverage units badly miss Pat Watkins, Marcus Ball, and Jae Thaxton. This is an area that is usually a weapon for FSU, yet with the notable exception of the Clemson game, kick-blocking and coverage has been a liability all season. With all of the injuries we may not have an answer for this problem until 2007.

-- F --
Daryl Dickey and Mark McHale. While Jeff Bowden takes all the heat for FSU's anemic offense it is these two useless individuals who should be taken to task. FSU fans realized long ago that our QBs tend to regress during their career, which begs the question "what the hell does Dickey do all day?" During the Dynasty Years the 'Noles enjoyed a steady stream of talented, fundamentally sound QBs. Then Dickey took over the QB Coach position and we've seen a never-ending series of bad reads and bad throws since. In addition, details like ball fakes, snap counts, and thorwing mechanics are apparently ignored by Dickey since our QBs never seem to improve in these areas. Our QBs deserve better. McHale was brought in to correct the lethargy and unfocused OL play that had become common under Jimmy Heggins. McHale's offensive lines can't run block at all, but at least he's a terrible recruiter! Bobby and Jeff aren't going anywhere, but for FSU to improve we must revamp the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball.

So that's it. A promising season has been derailed by injuries, inexperience, and poor coaching. Note the mass of 'C' and 'D' grades and you'll see why this season has been such a disappointment. Although this season is done as far as championship hopes go, with our wealth of talented youngsters we must still focus on improving and getting ready for 2007 - and beating UF of course! The 'Noles have been right there in every game and are not far removed from being 7-0 right now. With better coaching and better luck we'll be right bak in the ACC and National races in 2007. Now the onus is on Bobby Bowden to make the right moves in the off-season to make that happen. The hope here is that the old man can see the problem and make the necessary changes to right the ship.

Here's to a better second half and a great 2007 season!


At 7:36 PM, Blogger Rich said...

Mobius: As long as you're grading offensive coaches, don't forget Billy Sexton. The guy's been off the radar, but deserves some blame for lack of development. After the QBs, our RBs under perform and underwhelm. I doubt anything happens to Jeff, but how about a clean sweep of the rest of the O-staff?

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Clem said...



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