FSU's wide receivers showing flashes of potential but need to string together success
Consistency is probably the thing Florida State head coach Mike Norvell has said the most during his many press conferences this spring.
It was something the Seminoles desperately lacked during his first season atop the program and will be a major key in FSU's potential return to prominence.
He's called for a need for greater consistency on both sides of the ball and at many positions, but the group that most needs to find that consistency this offseason is the FSU wide receiver group.
This spring was always viewed as critical for this position group. The Seminoles are desperately in need of a few playmakers to emerge after the departure of Tamorrion Terry late last season.
As expected from a younger, less veteran-laden group of wideouts, there have been some ups and downs from a group full of players stepping into larger roles or pursuing the first extended playing time of their careers.
"You've seen progress in the offense and not necessarily just the guys running the concepts. But now they're getting more into understanding the details within the concepts and where they need to be, what angle, what leverage, where they're supposed to be..." FSU wide receivers coach Ron Dugans said.
"Just having an understanding of those things a little bit more helps those guys play faster and be where they need to be. You see more of that, but we're still not where we need to be."
The receivers have had bright spots throughout the numerous practices FSU has opened up to the media this spring. But the unit, along with the rest of the offense, collectively seemed to bottom out in the Seminoles' second spring scrimmage last Saturday.
"Some of our young receivers looked like young receivers today and that hasn't been the case throughout (spring)," Norvell said after the second scrimmage.
While the newest FSU wide receivers, early enrollees Malik McClain and Joshua Burrell have had their occasional struggles, they've also been some of the players Norvell and the FSU coaches and players have praised most.
"Both of those guys have a chance to be really special. That’s all I can really say about them. They’ve both got a chance to be, I feel like, Sunday NFL guys," FSU quarterback McKenzie Milton said.
"I wish I had more time here to continue to play with them, but will make the most of the one year I’ve got with those guys. I’m curious to see three to four years from now, when they’re 21, 22, they’re going to be freaks. Well, they already are freaks at 18. Main thing for those guys is I always tell them to get in their playbooks and you’ll play soon. But their ceilings are very, very high."
Dugans wanted to see if the same intensity and work ethic that he saw when recruiting these incoming freshmen showed up once they got into FSU's strength and conditioning program and out on the practice field.
It didn't take long for him to realize that they have what it takes.
"Within a couple of weeks, those guys just showed that, 'Hey Coach, I got this inside of me. I got a bad case of the wants. I do want to compete. I do want to get better and I can learn,'" Dugans said.
"That’s all you can ask those guys, to give me everything you got, do what you're supposed to do and you'll be fine. Malik McClain, he’s been a bright spot. Obviously still has some work to do with him. But he did show up in (the first) scrimmage and made some plays...
"Same with Burrell, he's come out and made a couple of plays for us, having an understanding of splits and alignments, communicating with other receivers, communicating with some of the guys that's been here already."
Add in four redshirt freshmen that enrolled at FSU last year and there are six wideouts going through their first complete offseason with the Seminoles.
That group accounts for two-thirds of FSU's current scholarship wide receiver group. The Seminoles have just three scholarship wideouts on their current roster who enrolled before 2020.
The FSU coaching staff has made it clear to these younger wide receivers -- at least a few of whom will have to assume significant roles on the 2021 team -- that their relative inexperience won't be in any way an excuse for them.
"I told our guys the other day, I said if you're playing and you're a freshman, well, you're not a freshman because you're playing and nobody's gonna say, 'Hey, that's a freshman. Let's give him a free release.' That's not how it is gonna work," FSU offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said.
"So if you're on the field, you're playing and if you're on the field and you're playing, it is for a reason. You've got to go out there and execute. And if you don't execute, you won't play. It's as simple as that."
FSU is expected to get an infusion of experience this summer when Kansas wide receiver transfer Andrew Parchment, who has been committed to FSU, officially signs and enrolls.
The experience of guys like redshirt juniors Ontaria Wilson and Keyshawn Helton and redshirt sophomore Jordan Young will also help the group as it looks to move past its inconsistent 2020 performance as a unit.
But a lot of how much FSU's wide receiver play improves in 2021 will come down to how quickly the newest members of the group are able to get acclimated.
"They’re talented young men. They have the right mindset, the right approach and that’s why I really like this receiver room..." Norvell said.
"I think we’ve done a really nice job in the evaluation aspect of who we’ve gone after and been able to attract. But then the tempo we play with and the versatility of that receiver, position, we’re going to have guys kind of define their role and be able to make a great impact for this team.
"The competition is great, there’s some talented young men in that room and am excited to see them show up day in and day our to make those plays because we’re definitely going to need it."
Reach Curt Weiler at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
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