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March 8, 2011

Spring Position Preview: Running Backs

Other Spring Previews: Coming Soon

Offense
Running Backs

The position coach: Eddie Gran entering his second season at Florida State.

Frontrunner
Tailback:
Chris Thompson
Class for 2011 season: Junior
Size: 5-8, 190 pounds

2010 season: Even though he didn't start a game until the second half of the season, Thompson ended up leading the team in rushing yards (845), rushing average (6.3) and tied for the lead in rushing TDs (6). Once Jermaine Thomas was injured midseason, the former Madison County standout took over as Jimbo Fisher's primary tailback starting six of FSU's final eight games, including the final four. Thompson also had a knack for the big run busting off three carries of 70 or more yards. He was also effective catching the ball out of the backfield finishing with 19 catches for 155 yards and 1 TD.

Top Contender
Ty Jones
Class for 2011 season: Senior
Size: 5-10, 215 pounds

2010 season: As was the case in 2009, Jones was up and down in 2010 in large part because of a nagging ankle injury. Over the first eight games, the Tampa tailback averaged 7.6 yards per carry and 9.3 carries in the games he played and was an integral part of the Seminoles' ground attack. His best effort was probably the 10 carry, 108-yard performance in the loss at NC State on October 28th. However, his production down the stretch tapered off. In FSU's final five games, Jones averaged just 3.3 yards a carry and saw his attempts decrease. In FSU's bowl game, he had just four carries for 7 yards while starter Chris Thompson was a workhorse with 25 carries for 147 yards.

Fullback
Lonnie Pryor
Class for 2011 season: Junior
Size: 6-0, 215 pounds

2010 Season: Even though he only technically started four games in 2010, Pryor was one of the most important cogs in the Seminoles' offense. While he was extremely effective running the ball in short yardage situations and posted four TDs in 2010, his main contribution was his amazing ability to block defenders. In fact, Pryor was almost always the player who dished out the key block when the offense had a big run. He was also a true triple threat with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield catching 12 passes to go along with three receiving TDs.

Other contenders for significant action: Senior Jermaine Thomas (5-11, 190), true freshman Devonta Freeman (5-9, 190), redshirt junior Debrale Smiley (6-0, 235)

Will enroll this summer: James Wilder Jr.

2010 Recap: Through the first six games, Florida State looked like one of the top rushing teams in the country averaging 223.5 yards a game on the ground. But a banged up offensive line took its main toll on the 'Noles' ability to run the football. With no bye weeks to rest the offensive line or backs, FSU averaged just 97.3 yards a game on the ground over the next seven games. With three weeks to rest and heal up after the ACC Championship game, the ground game bounced back with an impressive 218-yard performance against South Carolina.

Throughout the season, FSU relied on a three-man rotation at running back with Jermaine Thomas being the primary starter until he suffered a knee injury in the Clemson game. After that, Chris Thompson picked up the slack and became the primary starter. Ty Jones also had some injury issues and was hot and cold throughout the season.

When FSU was in a two-back formation, Lonnie Pryor was nearly always the counterpart in the backfield lining up at fullback. In fact, backup Debrale Smiley appeared in just two games and had five total carries. That was in large part due to the fact that Pryor was arguably the most consistent part of the Seminoles' offense in 2010 whether it was blocking, catching the ball out of the backfield or running for tough yards in short yardage situations.

Spring practice prospectus: With the way Thompson finished the 2010 season, combined with Jermaine Thomas' off the field legal issues (two arrests for a suspended license), there's little doubt that the rising junior will enter spring practice as the starting tailback. In fact, at last check, Thomas was suspended and was not taking part in FSU's off-season workout program. Whether or not his legal issues will be resolved in time for spring practice is uncertain.

Ty Jones is healthy and will likely take on the role as the primary backup to Thompson this spring. Considering that Fisher doesn't like to rely heavily on just one tailback, Jones still has an opportunity to prove his worth and solidify his spot as the clear No. 2, which would earn him plenty of carries next fall.

The X-factor is recently enrolled freshman Devonta Freeman. The Miami Central back had arguably the most impressive senior season of any high school back in the country rushing for over 2,200 yards, including a combined 668 yards in the state semi-final and final for the 6A classification (the largest in Florida). He showed up at FSU in excellent shape and will be making a case this spring to push Jones for the No. 2 spot. Depending on what happens with Thomas, and impressive spring campaign could mean a good number of carries for the impressive freshman back this fall.

Questions to be answered: Will Thompson pull away from the competition and solidify his position as the clear starter? Can Ty Jones stay healthy and lock down the No. 2 spot in the rotation? Will true freshman Devonta Freeman push Jones for the No. 2 spot and will he make a case for significant playing time? Can Debrale Smiley turn the corner and convince the offensive coaches that he deserves to take on a large role in the offense?

Key Reserve:
ThomasJermaine Thomas
Class for 2011 season: Senior
Size: 5-11, 190 pounds

The Skinny: Thomas began the 2010 season as Florida State's featured back starting eight of the first 10 games but suffered a knee injury in the Clemson game. He missed the next three games and was a non-factor when he returned for the bowl game having just one carry. While he might have been able to make a case to win back his starting job this spring, two recent arrests have put the Jacksonville native's future with the program in doubt. Even if he is able to resolve his legal issues to the satisfaction of the coaching staff, it seems unlikely that he'll be able to resume the same major role he had with the offense the past two seasons. Despite the fact that he has started 18 total games the past two seasons, the best case for Thomas will probably be as a primary backup up in 2011.

Gene WilliamsGene Williams is the founder and administrator of Warchant.com and writes stories and features covering all of FSU's sports with an emphasis on football and football recruiting. For seven years, Williams hosted a weekly sports radio show in Tallahassee. He currently appears as a weekly guest on 1010 XL Sports Radio in Jacksonville and 1270 The Team in Tallahassee during football season. Williams is also a former ACC correspondent for College Football News (weekly national newspaper), and contributes to The Osceola. Story about Gene Williams & Warchant.com.



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