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NoleGameday

2019 Spring Practice Focus: Running Backs

Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire

This is the second installment of NoleGameday’s spring practice focus on the Florida State football team. The Seminoles are set to kick off their spring practice slate on Monday, March 4, culminating with the annual Garnet & Gold game at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 6. We’ll be breaking down each position on offense and defense while also highlighting the special teams unit leading up to the first day of practice. We started the series yesterday with the quarterbacks and now we’re moving forward into a look at the running backs.

It’s hard to get a feel on how FSU’s running backs performed in 2018. The offensive line, arguably the worst in school history, could barely block let alone open holes for running backs. The ‘Noles recorded just six games of over 100 rushing yards and maxed out with a total of 156 yards on the ground against Boston College. For reference, in 2017, when the offensive line still wasn’t much to write home about, the offense rushed for over 100 yards nine times and hit 200+ yards six times. The drop off in play from one year to the next was simply unbelievable and that’s one reason Greg Frey is no longer on the coaching staff.



The hope is that in 2019 the additions of offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and new offensive line coach Greg Clements will pay off with the beginning of the turnaround for this offense. Plus it’ll help to have a quarterback who actually runs the read option the right way instead of picking and choosing when to make the correct decisions. Last year we talked about the three-headed monster of Cam AkersJacques Patrick, and Khalan Laborn but we failed to realize their toughest opponent would be wearing garnet and gold with them. Akers averaged .9 yards less per carry (5.3 to 4.4) in 2018 than the year before and the dropoff for Patrick was a whopping -2.1 yards from 2017 (5.6 to 3.5). That can’t be the case this year if FSU is actually going to put a watchable offense on the field. Outside of the offensive line, the main concern with this unit is depth. The ‘Noles return just three scholarship running backs and Laborn is coming off a season-ending injury. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff handles the trios workloads.

Departures

Jacques Patrick, senior

Amir Rasul, senior (grad-transfer)

Jacques Patrick is moving on and he’ll be remembered as one of the most underrated Seminoles in recent memory. Patrick played second fiddle to Dalvin Cook and Akers during his career and never got to be a full-time starter at FSU. Looking back on it, it definitely would’ve benefited the Orlando native to declare for the NFL Draft as a junior but instead, he came back to Tallahassee to be a leader in Willie Taggart’s debut season. The final results and Patrick’s own production weren’t close to what anyone expected and unfortunately, it may end up having an effect on his draft stock. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound running back wasn’t invited to the combine and will have to impress teams during FSU’s pro day later in March. He finishes his collegiate career with 366 attempts for 1,790 yards (4.9 YPC) and 17 touchdowns, including seven in 2017.

Amir Rasul left the team after entering his name into the Transfer Portal and he’s still looking for a home. The former four-star recruit never got much of a chance to contribute among Florida State’s other high-level backs. He could just never crack the rotation and it didn’t help that he started his career with the ‘Noles behind Dalvin Cook and ended it behind Cam Akers. He finishes his time in garnet and gold with 49 carries for 244 yards (5.0 YPC) and one career touchdown.

Returnees

Cam Akers, junior

Khalan Laborn, redshirt sophomore

Anthony Grant, sophomore

As previously mentioned, Florida State returns just three scholarship running backs in 2019 after failing to sign one during the last recruiting cycle. It’ll be imperative for this group to stay relatively healthy during the spring as the Seminoles just don’t have very many bodies at the position. Laborn will likely be limited or a non-participant coming off of his knee injury which means Akers and Anthony Grant should see the majority of snaps during spring practices.

After a down year on the ground, expect to see the running backs play with some fire in an attempt to prove themselves. Briles is a mastermind on offense and he’ll be able to move Akers around in different ways to put him in positions for success. This offense is tailored to the players and it should suit the majority of the roster pretty well.  Akers will be looking to rebound following a sophomore campaign that saw him rush for less than 50 yards five times. The former five-star prospect will be looking to show that last season was a fluke.

Laborn was expected to be a big contributor a season ago following his breakout spring but instead, he went down with a season-ending injury early in the ‘Noles second game of the season. He had an exciting catch against Virginia Tech and is looking to play a major role following a full recovery from his injury. The five-star duo of Akers and Laborn has the potential to strike fear into the hearts of defenses.

Rising sophomore Anthony Grant will see his role increase during his second season with FSU. Last year he recorded just five carries for no gain but he certainly has the skill set and frame to develop into something special by the time his career is over. The Georgia native runs with a purpose and he’s a tough runner to bring down.

Newcomers

None

FSU didn’t sign any running backs during the 2019 recruiting cycle but the position will be a major focus for #Tribe20. The Seminoles are already involved with many of the top backs in the country and they’ll like to bring two or three of them to Tallahassee. Some of the early favorites are four-star prospects Jaylan Knighton and Lawrance Toafili.

Spring Outlook

With Akers entrenched as Florida State’s starting running back as he heads into his junior season, this spring will mainly be about establishing depth behind the star and regaining cohesiveness with the offensive line. After a season like the one that just ended a few months ago, it’s clear that these units will need to rebuild the chemistry and trust between them.

Laborn’s health status is still unknown despite his rehab going well by all accounts thus far. That makes it even more important for the rising sophomore Grant to latch on quickly during the spring. Grant is talented but now he’ll have to develop a little quicker than originally expected with the little depth the ‘Noles have at the position. Look for walk-on WR/RB Deonte Sheffield to possibly get some reps for depth purposes.

Some things to watch are whether the offensive line has taken enough of a step forward to show a noticeable improvement on the ground and exactly how Briles will utilize the running backs to success. Either way, these mysteries will be uncovered soon enough.


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