Jameis Winston says Florida State’s passing game — in particular his rapport with the team’s young receivers — is still a “work in progress.”
In fact, that’s a phrase that’s been tossed around at Florida State quite a bit since the Seminoles returned home from Dallas after their 37-31 win over Oklahoma State– ‘work in progress.’
On Saturday, Winston targeted Rashad Greene on 20 of his 40 attempts, connecting on 11 of those for 203 yards and a touchdown. But it was apparent early on that the rapport Winston shared last year with Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and Greene has yet to form with his new group of young receivers.
“You feel more comfortable with Kenny and KB because they played more football at that time and had done a great job,” said FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher on Monday.
Right now, with Benjamin in Carolina and Shaw trying to make it on to an NFL team, Winston is left with Greene, his tight end Nick O’Leary, and a group of seven other receivers who are all trying to make their first major contributions as Seminoles.
It’s clear who he trusts the most.
“[Rashad Greene] and Pops [Christian Greene] are the only two outside guys that returned that I played with consistently last year, so it’s very important to have those two,” said Winston on Wednesday.
Winston should also get a boost from the return of Jesus “Bobo” Wilson, who will play in the slot and has had an entire season to work with Winston on timing and routes.
“Him and Kermit [Whitfield], if you throw them a hitch they’re most likely going to try to take it to the house,” said Winston. “They’re shifty, fast and hard to tackle. And Bobo’s strong, Bobo’s cut up and he’s physical.”
But the rest of the receiving corps — namely freshmen Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja’Vonn Harrison — that’s, admittedly, still a ‘work in progress.’
The Learning Curve
“It’s going to take some time for everybody just because it’s different,” said Christian Green. “Its a lot more reads and you have to be able to read the defense and look at the blitz and see how they’re blitzing in terms of that. It’s different and it’s going to take some time to get used to that.”
High school offenses are getting more and more advanced as passing camps and seven-on-seven leagues continue to modernize the high school game, but for young receivers — and pretty much any other player — going from even the most advanced of high school systems into Jimbo Fisher’s is akin to jumping from times-tables straight into calculus.
It’s a lesson Kermit Whitfield learned the hard way last year.
“It’s very hard. They expected me to know everything when I first got in,” recalled Whiftield. “Then I had to ask the older guys for help and they helped me.”
It wasn’t until this past offseason — after he had put in countless hours with Winston during the offseason — that Whitfield finally started to feel more comfortable and play faster.
It showed in his first game.
“I am very pleased because some of Kermit’s (Whitfield) breaks were blitz reads that he snapped routes off,” said Fisher. “And a lot of times that doesn’t come from a guy who starts his first game. A lot of times, those are the things that you blow — you know what I’m saying — and screw up. He did a really nice job a couple of times of snapping routes off and letting Jameis get the ball out when we had unblocked people coming in which is very rare for young guys to do that.”
But as for the trio of youngsters, the learning curve is steep.
“It’s hard in coach Fisher’s offense learning every single outside position, so of course they make mistakes,” said Winston.
“It’s still a work in progress, because you can work with someone so much — like with me last year, I could throw with the wide receivers but at the end of the day they didn’t know how I’d perform in a game — once they get out there in a game and start running around and they get used to that atmosphere and how things go at Florida State, I believe [you'll see] we’ve got some real talented guys.”
Getting them ‘ready for the show’
But talent doesn’t always translate to success. At least not right away. And especially not at receiver.
To get in the rotation at Florida State, young receivers need to learn to block. They need to learn the playbook. They need to learn to read defenses, count blitzers, make adjustments on the fly and trust that what they’re seeing is the same thing their quarterback sees.
You also can’t take plays off.
“A lot of times when you’re running routes you’re not running it for yourself, you’re running it to get someone else open,” said Green. “A lot of times if you run hard on your route you can get someone else open to make a big play.”
Added Whitfield: “It’s just basically opening up for the next player, running full speed and clearing it out for Jameis and he can just probably hit you over the top — you might be open you could still be the next read — but basically I’m just running fast getting the other guys open.”
Then you also have to build a rapport with the quarterback. Something that can take years — not just weeks and months — to develop.
Winston is intent on fast-tracking the process, but even with his best efforts– he can’t force trust.
“You can’t make them go the right way, but you kind of guide them and try to get them ready and you always, always have confidence in them,” Winston said when asked about how he helps coach up the young receivers. “Ermon [Lane] came to me one time, he had a practice where he just dropped about three balls and he said, ‘hey man, do you still trust me?’
“I said, ‘of course I trust you, because there’s going to be a practice where I make three bad throws,’ guys just have to accept that everyone makes mistakes.”
But Winston feels a corner has been turned– that now the young players know what is expected of them. Last week, word out of Tallahassee was that Florida State’s practices had not been as crisp as hey usually are. That things weren’t done the way many in the program expected them to be.
Then Saturday came around and things were a lot closer than expected. Winston — who says the Oklahoma State game was a wake-up call — thinks those practice issues are in the past now.
“It has been a lot different just from an intensity standpoint because it was the young guys,” he said. “The young guys realize that now, ‘hey, practice might be stressful but the game is easy. I won’t be as tired as I was in practice when I’m in the game.’ So it’s just getting those guys to understand how things go. That’s why I said we have to get them ready for the show.”
And as soon as they are ready, Winston expect big things.
“We’re going to get them incorporated pretty soon– because we need them,” said Winston. “And that’s one thing I have to keep telling them, that ‘hey, we need you guys.’ And when they know their roles — and that when it’s time to play, they have to play — they’re going to be big for us.”