Position Preview: Running Backs
Key Players Lost: Chad Abram, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.
Biggest question entering 2014: Can Karlos Williams become a feature back?
Karlos Williams started last season as a safety, but he made the move to running back before the second game of the season against Nevada. After spending two years trying to find a place for him on the defense, coaches finally convinced him to make the move to offense. The wisdom of this move was immediately apparent as Williams took his first carry 65 yards for a touchdown. By the season’s end he had supplanted James Wilder Jr. as the No. 2 back behind Devonta Freeman. Williams finished the season with 748 yards on 91 carries and 11 touchdowns. Freeman and Wilder Jr. are both gone after declaring early for the NFL draft, leaving Williams as Florida State’s most experienced running back.
Head Coach Jimbo Fisher has said that Williams is a natural running back who excels with the ball in his hands. Williams brings a freakish combination of size and speed to the position and his physical gifts have convinced many media pundits to mention him as a dark horse Heisman candidate. Even with his limited experience. The vast majority of Williams’ carries last season came in garbage time when Florida State held a large lead. That will not be the case in 2014. Williams will enter fall camp atop the depth chart and he will be expected to step into the feature back role that Freeman occupied last season.
Florida State typically uses a running back by committee approach, which will lessen the burden on Williams. He will still need to prove that he can shoulder a larger load in 2014. If he can, he might be more than just a dark horse candidate for the Heisman.
Florida State running back corps may be low on experience (132 combined career carries), but there is no question about the talent in the group. Karlos Williams has been mentioned as Heisman candidate after bursting onto the scene last season and is expected to be Florida State’s top running back next season. Williams is still learning the position though after moving over from safety last season.
The battle for the No. 2 spot behind Williams will be one to watch during fall camp. Redshirt sophomore Mario Pender is finally ready to contribute after missing the last two seasons with an injury and academic problems. He has received rave reviews for Head Coach Jimbo Fisher and will enter camp as the favorite to win the No. 2 job. Pender’s greatest asset is his speed and he is a very dangerous player with the ball in his hands. He has not played in a game since 2011 during his senior year of high school though.
Pender’s biggest completion will most likely come from freshman Dalvin Cook. A five-star recruit out of Miami, Cook was one of the top running backs in the class of 2014. He enrolled at Florida State in January, but missed all of spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery. Cook is a lightning quick player and he may be the most naturally gifted of Florida State’s running backs.
The odd-man-out in the battle for playing time looks to be Ryan Green. The sophomore played well when he got the chance last season, but Williams, Pender and Cook all look to be better options. There has been a lot of speculation that Green will be asked to move from running back to cornerbacker.
The final member of Florida State’s running back corps is fullback Freddie Stevenson. A converted linebacker Stevenson will replace Chad Abram at the position. Fullback is a very important position in Fisher’s pro-style offense. Typically the fullback is used more as a check down receiver than as a primary ball carrier. Stevenson has shown that he can contribute in a variety of ways and Fisher has consistently praised Stevenson for his ability as both a receiver and runner.
By: Brandon O’Connor