TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Senior Rashad Greene is on the verge of breaking three major Florida State receiving records at a program that has produced Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff and other stars such as Anquan Boldin, Peter Warrick and Javon Walker. The Seminoles’ experience at receiver takes a steep drop after Greene, though.
Quarterback Jameis Winston lost nearly 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns from the national championship team when starters Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw headed to the NFL. A cadre of inexperienced pass-catchers is spending camp fighting to fill those spots.
“It’s going to be a great challenge, a great competition, but the best guy will play,” coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Seniors Christian Green and Jarred “Scooter” Haggins top the early depth chart but haven’t been able to get much going up to this point of their careers.
Green (6-2, 204 pounds) had his best season as a redshirt freshman, when he finished third on the team with 450 yards on 26 receptions. His best moment came during a four-catch, 102-yard effort against Wake Forest in 2011.
Haggins has battled injuries throughout his career. The 6-2, 202-pounder lost all of 2013 to a knee injury and missed part of 2011 with a broken hand.
Both know there is a pair of 5-star freshmen on campus — Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane — with an eye on immediate playing time.
“I’ve got to stay hungry … because I don’t want to be a senior and buried on the depth chart,” Haggins said. “When I first saw them, I was like, ‘Those guys can play right away.’ Age has no effect on whether you play or not.”
Rudolph (6-2, 190 pounds) was ranked the No. 1 receiver in the country by Rivals.com, while Lane (6-3, 200 pounds) was ranked No. 5. Rudolph is thought to be more polished all-around at the moment, while Lane is bigger and more physical.
Smaller, speedy receivers in Jesus “Bobo” Wilson (5-9, 177 pounds) and Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield (5-7, 183 pounds) are also in the mix with the ability to catch a short route and outrun defenders. Whitfield is one of the fastest players in the country – running a 4.37-second 40-yard dash as a high school senior and setting a BCS championship game record with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Winston raved about Wilson’s work ethic during the spring, but he’s suspended indefinitely and working back into the good graces of Fisher after stealing a motor scooter this summer.
Fisher said he doesn’t have to have two players pull away from the group, but consistency will determine who gets the most snaps.
“Guys knowing what to do, where to be, making plays when that ball is thrown to you,” Fisher said. “Also, being at the right spot at the right time with the quarterback, what he wants and how they want it.
“I want the best players and the most consistent players.”
Senior tight end Nick O’Leary (6-3, 247 pounds) will have an expanded role after catching 33 passes for 557 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012. Fisher said the second-team All-ACC selection worked on his strength during the offseason and can now squat 500 pounds and bench press 400 pounds.
“Nick is one of the unique guys in this country, to me, of what kind of player he is,” Fisher said. “Now, he’s really become a physical specimen.”
The three seniors – Greene, Green and Haggins – have talked about being leaders of the unit and how the clock is ticking. Greene has the chance to become the most prolific receiver in Florida State history, but his classmates could end their careers without ever having the individual success they envisioned.
The 933-yard, six-touchdown season that Shaw had last season is a reason to be hopeful after he had a combined 986 yards and eight touchdowns in his first three seasons. Now he’s in camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We sat down and understand it’s our last go round,” Green said. “There shouldn’t be no excuses at this point. You’re either going to go to the next level or live in the real world.
“So, we talked about that and how we have to take advantage of every opportunity that we have.”