Tight end Nick O'Leary caught 12 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown this past season, and while those numbers are indeed respectable for a true freshman, a lot of Florida State fans were a bit disappointed when he didn't record a single reception the last four games.
Now a sophomore but still a bit lean for a traditional hand-on-the-ground tight end at 6-4 and 240 pounds, the Palm Beach Gardens native has been lining up all over the formation thus far in spring practice.
In an effort to take better advantage of his pass-catching skills and create mismatches for the Dwyer High School graduate, coach Jimbo Fisher is employing O'Leary not only as a tight end but also as a fullback and H-back.
"It's so I can get out of my routes easier so I'm not getting jammed up by defensive ends and getting out of there faster and getting open," O'Leary said before Friday's workout, the first time he's been allowed to address the FSU media since putting on the garnet and gold. "[Fullback] is pretty hard, but I'm picking up all the blocking schemes and all of that pretty easy."
O'Leary's grandfather, golf legend Jack Nicklaus, went on a television broadcast of a 'Noles game in 2011 and questioned Fisher for not targeting his grandson enough, but O'Leary wasn't too concerned when asked about it: "I can't control what he says."
Media criticism never on Stork's mind
Bryan Stork started games at both guard and center for the Seminoles last season, although so far in spring drills he has been taking his reps exclusively at right tackle since he's up to 310-315 pounds.
The offensive line was most to blame for Florida State struggling at times in 2011, or at least that was the mantra from supporters at Doak Campbell Stadium forced to watch a handful of talented tailbacks fail to find holes and quarterback E.J. Manuel hit the deck entirely too often.
Media is more in-your-face now than ever, especially with the explosion of social media readily available for players and fans alike, but Stork didn't seem the slightest bit bothered by the constant criticism he was a part of this past year.
"I don't think any of those guys pay attention to that," said the Vero Beach product. "Young guys have been really good about that. They aren't on the Web sites looking at what you guys say and stuff. We don't listen to that stuff."
When asked about his teammates on the other side of the ball, Stork said that he's been especially impressed with the defensive tackle combo of Demonte McAllister and Everett Dawkins during spring practice.
Hicks learning how offense really works
Not new to the spot, the 6-4, 275-pounder played a lot of offense at the high school level and has always been regarded as one of the best pure athletes on the team, especially for someone his size.
However, nobody is going to be handed Fisher's playbook for the first time and have it memorized overnight, so Hicks is using spring workouts as an opportunity to better understand how an offensive scheme works for all 11 players on the field.
"In high school, it was like, I'm bigger and faster than everybody, so just give me the ball," he said. "... [Now] everybody's good, so you have to learn the offense. That's the difference. In high school, it was predetermined when I was going to get the ball. Here, you have to learn why you're doing something and how it may help someone else get open."
But when asked if he misses playing defense, Hicks refused to take the bait: "Defense was fun. Defense was fun."
Smith relying on film study to get better
Rodney Smith is a dangerous downfield threat because he towers over defensive backs at 6-6 and 219 pounds, plus he's a long strider with deceptive speed.
Nevertheless, if the only senior receiver at FSU is going to be all he can be as a pass catcher, he needs to become more proficient running short- and intermediate-range routes instead of simply relying on posts and flies to make all his big plays.
In an effort to do just that, the Archbishop Carroll High School alumnus has been watching film of two wideouts in particular, one unquestionably the best of all time and one arguably the best in the game today.
"Jerry Rice," said Smith, "and I watch a lot of Calvin Johnson's highlights and stuff like that, because he's a big guy but he runs good routes."
Asked to be the flanker (Z) more often than not last season, Smith has been seeing most of his time in spring drills lining up at split end (X).
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
O'Leary lining up at several positions
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