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Expect Florida State to get creative with Cam Akers and a loaded running back stable

The Seminoles don't have one or two running backs who can contribute. They have five, which has FSU coaches drooling
Florida State's Cam Akers is part of a loaded running back corps that's one of the best in the country. [ MONICA HERNDON |  Times ]
Florida State's Cam Akers is part of a loaded running back corps that's one of the best in the country. [ MONICA HERNDON | Times ]
Published Aug. 24, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — When Willie Taggart arrived at Florida State for his introductory news conference in December, he admittedly didn't know much about the team he was inheriting.

He knew the Seminoles had some athletes. He knew they had some speed.

And he knew which position group was going to be his strength.

"I know we have a pretty darn good running back — a couple of them," Taggart said.

As Taggart's Sept. 3 debut against Virginia Tech nears, he has learned a lot more about the position that will help shape the success of his first season in his dream job, starting with this: He doesn't have a couple good running backs.

He has five of them.

"Any one of those guys can go in there and get the job done for us…" Taggart said. "You can never have enough running backs, and we have some really good ones."

Taggart has had plenty of good ones in his career, but the way he uses them has evolved. He no longer relies on one bell-cow back, the way he did with Bobby Rainey and Antonio Andrews at Western Kentucky. He spreads the carries around.

RELATED: FSU's Willie Taggart: An expected ascension, if a tad early, to his dream job

Since fully implementing his Gulf Coast Offense at USF in 2015, Taggart has had seven players run for at least 460 yards in a season. And over the last two years, only Taggart and Navy triple-option mastermind Ken Niumatalolo have produced three different 1,000-yard rushers.

Given FSU's unproven receiving corps, Taggart will have the chance to add one or two more prolific rushers to his resume.

"It's not like anybody in this stable is average," senior running back Jacques Patrick said. "These are dudes."

The top dude is Cam Akers, who lived up to his considerable recruiting hype by breaking Dalvin Cook's FSU freshman rushing record with 1,024 yards last season. But he's not the only five-star back from his class; redshirt freshman Khalan Laborn is coming off a breakout 140-yard performance in the spring game.

Another former five-star talent, Patrick already ranks in the top 20 in school history with 16 rushing touchdowns. Junior Amir Rasul and freshman Anthony Grant are also former blue chippers who are ready to contribute.

The depth gives FSU the obvious advantage of being able to keep backs fresh throughout a game or season. It also gives the Seminoles more options in the playbook because of their differing strengths — Laborn is shifty, while Patrick is a 234-pound bruiser.

"We can get creative on offense," running backs coach Donte' Pimpleton said.

We've already seen glimpses of what FSU might do. While Jimbo Fisher repeatedly shot down the idea of Akers — a former high school quarterback — taking direct snaps in a Wild Cam package, Taggart tried it in the spring game.

Offensive coordinator Walt Bell said the depth and diverse skillsets could allow the Seminoles to use three or four running backs on one play. Taggart showed one potential way to do that at USF — a diamond formation with the quarterback five yards behind the center, one player behind him and one on each side. The Bulls did it in 2015 with backs Marlon Mack and D'Ernest Johnson plus tight end Sean Price, but it's easy to envision Taggart using it with three backs.

Or the 'Noles could ask a back to flex to the side or line up in the slot to exploit certain matchups.

"They all can become interchangeable parts at some point," Bell said. "I think as the season moves forward, we'll be able to do some really neat things with those guys in the run game, the throwing game, the screen game — just cause defenses problems."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.