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Are FSU’s receivers poised to live up to Mike Norvell’s playmaking promise?

The Seminoles’ receivers have been mediocre. That might change this year.
Florida State receiver Mycah Pittman is one of four Power Five transfers the Seminoles added at the position.
Florida State receiver Mycah Pittman is one of four Power Five transfers the Seminoles added at the position. [ ALICIA DEVINE | AP ]
Published Aug. 17

In Florida State coach Mike Norvell’s introductory news conference and countless times since, he said his offense is built for playmakers.

As he prepares to start his make-or-break third season in Tallahassee, there are signs that his promise is translating to the field at the position that has been confoundingly mediocre: receiver.

The unit’s pedestrian performance predates Norvell, and it’s hard to fathom given this state’s athleticism.

Related: Where FSU football stands two weeks into camp, two weeks before opener

The last FSU receiver drafted was Wharton High alumnus Auden Tate (seventh round to the Bengals in 2018). Since then, 16 receivers from the state have been drafted. Ten went in the first three rounds, including Plant High’s Christian Watson (No. 34 overall to the Packers this year) and Lennard High’s Diontae Johnson (No. 66 to the Steelers in 2019).

Wharton High alumnus Auden Tate is the most recent FSU receiver to get drafted.
Wharton High alumnus Auden Tate is the most recent FSU receiver to get drafted. [ Times (2017) ]

Other issues are equally concerning. By one count, FSU’s receivers forced only seven missed tackles all of last season. In the second half of one-score losses to Florida and Louisville, FSU threw second-half interceptions because the defender made the play the Seminoles receiver failed to make.

During FSU’s 2013 national title run, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw each caught 22 passes of 20-plus yards. Last year’s Seminoles had 37, total.

In 21 games at FSU, Norvell’s team has 59 of those explosive pass plays. In his final year at Memphis, the Tigers had 73.

It’s unreasonable to expect a top-five passing attack every year. But it is fair to think FSU should be higher than 84th nationally in yards per attempt (7.1), especially with Norvell’s pedigree and the athleticism FSU should have on the outside.

“You look back at Coach Norvell’s history with his receivers, he’s been so explosive with a lot of his guys and displayed a lot of their abilities,” receiver Mycah Pittman said.

Related: FSU football: Why the son of a Buc can be a breakout Seminoles playmaker

If things are going to be different this year, Pittman is one of the reasons why. The Tampa native and son of former Bucs running back Michael Pittman is one of four Power Five transfers FSU added at the position, along with Lakewood High alumnus Deuce Spann (Illinois), Johnny Wilson (Arizona State) and Winston Wright (West Virginia). Though Wright is still recovering from an offseason car accident, the other three have made notable progress as FSU prepares for next week’s opener against Duquesne.

Lakewood High alumnus Deuce Spann transferred from Illinois to FSU.
Lakewood High alumnus Deuce Spann transferred from Illinois to FSU. [ CHARLES REX ARBOGAST | AP (2021) ]

Pittman, who originally signed with Oregon as a top-100 recruit, is catching better after a few early drops. He said FSU’s coaches are spotlighting his strengths (including toughness) in a way the Ducks rarely did.

The speedy Spann remains raw at the position ­­— he began his college career at quarterback — but looks like a potential contributor. The 6-foot-7 Wilson is an imposing threat.

“Johnny Wilson’s capable of doing whatever he wants,” Pittman said.

The transfers were an obvious, necessary boost. But receivers coach Ron Dugans said those additions forced incumbents like Malik McClain and Kentron Poitier to shine if they want playing time.

“Once you get competition, you’re going to raise that bar and raise the standard in how you come out,” Dugans said.

Florida State receiver Malik McClain has had to improve because of the addition of Johnny Wilson and other transfers.
Florida State receiver Malik McClain has had to improve because of the addition of Johnny Wilson and other transfers. [ CHRIS CARLSON | AP (2021) ]

After coming off the field from Friday’s practice in Jacksonville, Dugans said he has seen his group’s standard rise. The consistency has improved. Receivers are getting more separation from defenders. Players are finishing perimeter blocks better, creating more explosive plays.

“Still a lot of work to do,” Dugans said, “but I’m excited about the opportunity.”

The opportunity for playmaking receivers has existed at FSU for years. It’s time for the Seminoles to start taking advantage of it.

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