TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Florida State's fall camp set to begin next week, Seminoles.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2017 Seminoles. Up next are the running backs.
Fresh faces: Cam Akers (5-11, 213; Fr.), Khalan Laborn (5-10, 199; Fr.), Zaquandre White (6-foot, 210; Fr.)
So long, farewell: Dalvin Cook (1,765 rushing yards, 2,253 all-purpose yards, 20 total TDs in 2016, entered NFL draft), Freddie Stevenson (90 rushing yards, five total TDs, graduated)
The buzz: Florida State just said goodbye to the all-time leading rusher in school history, a player whose impact extends beyond his stats and who could almost always be counted on to give the offense a boost when needed. So why are the Seminoles so confident in their backfield in the wake of Dalvin Cook's departure? It has a lot to do with who is coming back, and maybe even more with who is coming in.
In junior Jacques Patrick (61 carries, 364 yards, 4 TDs in 2016), the Seminoles have an experienced, seemingly ready-made starter whose 6-2, 231-pound frame can handle the rigors of the position.
In two years as Cook's reserve, Patrick has averaged 5.35 yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns. And when Cook missed a game against Syracuse in 2015, Patrick stepped in and delivered 162 yards and three touchdowns.
“I learned a lot from Dalvin,” Patrick said. “And it's easy coming behind a guy like that in the sense of the blueprint he laid and the work that he put in each and every day in practice. Seeing that, I have no choice but to go forward.”
And in freshman Cam Akers, the Seminoles have the consensus top running back recruit in the nation, a player regarded by some recruiting gurus as the most coveted prospect in history of the state of Mississippi.
Akers enrolled at FSU in January and introduced himself to Seminole fans in a big way by rushing for 87 yards on just 10 carries at the Garnet and Gold Game in April. He also made a fine first impression on his teammates when he caught a pass over the middle and, instead of seeking to avoid contact, lowered his shoulder and ran straight into hard-hitting safety Derwin James.
So loud is the buzz surrounding Akers that Sports Illustrated recently included him on its list of the top 100 players in college football, despite the fact that he's yet to take his first snap.
“You see the flashes when he runs and catches,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He's very natural in a lot of things he does.”
Added James, “I love the way he works. He's a great, great player.”
Rounding out the running back room is a quick fifth-year senior (Ryan Green), a versatile redshirt junior (Johnathan Vickers), a speedy track star (Amir Rasul) and two heralded freshmen (Khalan Laborn and Zaquandre White).
Fisher is particularly fond of Rasul, who won the 100-meter dash state championship as a high school senior in Miami.
“I love the guy,” Fisher said. “… I think he has a chance to have a tremendous career.”
At fullback, the Seminoles will look to Gabe Nabers and Colton Plante to fill the shoes of the dependable Freddie Stevenson, who is now plying his trade with the Chicago Bears. If Nabers and Plante stick to a role similar to Stevenson's, they'll be asked to serve as a lead blocker in the running game, as well as catch an occasional pass out of the backfield.
Burning question: What are reasonable expectations for Cam Akers?
Akers is obviously an exciting prospect, and his performances during the spring suggest he already belongs at the collegiate level. But a look at Jimbo Fisher's history with first-year running backs shows that it might be a little while before Akers becomes a regular part of the offense.
Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. both served in a running back committee in 2011 before emerging later in their careers. And even Cook spent the first half of his freshman season serving as an understudy to Karlos Williams and Mario Pender before seizing control of the starting job later in the year.
That said, losing Cook means that the running back competition is more open than it was in 2011 or 2014. And Fisher has said time and again that the best players will play, regardless of age. If that turns out to be Akers, then his opportunity could come sooner rather than later.