Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher will have plenty of weapons at his disposal in 2011 when it comes to the running game.
Chris Thompson, Ty Jones, and Jermaine Thomas, who all rushed for at least 490 yards in 2010, all return. Fisher will also have Lonnie Pryor and blue-chip prospects James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman in his arsenal.
Having multiple guys who can carry the load at running back is the way Fisher prefers. Like he did during much of his time as the offensive coordinator at LSU, last season Fisher and running back's coach Eddie Gran stayed with whichever back had the hot hand.
Thomas started the first six games at running back, but he suffered a knee injury in the second half of the year and his production declined. He finished the year third on the team with 490 yards and six touchdowns (tied with Thompson for the team lead) on 86 carries.
As Thomas struggled the second half of the year it was Thompson who became FSU's most productive runner. The Madison County product led the team in every major rushing category with 845 yards on 134 carries, and six touchdowns.
He also showed his big play ability throughout the year, rushing for a 70-yard touchdown against Maryland, an 83-yard TD versus BYU, and a 90-yard score against Miami. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise Fisher received from the running game was the performance of Jones. The 5'11, 212-pound back broke out for a career-high 527 rushing yards on 87 carries, despite missing three games with an ankle injury. He found the endzone five times and averaged 6.1 yards per carry, second to only Thompson.
As a team FSU averaged 171.4 yards a game on the ground, the second best total in the last six years for the program (FSU averaged 179.1 YPG in 2008). For the third consecutive season FSU scored 27 times on the ground in 2010.
While running back Thompson, Thomas, and Jones, as well as fullback Pryor (112 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries) did the majority of the work in the running game, the quarterbacks also contributed heavily.
Signal callers, Christina Ponder and EJ Manuel combined for 350 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. In 2009 the duo rushed for 375 yards and four scores.
With Ponder headed to the NFL, despite the fact that running the ball seems effortless for the 6-foot-5 Manuel, Fisher may be more reluctant to use he quarterback in the running game. Unlike the previous two seasons, Fisher won't have an experienced No.2 QB to rely on should Manuel go down with an injury.
As Thomas missed time this spring stemming from off the field issues, and Thompson missed the whole spring with a back injury it was early-enrolee Freeman who left his teammates and coaches impressed.
As the offensive line struggled with to replace Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, as well as battled a rash of injuries all spring Freeman still impressed. Despite not having much of a hole to run through at time offensive line coach Rick Trickett was very impressed of the former Miami Central High star.
"I've always been joking about if No. 4 [Freeman] runs behind a good line and sees a three-foot hole he'll have heart attack," Trickett joked during the spring. "He won't know what to do. He's been down there running with them threes
He's got some natural ability, but he's still got a lot to learn. But I think he's got a real good chance to help us."
Freeman was recently joined on campus by fellow freshman Wilder, a five-star recruit that Rivals ranked the second-best back in the 2011 class. At 6'2, 219 the Tampa Plant standout could be the big back that Fisher has always wanted.
With so many weapons available in the running game, it seems likely that Fisher will again ride the hot hand in 2011.
Six-year breakdown of FSU's running game
Yards Per Game: 94.0
Yards Per Carry: 3.2
Attempts Per Game: 28.9
Yards Per Game: 96.5
Yards Per Carry: 3.5
Attempts Per Game: 27.9
Yards Per Game: 127.6
Yards Per Carry: 3.7
Attempts Per Game: 34.3
Yards Per Game: 179.1
Yards Per Carry: 4.8
Attempts Per Game: 37.1
Yards Per Game: 149.5
Yards Per Carry: 4.6
Attempts Per Game: 32.4
Yards Per Game: 171.4
Yards Per Carry: 4.8
Attempts Per Game: 35.7
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