April 15, 2012

Wilder laments missed time, impresses in Spring Game

As spring practice began sans James Wilder Jr., there was a sense the sophomore tailback missed a crucial opportunity.

With Devonta Freeman held out due to injury and Chris Thompson limited by a broken hand, Wilder would be the logical benefactor of the lion's share of first-team reps.

But instead of gaining valuable experience, Wilder had to wait for the legal ramifications of an incident with a Leon County deputy, something he admits to holding back his development.

"It affected me," Wilder said. "I think I could have gotten way better if I would have been here."

Wilder made it back before the end of spring ball, settling his legal matters in time for a few practices ahead of Saturday's Spring Game. Though it is now considered a matter in the past, head coach Jimbo Fisher noted the experience caused a change in Wilder's demeanor.

"He was never a bad guy," Fisher began, "it was just his attention to detail on some things... Sometimes when you almost lose the things you love the most and things you like to do, it makes a difference. From that standpoint I think it has changed him; I see a difference and I hope we can maintain that."

Florida State also hopes Wilder will offer performances like the one in the spring game. Although the numbers are tame, the sophomore amassed 32 yards on 11 carries, Wilder was by far the toughest runner on either team. More than a few times the pile was pushed because of Wilder's trademark strength, and he also added a two-yard touchdown catch from EJ Manuel off a play action in the first quarter.

The biggest number that Wilder took away from the day was his 11 rushes. To have more opportunities to carry the ball than any other player on the team, he said, signals he is doing what is necessary to regain his coaches' trust.

"That tells me he can depend on me and he can count on me and stuff like that," added Wilder. "That's mainly what he always talks about is accountability, so it tells me a lot that he can count on me."

For a team that had issues succeeding in short-yardage situations last season, Wilder is the prime candidate for at least that role in the fall. In addition to his power, the sophomore also flashed some deceiving agility. After catching a swing pass in the flat in the first half, he made a quick juke that sent linebacker Terrance Smith flying by without creating contact.

"Everybody thought he was a pounder," Fisher said. "But you see some wiggle and you see that he catches the ball really well."

All that remains for Wilder, Fisher added, is to learn from his discipline off the field and continue his current on-field development.

"Last year he moved into a new neighborhood," Fisher said. "He was learning his way through the neighborhood but now he's starting to see the ability because he knows what to do and he's playing much faster."

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