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February 8, 2006

Is tight end the missing link for FSU's offense?

John Lilly was hired as Florida State's recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach back in 1998. Before last Wednesday, that's the last time the 'Noles signed a true tight end that actually enrolled in school. Since then it has been one strike out after another for FSU when trying to recruit tight ends.

Instead of playing a true tight end, over the past few years the position has been held down by a former offensive guard, a defensive lineman and a quarterback.

"The tight end position has been one the last few years where we've had to draw players from other positions," Lilly said. "They have played very well for us and done a nice job within our system but it's nice to be able to go out and sign guys who have played that position before and have some experience there."

Last Wednesday, the 'Noles signed two true tight ends in Brandon Warren and Caz Piurowski.

Warren, a five-star prospect according to Rivals.com, racked up 26 receiving touchdowns the past two seasons for Alcoa High School in Tennessee. Piurowski, the son of FSU Hall of Fame linebacker Paul Piurowski, is a four-star prospect and the top rated prep tight end in the state of Florida.

"These guys are true tight ends and they are legit," offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden said. "When they grow up and learn what they are doing they are going to be big time players. The deal is they are going to have to grow up fast because you are going to see them playing this year, you are going to see them play against Miami. They will get knocked around a little bit and there will be a lot of learning but they give us a viable target for a quarterback and a bigger target."

The combination of Matt Henshaw, Donnie Carter and Matt Root recorded 30 catches this past season. That's the highest total of receptions by the Seminole tight ends since 1997. That's also the last time there was a viable offensive threat at tight end with Melvin Pearsall.

With a player like Warren, who possesses an impressive combination of athleticism and speed, there is no excuse for the tight end not becoming a major part of the offense over the next few seasons.

"You would like to think that and you also feel that way about Caz," Lilly said. "I think he provides some mismatch problems for people because of his size. Charlie Graham (freshman TE) was a pleasant surprise for us this year; not that we didn't think he was good but he was even better than what we had him evaluated. He's still learning some things but he's really a worker and really come along. It should be really interesting to see how they all fit in this."

Without a legitimate pass-catching tight end to work with, the focus the past few years for the passing game has been squarely on the wide receivers. But if Warren and/or Piurowski can live up to their enormous potential, and FSU utilizes them fully, it will make the offense much more diversified and give opposing defensive coordinators something else to worry about.

"What they give us a receiving target in a run set," Jeff Bowden said. "That's so important because it's too easy to take receivers out of a game and you have a tight end in a one-on-one situation which is where you should be throwing it, and it helps your play-action game. Those are the guys that we've really been missing."

If the recruiting process is any indication, FSU is dead serious about bringing the tight end back to the offense. Just two weeks before national signing day, head coach Bobby Bowden and four assistant coaches made the long trip from Tallahassee to Alcoa, Tennessee just to show Warren how much his talents are needed. If that wasn't enough, the Rivals100 member was promised the chance to wear the much coveted jersey No. 1.

When it comes to FSU's other tight end signee, quarterback Drew Weatherford is already very familiar with his skills since he played with Piurowski at Land O'Lakes High School. Not only is he used to throwing passes to his former teammate and friend, any quarterback would be thrilled to have a 6-foot-8 target running routes in the secondary.

It all sounds good on paper but for the tight end to become a legitimate weapon for the Seminole offense, it will mean that Weatherford, the nation's most prolific freshman quarterback last season, will have to expand his learning curve to incorporate another receiver into his mindset.

"There isn't much to figure out when you just put four receivers out on the field," Jeff Bowden said. "We can isolate Drew on what side of the field he works and occasionally give him a full field read. But when you start getting into your play-action game and things like that he has to go inside to a tight end read, then to a back and then to a receiver. That's going to come with time."

Considering how quickly he has learned so far, you have to believe the rising sophomore QB will adjust to having the tight end more involved in the offense. If that happens, the hope is the additional weapon and added diversity will give the offense what it has been lacking the past few years.

"It seems like every year they are always missing one link," Warren told Warchant.com in a recent interview. "I think the tight end position is that link. Year in and year out we have great running backs, great quarterbacks, great wide receivers and great linemen. We need somebody that is a big body and a big target that can stretch the field. I think we are going to get it done."

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