September 25, 2013

Insider Report: Freeman starts hot, Whitfield takes kicks, Defense buckles down

During fall camp, when FSU players were shuffling off the field tired and drenched in sweat after afternoon practices, Devonta Freeman could be consistently seen jogging back to the field for a few more reps.

Oh, and he was usually grinning. In full pads. In Florida heat.

Freeman's work ethic impressed head coach Jimbo Fisher and so far in the season, it's translated on the field. Freeman has had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games and is on pace to be FSU's first 1,000-yard rusher in more than a decade.

What's surprising is that Freeman is the middle ground of FSU's three-headed monster at running back. He's not as big or strong as James Wilder Jr., and he's not as fast as burner Karlos Williams. But he's still averaging 9.8 yards a carry this season.

"I ain't scared of nothing," Freeman said. "I've got a big heart. I can break tackles."

Freeman's improvement started in the summer, When he said the proverbial light bulb went off.

"I know I have to practice, I know I have to go to school, I know I have to go to study hall, so why not be the best at it?" Freeman said.

So Freeman drastically changed his workouts. He started coming early, staying late, and preparing in the summer as if he was running two-a-days. He ditched his smartphone and changed his number with an old-school flip phone to cut out "clutter" like Instagram and Twitter. And during the summer, he drove around Tallahassee looking for hills to run. When he found a good spot, he said he'd go back at 11 p.m. and run the hill a few times, by himself.

The result is a faster, stronger Freeman. He said he's noticed the difference in his ability to run through tackles. He also said he's got a complete understanding of the playbook which only adds to his confidence.

And Fisher, when asked about Freeman, could only shake his head.

"He's so genuine, so honest," Fisher said. "So hard-working, humble, down to earth. A guy of that caliber, how many guys of that caliber - he had six or seven hundred yards as a junior (in high school) because there was a guy in front of him. How many of those guys would have stayed in that high school for their senior year? Instead of being a starter somewhere else, (he was) just happy to be a part of a team. He's just different."

Whitfield moves into starting KR role

FSU Freshman Levonte Whitfield has been the first offensive freshman to consistently see the field this season - and he's now in line for a bit more.

In his Monday press conference, Jimbo Fisher said Whitfield has broken into the starting rotation on kickoff return alongside Karlos Williams. Against Bethune-Cookman, Whitfield returned two kickoffs for 66 yards to lead FSU, including one 41-yard return in the second half.

"You've got all those guys doing so much that it's good to give them (Williams and Lamarcus Joyner) a break," Fisher said. I think Kermit is very natural at it. He's very good at it and I think he's mature enough and been around long enough to understand what we want. I've been very pleased with his progress"

Whitfield has also become a reliable receiving option in the second unit, hauling in a 41-yard pass from Jacob Coker in the fourth quarter on Saturday. Fellow returner Karlos Williams has already praised Whitfield's speed.

"He's just a red blur," Williams said. "When he hits that hole, he's fast."

FSU defense hopes to rectify slow starts

Florida State's defensive unit has struggled early in games so far this season - and that's a trend that players say has to change now.

"We go out there a little nervous or are a little too amped up or something like that," safety Terrance Brooks said. I feel like we've just got to buckle down a little bit more. Because after those teams are running it on us and getting some plays, better teams will take advantage of it. We can't keep allowing that to happen."

Florida State will have the chance to test its run defense early yet again on Saturday, as Boston College's physical running style has caught the eye of several defenders.

"They like to run and we like to hit," Brooks said. "So we'll see how that works out."

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