The Light coming on for FSU’s Wilder Jr.
In his first carry of the 2012 season, Florida State’s James Wilder Jr. scampered down the sideline for a 42 yard run. It was an ideal start to the season for the true sophomore, who is hailed for his incredible strength and bruising running style. Obviously, the Murray State Racers are far from the norm in terms of the competition level that the ‘Noles will face throughout the year, but for a formerly highly touted high school football phenom searching to prove to himself and others that he could play running back at the college level, week one’s performance may have been just what the doctor ordered.
James Wilder Jr. was candid in admitting that he did not do the greatest job of picking up the offense as a true freshman in 2011. The five-star athlete struggled to see the field much outside of special teams and finished his freshman campaign with 35 carries for 160 yards and one touchdown. He followed up his first season on campus with an off-season arrest that would cost him half of a crucial spring camp with a backdrop of fan and media speculation surrounding whether or not he should be moved to linebacker. To this day, there are still plenty of people out there who suspect that Wilder may be wasting his time at the tailback position and should make a transition to the defensive side of the ball.
For Wilder himself, last Saturday appeared to be the start of his journey to changing a few minds. He finished the day with a career high 106 yards on 12 carries with two rushing touchdowns. An improved offensive line certainly has not hurt his development, but from an individual standpoint Wilder appears to be more patient and confident carrying the ball. He has improved on planting his foot and getting up field and has very obviously held on to his punishing, relentless style as a ball-carrier.
Florida State’s offense and it’s running back by committee approach will help Wilder a great deal, because his physical nature is something that I think would be more of a detriment to him if he were a traditional feature back. While the 6’2, 230 lbs. of muscle may be incredibly strong and tough, those collisions do take a toll and having three to four other viable options for carries helps to keep him fresh. Wilder’s running style is effective and fun to watch, but he does tend to take an unnecessary beating at times and could improve on picking his battles and recognizing opportunities to find open field. As he continues to develop as a college back, we will find out whether or not that is a product of having average field vision, or simply still getting a better feel for things at this level.
Through two games, Wilder leads the Seminoles with four rushing touchdowns as they gear up for their conference opener against Wake Forest.