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After making his first career start against Clemson, true freshman Nick O'Leary is again listed atop the depth chart as a co-starter with seniors Ja'Baris Little and Beau Reliford.
Rated the top tight end in the country for the 2011 class by Rivals, expectations were sky high for O'Leary entering the season. Against Clemson the 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end caught a career-high three passes for 23 yards.
O'Leary missed time during the preseason with a shoulder injury, but is now beginning to come around head coach Jimbo Fisher said during his Monday press conference.
"He's done a really good job. He missed a lot of time during camp. He was another one and he's getting back in the groove," Fisher said. "He's really improved in blocking, he's getting better and better. He's catching the ball, and he understands routes and understands how to get open. Football makes a lot sense to him. He has a really good feel for those things."
Against both Oklahoma and Clemson, O'Leary has been able to move the chains for the FSU offense. Of his five catches in those two games combined, three earned the Seminoles a new set of downs.
Quarterback EJ Manuel said O'Leary, much like the young receiving corps , has shown a growth in his understanding of Fisher's offense.
"I think he's progressed tremendously," Manuel said of the freshman tight end. "I think all those guys, even the receivers, even back going to the summer time when I first talked to you guys , those guys truly developed over the summer. I can kind of see it right before my eyes. Those guys growing up, understanding the concepts of plays and things like that. Being open in the right situations, catching the ball and making plays is the main thing. Nick has done a great job and he'll continue to do that."
After a 2-2 start with back-to-back losses, it would be easy for the attitudes of the Seminoles to sour.
During the bye week in an effort to avoid a season long tailspin caused by the two early losses, Manuel said team leaders spoke to the team to ensure they stayed focused.
"I think we handled a lot of stuff," Manuel said of the team talk. "A lot of mishaps as far as doing the right things on and off the field. With us losing those two games you can either go south or you can go north, as far as your attitude throughout the season. We've got a lot football left to play."
Junior wide receive Rodney Smith, who Manuel said has stepped up as a leader for the receiving corps, said the meeting was a good thing for the team.
"It was real productive, because we all know there's some little small things we could have done differently to win those games," Smith said after practice on Monday. "We just have keep looking forward, because we've still got a big season a head of ourselves, we've just got to let everybody know we've got to continue to work hard."
Bye week heals
With just three practices last week, and the weekend off, a number of FSU players were able to get some much-needed rest on nagging injuries.
"It's good to come off an off weekend," Fisher said before practice on Monday.
"Get a little rest-- try and recharge the batteries. Hopefully we're getting healthy."
Throughout last week a number of starting offensive linemen were missing from practice in an effort to get some extra rest. On Monday the full line was back in pads, while Andrew Datko looked to be limited some with sore shoulders.
Fellow senior tackle Zebrie Sanders was able to get back on the field after missing much of last week as well. He said he felt fresher during Monday's practice after getting some time off.
"I did, just going back out there with team just getting back into the shape of things," he said. "It felt good going back out there with the O-lineman, going out 15 minutes early and doing everything we usually do and getting back into the daily basis of stuff."
David Spurlcok, who had to leave the Clemson game with a knee injury also returned to practice. Sanders said as on offensive lineman you're never truly healthy, but you've got to find a way to grind through the pain.
"Everybody is hurt in some sort of way," he said. "That's one of the things of being an O-lineman just being able to pick up the gun and still go, because we need everybody right now."
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