Karlos Williams boosts FSU backfield

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For more than a year, Jimbo Fisher knew he had a weapon waiting in storage. He'd prodded Karlos Williams to make the switch to tailback, but he didn't insist. Selling a five-star recruit on a position change requires a soft touch.

Through eight practices, Williams' teammates knew he was something special, too. That was the entirety of Williams' prep work before he was unleashed against Nevada, sprinting untouched for 65 yards and a touchdown on his first carry. He certainly hadn't mastered the craft, but a toss sweep into daylight was the play he was born to run.

Deep down, Williams probably knew, too. By the end of spring practice, he was giving the move serious consideration, and when Fisher came to him once more after Florida State's opening-week win over Pittsburgh, he finally relented.

"It's been something they'd been talking about, and I'd been kind of interested in it," Williams said. "I just said, 'Coach, I'll do it.' "

The final push, however, wasn't about Williams' potential on offense, but rather Florida State's need for a safety net at running back.

In the 10 days from the end of fall camp until the post-game celebration in Pittsburgh, Fisher's backfield depth chart was slashed. Mario Pender was ruled academically ineligible, and while freshman Ryan Green flashed potential, he wasn't ready for a major role. When James Wilder Jr. fell shoulder first into the turf against Pitt, re-aggravating an injury that had nagged him throughout 2012, a move had to be made.

"James had a ding, and we didn't know if he'd be able to go or not," Williams said. "[The move] was another way to help the team."

Williams finished his first game at his new position with eight carries, 110 yards and a touchdown. His 65-yard run showcased his speed. His 11-yard rumble in the fourth quarter, with 10 Nevada defenders draped atop him for the final few feet, showcased his strength. He was, as Fisher had said so many times, a natural.

"I'm not trying to say I was rubbing a crystal ball," Fisher said. "That guy is a talented cat."

Wilder played, too. He carried six times for 45 yards and a touchdown, and his devastating lead block in the third quarter helped spring Devonta Freeman for a 60-yard run.

But after virtually every tackle and every fierce block, Wilder also massaged his shoulder and appeared visibly bothered by the injury.

"It was a couple times where it went numb," Wilder said. "It's something I have to expect for my running style. It's dinged up, but it's nothing too serious."

It's a message Fisher repeated, too. Asked after the game about Wilder's health, Fisher joked the tailback just needed "to rub some dirt on it." In other words, it's not an injury likely to improve with extended rest, but rather something Wilder will have to play through going forward.

"I'm the big back, I've got to suck it up and play," Wilder said. "It doesn't really bother me, and I just don't want to sit out. I want to go out there and compete every week."

For now, Wilder insists that won't be an issue. The shoulder soreness plagued him throughout last season, and he still finished with 635 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. The problems this year are minor compared to the pain he endured a season ago, he said, and the numbness hasn't affected his play. The lone casualty thus far was his trademarked high-top haircut, which he trimmed after it brought him bad luck, he said.

For Florida State, however, Wilder's injury actually might have been something of a blessing. A healthy Wilder is a powerful weapon, but the slightly battered version might have been the necessary push to add another valuable asset.

Williams' debut was everything Fisher had hoped, but it certainly wasn't an end to the story. Nevada's defense capitulated to Florida State's ground game to the tune of 377 yards, and Williams was just one of the multitudes to reap the rewards. He still must master blocking schemes and pass protection, and his role on offense remains a bit nebulous as the Seminoles march toward the heart of the ACC schedule.

But what's clear after Saturday's win over Nevada is that the tightrope Florida State might have walked with a battered backfield won't be quite so precarious now. Wilder is still pummeling defenders, bum shoulder and all, and Williams delivered evidence he's more than just a safety net.

"When he gets space, he can hit home runs and he's hard to tackle because he's a big, physical guy there, too," Fisher said. "Karlos will provide us with a very big piece to the puzzle in my opinion as the year goes on."