Atlantic Coast Conference preseason favorite Florida State heads into its 2011 season loaded at tailback with three talented veterans joining a pair of highly touted freshmen in the battle for playing time.
Running backs coach Eddie Gran said during Florida State's annual media day festivities Sunday that it's a good feeling to have abundant depth at a position where players often miss a game or more with injuries.
"I have never, never had it when just one guy went the whole season," Gran said, noting the exception of Rudi Johnson at Auburn a decade ago.
"It's one of the hardest pounding positions that you have where they get beat up," said Gran, who also has the special teams responsibility for the Seminoles.
Junior Chris Thompson and seniors Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones combined to rush for 1,862 yards and 17 touchdowns last season with the 5-8, 185-pound Thompson finishing the year as the starter. They've totaled 3,646 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns in their Seminole careers.
Freshmen James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman — between them — ran for 48 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards as high school seniors.
As a position coach you want competition," he said. "The younger guys are pushing the older ones."
Thompson, the MVP of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, recorded three touchdown runs of 70 or more yards last season, including a 90-yard scoring dash at Miami.
"I have been blessed to coach some very good running backs and never have I had long runs like that, that many," Gran said. "He's been great for us."
A year ago, it was Thomas who began the year as the starter, but a late-season knee injury and Thompson's emergence changed the depth chart.
"Chris Thompson won that position last year by paying attention to the details," Gran said Sunday.
Thompson, however, wasn't sure at the beginning of the 2010 season if he could excel at the major college level after averaging fewer than two carries a game as a freshman.
"At first I had a little doubt, but at the same time, I know that if I'm surrounded by a good group of guys they're going to make me better," said Thompson, a soft spoken, yes-sir, no-sir young man.
Thompson, whose size reminds many of former Florida State great Warrick Dunn, said he's looking for bigger things this season.
"I know that I can be better than what I was last year," Thompson said. "The success I had last year just makes me believe more in myself."
As his position coach, Gran, knows from a quarter-century in the business, running backs will always get their chance at some point because of the injury factor, fumble problems, poor blocking or too many dropped passes.
"If you're good enough to play, you're going to play," said Gran, who rotated two top NFL draft picks, Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams at Auburn.
And Gran believes he's got at least five that will be good enough to help the Seminoles fulfill some lofty expectations this year.
Florida State, which was ranked 17th in The Associated Final 2010 poll, opens its season Sept. 3 when it hosts Louisiana-Monroe.