Florida State fans had been waiting for the type of game junior tight end Nick O’Leary had in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Panthers. After all, the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder had come to Tallahassee as the most heralded tight end recruit in the class of 2011. Not only was he the top-ranked player at his position, but he had added notoriety because he was the grandson of golfing legend Jack Nicklaus.
But until last Monday night, O’Leary hadn’t produced like the star many thought he would be. As a freshman, he caught 12 balls for 164 yards and a score, and showed flashes of becoming an offensive weapon. However, last year, O’Leary’s sophomore season could only be described as a disappointment. While he did catch 21 passes and scored three touchdowns, he didn’t have the impact on the offense that could have put the Seminoles over the top.
Some blamed the play calling of head coach Jimbo Fisher, while others thought quarterback E.J. Manuel didn’t work through his progressions long enough to get to O’Leary as a check down. Instead, he would escape the pocket and make plays with his feet.
After one game in 2013, it looks like the Fisher critics might be wrong. In the opener, O’Leary caught four passes for 47 yards and three touchdowns.
Can O’Leary’s increased production solely be attributed to freshman quarterback Jameis Winston? Certainly not. On all three touchdowns, O’Leary was wide open, running free in the secondary. However, Winston was looking in his direction thus giving O’Leary the opportunity to make plays.
On FSU’s first touchdown, O’Leary was left one-on-one with a safety after Pitt dialed up a blitz against the rookie quarterback. Despite the fact that the protection was breaking down on the right side of the offensive line, Winston slid subtly to his left, giving O’Leary time to make a break against the safety, clearing himself open to the inside for an easy TD.
Later, off play-actions, O’Leary caught two more touchdowns after the defense bit up hard on the run fake.
It’s still early, but it looks like the heralded O’Leary has a better connection with Winston, and might be able to live up to his high school hype.