April 10, 2014
Jameis Winston threw a touchdown on his first pass of the 2013 spring game and then tossed the game-winning score for the Seminoles' third national title in program history nearly nine months later. What will this year's Garnet vs. Gold game lead to? Come get your first glimpse of the 2014 Seminoles Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- What a difference a year makes.
Before climbing to the top of the college football mountain, Florida State entered the 2013 spring game 12 months ago with a four-player quarterback competition that generated national headlines and spurred debate among FSU fans. The Seminoles were also a team in transition, with head coach Jimbo Fisher charged with capping off the practice period after an off-season defined by a major staff overhaul.
One year and one title later, none of those story lines have defined FSU's month of spring-time practices. In fact it's been the opposite.
Jameis Winston went on to win that quarterback competition in fall camp and of the four student-athletes that competed last year, only Winston and Sean Maguire remain. This is Winston's team -- and his college football world, for that matter -- and spring talk has centered around the competition around him -- not including him.
After losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, Fisher and his offensive staff have spent the last several weeks searching for returning pass catchers to step up alongside star Rashad Greene. Saturday's spring game will provide one last opportunity before fall camp for rising sophomores Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones to showcase how much they have improved this spring. Redshirt seniors Jarred Haggins and Christian Green also have opportunities to prove to Fisher and receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey they are ready for the biggest roles of their respective careers.
"It's the time to showcase your talent," Wilson said. "Step up and let coach know he can trust you."
In the backfield, the early NFL departures of James Wilder, Jr. and Devonta Freeman thrust Karlos Williams into a starting role but the speedy senior will sit out Saturday's game for precautionary reasons.
Mario Pender was also limited in the final week of spring practices and he may not play either. Sophomore Ryan Green and five-star early enrollee Dalvin Cook each also had shoulder surgeries this spring so fullbacks Freddie Stevenson and Nigel Terrell could be the only scholarship players in the backfield available. Last year, FSU only had fullback Chad Abram healthy for the game so the passing game took center stage amid the quarterback battle.
FSU's tailback depth was depleted this spring but a group that entered practices without much help on the second-team has seen some positive gains.
FSU's offensive line returns five seniors with Austin Barron set to step in for Bryan Stork at center. But behind them, depth was a concern. Junior-college signee Kareem Are has been a welcome addition to the team as his size, strength and experience has seen him move up the depth chart at both guard positions. Are's ascension has allowed Fisher and offensive line coach Rick Trickett to tinker with the roster, sliding star left tackle to Cameron Erving to center, left guard Josue Matias to left tackle and Are slides in at left guard on the first team.
Fisher has been happy with what the moves could mean for the team.
"We are pleased with [Austin] Barron," Fisher said. "We just keep developing centers. You can't have enough and he is very athletic in there. Barron is playing very well and doing a nice job, but he [Erving] is a very good center also. He has big time capabilities. Sometimes you get bigger bodies at different positions and you can move him in there.
"[Erving] is very intelligent. It is very critical."
At tight end, Nick O'Leary won't be available so Kevin Haplea, who is returning from a summer-time knee injury that cost him the 2013 season, and redshirt freshman Jeremy Kerr are competing for playing time so fans will get a good look at what both can do Saturday.
Despite losing Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia, Charles Kelly's move from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach this off-season has been a non-issue. The terminology of the defense is the same and the scheme of the defense remains intact.
The only change has been the addition of linebackers coach Bill Miller and some new, exciting faces taking over for stars Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Timmy Jernigan. Those losses have left a leadership hole on the defense that FSU's returning players have been focused on filling this spring.
"We have leaders that go by example," said E.J. Levenberry, who is one of several young linebackers on the roster with a shot at more playing time and a potential starting job. "They lead by how they play and we have a lot of people like that."
Levenberry, along with Reggie Northrup, Matthew Thomas, Terrance Smith and Ukeme Eligwe have been in a heated battle for playing time with starting spots up for grabs. No matter how the competition shakes out, all five are expected to be integral parts of the defense Saturday and in 2014.
Replacing Jernigan has been perhaps Kelly's toughest task this spring, where returnees Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Desmond Hollin, Giorgio Newberry and Keith Bryant are being asked to provide a smilier impact in the middle. Lawrence-Stample will miss Saturday's game after having surgery and Derrick Mitchell, Jr. and Justin Shanks have been limited all spring.
On the outside, Mario Edwards, Jr. is the top returning player at defensive end following a breakout sophomore campaign and Chris Casher and DeMarcus Walker are both expected to take that next proverbial leap in their second years.
FSU also has converted linebacker Ro'Derrick Hoskins in the rotation. And each of the Seminoles' pass rushers are being utilized in multiple ways on the line and in pass coverage.
"Mario is doing a lot and Casher is doing a lot," Fisher said. "Those guys are being very multiple with what they have to do, inside and outside. They are doing a very nice job. Those guys can create mismatches with pass rushes, getting on a back, getting on a guard, getting on a tackle, how a protection goes.
"We are just trying to create guys that can create plays on the quarterback."
Without Joyner, Jalen Ramsey made the move this spring from safety to nickel back after a rookie year that saw him start all 14 games. Ramsey has been one of the most constant and dominant players during spring ball and his move to Joyner's old role could free him up to make even more plays this year -- starting with the spring game.
Cornerback P.J. Williams has also drawn rave reviews from Fisher this spring and the `Noles also boast talented returnees Nate Andrews, Tyler Hunter (who is back after a scary neck injury cost him most of the 2013 season), Nick Waisome, Keelin Smith, Marquez White, Lamarcus Brutus and Tyrell Lyons.
Star defender Ronald Darby has not participated this spring while he works his way back to 100 percent health and safety Colin Blake has also been limited. The spring game will also give fans the first opportunity to see early enrollee Trey Marshall, who this spring has made a convincing case for rookie-year playing time.
"Trey Marshall is a real player," Fisher said. "Trey Marshall is [the real deal] now. He is going to be a good player here for a long time. He can do a lot of things. He can play safety, he can play corner, he can play nickel and he can play dime. He is a smart guy. Smart guys win."
The excitement of a national championship season hasn't subsided during Florida State football spring practices and it certainly won't subside the weekend of April 11-13 when Seminoles fans gather in Tallahassee for a fun-filled spring weekend.
Starting Friday night (April 11) at 5 p.m., the Friday Night Block Party presented by Tri-Eagle Sales, KIA, State Farm and Century Link will feature Jon Pardi with the Adam Craig Band live in a free concert at Kleman Plaza in downtown Tallahassee.
From 5-7 p.m. during the event, a Booster Appreciation event with drinks, food and spirits will take place on the green at Kleman Plaza.
After Dpak Campbell Stadium parking lots open at 8 a.m. Saturday morning (April 12), Seminole Village will be a hot-spot for `Noles fans to gather for fun, food and games. The highly anticipated Seminole Grill Masters competition will also take on Langford Green at that time.
The annual Garnet vs. Gold spring game then kicks off at 3 p.m. on Bobby Bowden Field as Jimbo Fisher and the 'Noles unveil their 2014 squad.
The night concludes with Tyler Reeve and Tracy Lawrence performing at 6 p.m. at the brand new Cascades Park downtown . Charlie Wilson and Marvin Dixon then perform Sunday night (April 13) from 5-7 p.m.