March 19, 2014
The reigning national champions of college football kicked off spring practices Wednesday afternoon and here are a few observations from our first look at the 2014 Seminoles:
This time of year, jersey-number changes always draw the most attention and there were several `Noles that have new digits.
Quick disclaimer: these are not yet official and some could still change. The official FSU spring roster will be updated by the Florida State Sports Information Office in the near future.
In the mean time, the following are some of the changes you can expect to see when the roster is revealed.
Sophomore tailback Ryan Green came out to practice wearing No. 6 after wearing No. 15 last season. Despite being at FSU less than a year, this is actually Green's third number. He began his career last fall with No. 24 but switched before the Boston College game so that he could play on special teams alongside linebacker Terrance Smith, who, you guessed it, wears No. 24.
Green wasn't the only offensive player to be sporting a new single-digit. Championship-game hero Levonte Whitfield switched to No. 8 with Devonta Freeman no longer on the team. With Whitfield wearing a new number, redshirt sophomore Mario Pender gets his No. 7 now that he is back on the team.
Freddie Stevenson has replaced Chad Abram as the starting fullback and he has a new number to go along with the promotion. Stevenson is now No. 23 so that allows his No. 33 to go back to Kevin Haplea, who has returned to practice following a lost 2013 season because of a summer-time knee injury. Like Green, Stevenson is now on his third number entering his second year. Stevenson enrolled at FSU last spring as a linebacker wearing No. 51 but switched to the offensive side of the ball during fall camp.
On defense, redshirt freshman Tyrell Lyons has switched from No. 36 to No. 22 and early enrollee freshman safety Trey Marshall gets No. 20. Talk about big shoes to fill; Lyons and Marshall are replacing Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner in their respective jersey numbers.
Redshirt freshman Matthew Thomas wore No. 12 last year but the former five-star linebacker nicknamed "Six" is now wearing ... wait for it ... No. 6. After starring as a freshman at cornerback and safety last year, Jalen Ramsey gave up No. 13 and is now No. 8.
Early enrollee freshman long snapper Stephen Gabbard is wearing No. 49.
New-look quarterback depth chart
One year ago at this time, the buzz surrounding the quarterback corps at Florida State was a national story.
On the hunt for EJ Manuel's replacement, FSU entering the 2013 spring-practice period with a four-way quarterback battle between Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and rising redshirt freshmen Jameis Winston and Sean Maguire.
Of course we all know how that eventually played out. Twelve months later, Winston has a Heisman Trophy and a truckload of national and conference awards and a national championship.
Meanwhile, FSU lost Trickett to West Virginia before the season started and tehn Coker to Alabama after the title game. Winston came into spring practice Wednesday as the leader at a position with only one familiar face: Maguire. With John Franklin III the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster, the depth chart looks a lot different than it did this time last year.
Instead of looking for a starter, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher is in search of establishing the depth chart.
"[Franklin] is going to get a great shot, and the way we practice he is going to get as many reps as anyone else and I am very anxious to see John," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "John is a very athletic guy, tremendous athleticism as far as speed, throws the ball very well, very intelligent guy so we will see how he can process and make decisions within an offense and lead an offense. But to me that is one of the critical positions we need to develop and open that backup role because I think Sean [Maguire] would be very comfortable and John pushes him and how we go into things.
"I'm anxious to see how he handles his responsibilities. I think John has tremendous, tremendous upside."
Tyler Hunter back in the mix
One of the best things to see at the start of spring practice was the return of Tyler Hunter.
After sustaining a season-ending neck injury early in the 2013 season, Hunter's football playing career nearly came to an end. But a successful surgery and successful rehabilitation process has the redshirt junior back on the field and roaming the defensive secondary.
Hunter has returned to his starting position at safety and will take part in every practice. He'll wear a non-contact, jersey, though, throughout the duration of practices.
"He will go through every drill, tap off on everybody," Fisher said. "If he gets bumped into that's fine, he has a healthy body. By summer he will be cleared so he will be in every practice, every rep and he has had a very good offseason running extremely well."