Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
The Jameis Winston era is over, and for the first time in two seasons the Florida State coaching staff will be searching for a new quarterback. Not only are the Seminoles looking for a signal-caller to replace the most prolific quarterback in FSU history, but they will also have to find a way to replace eight offensive starters from last year’s Rose Bowl team. Although the quarterback competition will garner the majority of the attention, there are a handful of positions that are up for grabs. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing position battles on offense this spring.
The coaches and fans were spoiled the past two seasons with one of the most talented quarterbacks in college football history. It’s hard to remember the days when our fan base was longing for a quarterback to take their talented team to the next level. We waited for Chris Rix to do it, prayed that Xavier Lee could do it, wished that Christian Ponder would do it, and wondered if E.J. Manuel was capable of doing it. Then comes this redshirt freshman, Jameis Winston, and I think we all know how that turned out. The question is, who will replace him?
Sean Maguire: Maguire is thought to be the leader in the clubhouse because of his game experience and familiarity with Jimbo Fisher’s system. He has one victory under his belt after beating No.22 Clemson last season in place of a suspended Winston. While his performance could be described as lackluster, he did come out with a win to keep the Noles’ undefeated season alive. The New Jersey native can increase his chances heading into fall practice with a strong spring.
John Franklin: Franklin is the “ugly duckling” among a group of pro-style, pocket passing quarterbacks. What he lacks in size (6’0 180) he certainly doesn’t lack in speed and athleticism, as he is a part-timer on the track team. If Franklin doesn’t take advantage of his chances this spring, we could see him moved back to wide receiver, a spot that he briefly attempted during the season.
J.J. Consentino: The big, Pittsburgh native, is known for his cannon of an arm. The knock on the redshirt freshman is that he lacks experience. If Cosentino can prove to the coaching staff that he has a full grasp on the system, his physical talents could give Maguire a run for his money.
As if losing one of the best quarterbacks in school history wasn’t enough, Florida State will also have to replace the most productive wide out in school history. Rashad Greene has been “ole reliable” since his freshman season when he bailed out a Clint Trickett jump ball against Oklahoma. Replacing Greene will be no easier on the staff than replacing Winston, so let’s take a look at who might take over as the Seminoles’ No.1.
Travis Rudolph: Rudolph erupted onto the scene against NC State last season and never looked back. Despite a few poorly run routes that led to interceptions, the former 5-star receiver displayed his ability to make big plays. Rudolph has shown how capable he is at making guys miss, and if he can polish his routes this offseason, you might just have your replacement.
Jesus ‘Bobo’ Wilson: This is a guy that was expected to have a significant impact in the slot last year in place of Kenny Shaw. Unfortunately the things that we remember most about him were his multitude of drops and his early season suspension. There is no denying that Wilson is a talented athlete, but we are all waiting for the potential to turn into production. A good spring would not only go a long way in the coaches’ eyes, but would greatly improve his confidence on the field.
Ermon Lane: Lane is a player that I have a variety of opinions on. Some people think he had a phenomenal freshman campaign last season while others, like myself, found it very mundane. I can recall a number of drops, two of which would have been touchdowns. One area that Lane excelled in was blocking, and in this system if you can block well, you are going to be on the field. If Lane has a breakout spring, and improves his consistency catching the football, we will see him shine in this offense.
George Campbell: This is the wild card! Campbell is an early enrollee from the 2015 recruiting class, already participating in spring practice. With a long frame to pair with his blazing speed (he’s been clocked as low as a 4.35), Campbell has the ability to be a contributor from day one. The pressure from this freshman should raise the competition of the rest of the receiving unit, but make no mistake about it, he’s not there to push the other guys, he is there to win the job.
Much like the departure of Winston and Greene, the Seminoles are also losing the best player in school history at the tight end position. Nick O’Leary took home the John Mackey award last season, which is awarded to the nation’s top tight end. Replacing a player like that will be no easy task. The candidates to replace O’Leary lack experience, with the oldest of the group being a redshirt sophomore-to-be, but they certainly don’t lack size.
Jeremy Kerr: Kerr is known to be tremendous blocker with reliable hands. He isn’t the athlete that O’Leary was in the form of a play-maker from the tight end position. If Kerr shows his ability to catch the football and move the chains this spring, there is a good chance that he locks down the starting spot.
Ryan Izzo: The redshirt freshman has a great frame to contribute, standing 6’6, 236. In high school he made plenty of plays down field with his athleticism and with Kerr being more of a blocking tight end, Izzo has a chance to be that threat in the passing game.
Mavin Saunders: This is my personal favorite at the position because of his freakish athleticism. Saunders was a 3-star basketball recruit coming out of high school last season, and that athleticism translates in to a dynamic receiving threat. Saunders has the ability to split out wide, and with his 6’6 frame, he could give defensive coordinators fits in the red zone. Look for Saunders to emerge as a reliable target in the passing game.
This is one of the least glorified positions in football, but as we saw last year after the departure of Bryan Stork, it may be one of the most important. The center is the quarterback of the offensive line. Along with being the anchor in the middle, they are vital in helping identify defensive blitz packages. Until Cam Erving moved to center last season, the offensive line was brutal. With Erving hoping to hear his name called in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, offensive line coach Rick Trickett will once again be scrambling to find a replacement at center.
Alec Eberle: The redshirt freshman center is known for his mean streak. He plays nasty and aggressive, but with limited reps with the starting unit, Eberle is going to have to be tried by fire. This spring is crucial for him to lock up the starting spot and earn Trickett’s trust. If Trickett isn’t sold on Eberle coming out of spring ball, look for the veteran coach to move guys around in search of a general in the middle.
Ryan Hoefeld: Hoefeld started four games last season in place of injured Austin Barron. While he deserves the benefit of the doubt for his emergency fill-in duties, he simply was overmatched. Hoefeld needs this spring to regain his confidence and build some strength because even if he doesn’t win the starting job, he will likely be first off the bench in case of injury.
Jimbo Fisher will earn his paycheck this spring as he will try to magically mend together an offensive unit that is missing some of its’ biggest contributors from last season. This spring will provide these young players with the opportunity to step up and try to fill the shoes of some Seminole greats.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Three 5-star defensive recruits headline Florida State’s star-studded recruiting class. Defensive coordinator, Charles Kelly, will certainly expect some of these highly regarded players to come in and contribute from game one. The defensive unit will be missing four starters from last year’s squad, all whom would be seniors this season, including the team’s two starting cornerbacks. Here is a look at some of the incoming freshman that I expect to earn significant playing time this upcoming season:
Tarvarus McFadden Cornerback (5-star)- McFadden is a rare cornerback that fits the Antonio Cromartie mold. With a 6’3 frame, he has extremely long arms that make jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage a breeze. His ability to turn his hips and run with smaller receivers as well as his physicality at the line of scrimmage should give McFadden a tremendous chance to see the field as a freshman, and possibly start. The Seminoles two starting cornerbacks, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams, have departed to the NFL leaving both cornerback spots open for next season. In addition to his upside on the perimeter of a defense, he proved to be a dangerous returner at the high school level. I can’t imagine a scenario that would keep McFadden off of the field.
Derwin James Safety (5-star)**- This guy is on another level. Do yourself a favor and check out his film. James has the speed of a cornerback and the bone jarring hits that most expect from a linebacker. Every time he makes contact, he inflicts pain on the opponent. James reminds me of a faster Sean Taylor and that’s about the highest praise a safety can receive. Starting safety, Tyler Hunter, had a subpar season after returning from a neck injury in 2013. Despite Hunter’s seniority, James will push him to the limit not only for playing time, but also for the starting spot. Expect to see a lot of him this season even if he doesn’t win the job outright. James is already enrolled in school and will begin his campaign for the starting spot this spring.
Josh Sweat Defensive End (5-star)**- The only way to describe Josh Sweat’s athletic ability is that it is “freakish.” He resembles former 5-star recruit and 2014 No.1 overall NFL draft pick, Jadeveon Clowney. He has the size, speed and strength to be an elite player at the college level and before a knee injury in high school, was a top five recruit in the country. Sweat is already on campus and receiving treatment on his knee from the FSU medical staff, which should allow him to make a full recovery by the season. After losing Mario Edwards Jr. to the NFL, new defensive ends coach, Brad Lawing, will be looking for an end that can wreck havoc in the opponents’ backfield. As the season progresses, expect to see a lot of Josh Sweat as he adjusts to the college game.
Lorenzo Phillips Linebacker (3-star)- Phillips is a JUCO transfer who originally signed with LSU in 2012. He has experience at the college level, playing in the first nine games of his redshirt freshman season as a back-up linebacker for the Tigers. Phillips should be ready to contribute right away since he is already accustomed to the speed of the college game and the Noles will look to him early on after starting linebacker, Reggie Northrup, tore his ACL in the last game of the season. He should see plenty of playing time on special teams and as a reserve linebacker.
Marcus Lewis Cornerback/Safety (4-star)- Lewis was the signing day surprise, committing without taking an official visit to Tallahassee. The former Gator commit, is a rangy player, standing 6’1, who can play cornerback or safety. He is exceptionally athletic as shown by his film where he is not only dominating the competition on defense, but at wide receiver as well. The Noles will start him off at cornerback, where depth is lacking as I mentioned earlier with the absence of P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. He will have a fighting chance to earn a starting spot, but we will likely see him coming off of the bench at cornerback and starting on special teams.
** Denotes recruits that are already enrolled in the school and are taking part in spring football
While the returning players on defense are young, they do have plenty of experience. However, they are lacking star power outside of Jalen Ramsey and that will open the door for these freshman defenders to make an early impact for the Seminoles. I expect big things out of this group and think that Charles Kelly will throw them into the fire early on in the season before the Noles reach the meat of their schedule.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Florida State pieced together another stellar recruiting class earlier this month, headlined by five 5-star recruits. The Noles will look to replace eight starters on the offensive side of the ball and will surely look to some of these incoming freshmen to contribute from day one. Here is a look at a few offensive prospects that I expect to battle for early playing time and make an impact in their freshman season.
Cole Minshew Offensive Guard (3-star)- Minshew is a mauling guard that excels in run blocking. Listed at 6’4, 350 pounds, he has the size and mean streak to catch the eye of offensive line coach Rick Trickett in fall camp. After losing starting guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias, Minshew will have a great opportunity to play right away.
Jacques Patrick Running Back (5-star)**- Jimbo Fisher has talked about the importance of having an “SEC type running back” since his days as FSU’s offensive coordinator. He had a back that was close to that in James Wilder, and experimented the last two seasons with Karlos Williams. With Williams graduating, Fisher will be looking for a big back who is powerful enough to move the chains, but dynamic enough to rip off a big gain and catch the ball out of the backfield. He won’t have to look any further than Patrick, who is listed at 6’1, 225 pounds. Patrick has dominated recruiting camps for years with his vision as a runner and his reliable hands for a running back. Patrick should see significant playing time from game one, as he brings skills that no other running back on the roster can provide.
George Campbell Wide Out (5-star)**- This kid is a freak, there is really no other way to describe him. He has the long frame (6’3, 185) that you love in an outside wide receiver, but has the blazing speed of a smaller slot receiver. Campbell dominated at the Under Armour All-American game in January because his skill set is simply unfair to defensive backs. With the graduation of Rashad Greene, the Noles will be looking to add playmakers to the starting lineup aside from Travis Rudolph, who had a stellar freshman season. Campbell has the size and ability to come in and immediately be the deep threat that Florida State has been looking for.
Auden Tate Wide Out (4-star)- Florida State’s offense clearly missed the dynamic aspect that Kelvin Benjamin brought to the passing attack two seasons ago. Tate (6’5, 215) is built very similar to Benjamin (6’5, 240) who dominated the pro level in his rookie season racking up 1,008 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tate can bring that kind of redzone presence that the Noles were in search for last season. He is a player that has an extremely large catch radius and has shown that he is consistent with catching the football. If he can come in and learn the route tree, I think we will see a very big impact from him as a blocking receiver and a redzone threat. (Think about Tate (6’5) and Campbell (6’3) in the redzone! That’s an instant upgrade to the receiving unit.)
Deondre Francois Quarterback (4-star)- When you talk about a cannon of an arm, you have to mention Francois. After a year of tutelage from former FSU great Chris Weinke, at IMG academy, Francois skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings. His touch improved dramatically from the days where every pass was a bullet. At the Under Armour Game, Francois picked apart the secondary on a touchdown scoring drive. His arm strength is undeniable, but his ability to read defenses will be the determining factor in his chances to start in place of the departed Jameis Winston. It will be an open competition in spring and fall camp. Not being enrolled early like his 4-star counterpart De’Andre Johnson is likely to dampen his chances, but his ability alone will give the coaches a lot to think about.
Da’Vante Phillips Wide Out (4-star)**- As I’ve mentioned before, the Noles were in a desperate search for a big, physical wide receiver last season. Adding Phillips with Campbell and Tate should immediately improve the physicality of a smaller group of receivers from last season. We saw with Ermon Lane last season that wide receivers coach, Lawrence Dawsey, will not hesitate to play a freshman if they prove to be reliable blockers on the outside. Lane had his struggles to catch the ball, but was the best blocker in the unit. Phillips brings that same type of physicality in the blocking game, but is also known for his strong hands. Phillips should be able to work his way into the rotation, and could be a reliable option on third downs.
** denotes recruits that are already enrolled in the school and are taking part in spring football.
The attrition on offense will open up eight starting spots. Most of the back-ups lack experience, which should give these freshmen a fighting chance to earn a spot on the field. One thing we know about the Seminoles coaching staff is that the best players will play, regardless of age.
By: Alex Turko
With just one day separating Florida State’s top prospects pen from the dotted line, Jimbo Fisher is fighting to close the recruiting cycle with a bang. Signatures from some of the highest ranked recruits in the country could mean an immediate boost to an already talented Seminole football team. Fisher has been a national recruiting force since he arrived at Florida State in 2007, and this year is no different. The Noles recruiting class is currently ranked in the top-5 according to Rivals.com and will look to improve upon that ranking come February 4th.
The Seminoles have the most 5-star recruits committed in the country, but what’s even more impressive is that four of these five blue chips are already on campus and enrolled in classes. That means that these elite players are already working out with the team and learning the playbook, making the possibility of them earning early playing time much more realistic.
Jimbo Fisher has twenty-one prospects committed to date and with limited spots remaining, here’s a look at the two main positions that Florida State should be focusing on:
*This list does not include positions of need that have already been successfully addressed (assuming the verbal commitments sign with FSU): Safety, Offensive Line, Quarterback*
Cornerback: With Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams bolting for the NFL, FSU will look to reload at cornerback after failing to sign one last year. The Noles already have a phenomenal player committed in 5-star CB Tarvarus McFadden but would love to add one more pure corner to the class (4-stars, A.J. Westbrook and Calvin Brewton are wild cards who can play “star,” corner or safety).
FSU has narrowed their focus on two 5-stars, Iman Marshall, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, an Alabama commit. Marshall is the top dog remaining at this position and has earned his ranking by dominating the competition at every venue he’s attended. Landing one of these players would be ideal, but landing both would be an enormous enhancement to a position that lacks depth. Both of these talented cornerbacks could earn significant playing time this season if they were to choose the Noles.
Defensive Tackle: The defensive line took a big hit when junior defensive tackle, Eddie Goldman, decided to turn pro after a break out year. The Seminoles brought in an assembly of tackles in last year’s recruiting cycle, but only reaped the benefits from one, Derrick Nnadi. The defensive coaches will still look for more of those recruits to contribute next season after a year of developing, but in the mean time would love to add one beast in the middle to this class.
Florida State already has one 4-star defensive tackle committed in Darvin Taylor, but is hot on the trail of highly ranked 4-star Terry Beckner Jr. Without a dominating force already entrenched in the Seminoles line-up, Beckner Jr. could be called into action early in his freshman year if he decided to bring his talents to Tallahassee.
Regardless of how the Noles close out the recruiting cycle, this class is one of the best in the country and will provide Fisher with a plethora of athletes that can contribute next season. If FSU adds one cornerback on Wednesday, everything else will be icing on the cake.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
The inaugural college football playoffs concluded Monday night after the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Oregon Ducks 42-20 in AT&T Stadium. Watching the Buckeyes defense completely dominate the high-powered Ducks offensive attack has given Seminole fans a lot to think about.
Ohio State held Marcus Mariota and Oregon’s offense to an abysmal 2-for-12 (16%) on third downs while the Seminoles allowed them to convert on 7 of their 12 attempts (58%). The Buckeyes found a way to stonewall Oregon’s dominate rushing attack, only allowing 132 yards on the ground. When Florida State tried to stop this offense, they marched all over the Noles for 301 yards. Ohio State also found a way to get consistent pressure on Mariota, a task that seemed impossible for Florida State.
There are a lot of people that will point to the Seminoles 5 turnovers as the reason for this collapse, but guess what, the Buckeyes also gave the ball away 4 times and faired much better. When Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes needed the defense to get a stop after an offensive turnover, they were able to. On the flip side, when the Noles needed a stop…. well, you saw the final score.
This was the same Oregon offense that gashed the Noles defense for 639 yards just 10 days prior, so why couldn’t Florida State do what Ohio State did? Most people will put the majority of the blame on FSU’s defensive coordinator, Charles Kelly.
Whether it’s fair for Kelly to shoulder the blame or not, it’s easy to see why the fans are quick to point the finger in his direction. Last season Jeremy Pruitt lead one of the most dominating defenses in school history that ranked 3rd in the nation in total defense. That NFL caliber defense only allowed 21 touchdowns throughout the entire season. This season, Kelly’s unit was ranked 61st in total defense and allowed 44 touchdowns. So what went so brutally wrong to make Kelly’s defense much worse than Pruitt’s when schematically, they are quite similar?
Well for starters, the Noles lost 5 phenomenal starters to the NFL and some key back-ups. All five of these players weren’t just stars on the field, but they were imposing leaders that glued this unit together. In the beginning of the season I alluded to the fact that the defense lacked leadership, but in no way did I think that it would become this detrimental to its success. I thought that the talent alone would be enough to overpower opposing offenses but that wasn’t the case.
What fans need to realize before they start a riot to fire Charles Kelly is that there was not one single senior starter on defense. That is extremely rare for a team with a roster as a deep as the one in Tallahassee. On top of the lack of leadership, we saw how the lack of experience hindered the performances of this unit. I think that another component to the lackluster season performance was complacency. There were multiple occasions where I felt as though certain players had this aura about them that “we are the defending champs and we’re better than you.” It’s hard not to feel that way after dominating in the fashion that they did the season before, but when you have that attitude it’s hard to be as hungry for success play in and play out.
Don’t write off Kelly just yet because we’ve seen defensive coordinators turn programs around in their second season. Last year there were a lot of Clemson Tiger fans that wondered if Brent Venables was the right man for the job. In his first season as defensive coordinator, his unit was ranked 25th in the country in total defense, but after one short season his defensive skyrocketed to 1st in the nation for the 2014 season. The team that just shutdown Oregon’s potent offense had defensive coordinator questions going into this season too. Last season the Ohio State faithful were wondering if Luke Fickell was the weak link. But we saw what he did this season, improving the unit from 46th in 2013 to 19th this season.
With the loss of 4 underclassmen to the NFL Draft this offseason we could be in for another dreary season defensively, but there is hope that this uber talented recruiting class can provide instant impact players to add a spark to this mundane unit. I think with the majority of contributors from the freakish championship defense departed, the younger players will be hungry to prove their abilities and allow this defense to take strides in the right direction.
Sometimes we write people off too soon, and other times our initial assessment was spot on. I can’t tell you whether or not Charles Kelly will be able to revive this defense, but I can say that it’s too soon to make any irrational decisions. Kelly will be on the hot seat next season, and as we’ve seen so many times in this business, pressure will either elevate you, or cripple you. What’s it gonna be?