Florida State head football coach Mike Norvell is embarking on his third season in Tallahassee, but this will be just his second full spring.
After losing those pivotal months in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, spring practice resumed last year. The results afterward, however, weren’t as many had hoped.
Although the Seminoles won five of their final eight games, they finished just 5-7. It was the fourth straight losing season for FSU after 41 straight winning campaigns.
In what could be a make-or-break year for Norvell, here are five things to watch during spring practice.
5 Storylines to Watch During Florida State's Spring Practice
1. Quarterback play
The quarterback job seems to be Jordan Travis' to lose. The Seminoles were a different team when Travis was behind center last year. Travis has always been an outstanding athlete, but he made tremendous strides as a passer last season. With spring being largely non-contact for quarterbacks, expect to see the coaching staff try to use it as an opportunity to develop Travis even further.
It will also be interesting to see who emerges as the No. 2 quarterback behind Travis. Tate Rodemaker is the only other returning scholarship signal-caller, but has been largely unimpressive when he's been on the field. The Seminoles are welcoming in a high school All-American in AJ Duffy, who projects as the quarterback of the future for FSU. He’s already on campus.
2. Early enrollees
Duffy will certainly be among a handful of early enrollee freshmen to watch this spring, but he’s hardly alone. Safety Sam McCall is the top-rated prospect in FSU's 2022 recruiting class and is talented enough to see the field right away. How the defensive staff uses McCall will be something to watch this spring.
Azareye'h Thomas, Rodney Hill and Brian Courtney all arrive at FSU as athletes. Thomas is listed as a defensive back while Hill and Courtney will play on the offensive side of the ball. Hill is listed as a running back while Courtney is a tight end. Observing how well they do in those positions will be something to keep an eye on.
For the second year in a row, Florida State racked up on transfers. Last season, transfers such as Jermaine Johnson II, Keir Thomas, Jammie Robinson and Dillan Gibbons were wildly successful. FSU hopes for similar results this time around.
Tatum Bethune, a former UCF linebacker, may be the biggest name. After recording 100 tackles last season, he’ll be joining a solid corps that includes Amari Gainer, DJ Lundy and Kalen DeLoach. Although it has made strides under position coach and now offensive coordinator Alex Atkins, the offensive line has not been a strength in some time. At that position, newcomers Kayden Lyles and Bless Harris are two players to watch.
Lyles comes over from Wisconsin and is expected to play center for the Seminoles. Lyles was on the preseason Rimington Trophy watch list last season. Harris comes to FSU from Lamar and hopes to play early on. On the other side of the trenches is another FCS transfer, Albany defensive end Jared Verse. FSU also added four wide receivers this offseason.
4. Pass rush
The Seminoles return several key contributors on defense, but one area where it has lost a lot of production is with its pass rush. The Seminoles will have to replace Johnson and Thomas, who combined for 18.5 sacks and 30 tackles for a loss in 2021. Both were All-ACC honorees with Johnson being named the conference's defensive player of the year.
FSU may have to rely a little more on the interior to assist with the pass rush this season, but Verse is expected to fill a huge void. At Albany last season, the 250-pound product recorded 9.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss.
Dennis Briggs Jr. is another player to watch. He was off to a solid start in 2021 before a season-ending injury. Derrick McLendon II, Quashon Fuller, Jarrett Jackson and Leonard Warner III are among the other names that FSU hopes will emerge this spring and in 2022.
5. Offensive skill positions
When it comes to the skill positions, jobs appear to be up for grabs for FSU entering spring practice. The loss of Jashaun Corbin leaves a pretty significant void in the backfield, but former walk-on Treshaun Ward led the ACC in yards per carry last season and Lawrance Toafili seems to have limitless potential. Former Auburn running back D.J. Williams looks to add his power-running style to the mix.
Where FSU is most intriguing is out wide. The Seminoles return six of their top seven receivers, but no one hit the 400-yard mark in that department last season. Ontaria Wilson and Keyshawn Helton are the veterans of the corps, but Ja'Khi Douglas and Malik McClain showed real potential last season. This offseason, FSU added four transfers at the position with unique skill sets.
Mycah Pittman, Deuce Spann and Winston Wright Jr. – all transfers – can all be used in a variety of ways. The Seminoles also added a big target from Arizona State in 6-foot-7 Johnny Wilson. Despite not adding a single receiver in this recruiting class, FSU appears to be deep at the position. Tight end Camren McDonald could also be on the verge of a breakout spring and season for the Seminoles.
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.