Despite what was titled a “rebuilding year” at Florida State, the Seminoles won 10 games and reached one of college football’s top postseason games (Peach Bowl). During Jimbo Fisher’s six-year run in Tallahassee, Florida State has won at least 10 games in five of those seasons and has lost only six contests over the last four years. Needless to say, the bar is set high in Tallahassee, and Florida State opens spring practice as one of the favorites to win the national title in 2016. Running back Dalvin Cook is one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy, but Fisher needs to settle on a quarterback and generate more consistency from the offensive line and receiving corps. Six starters are back on defense, but there is work to do in the back seven. The Seminoles also lost standout kicker Roberto Aguayo early to the NFL. While there are holes to fill, Florida State is loaded with talent and primed for a spot among the nation’s best in 2016.
5 Storylines to Watch in Florida State’s Spring Practice
1. Quarterback Battle
The Seminoles are looking for more consistency out of this position after Everett Golson and Sean Maguire had an uneven performance last year. Golson expired his eligibility, while Maguire returns after throwing for 1,520 yards and 11 scores last season. However, Maguire suffered an ankle injury in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Houston and is slated to miss spring workouts. With Maguire sidelined, it’s unlikely Florida State will have much clarity at this position until the fall. However, Maguire’s absence means redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, sophomore J.J. Cosentino and true freshman Malik Henry will have an opportunity to impress. Francois is Maguire’s biggest competition for the starting job this offseason.
2. Developing Weapons at Receiver
This position isn’t lacking for talent or options, but coach Jimbo Fisher hopes the receiving corps will take a step forward with another offseason of experience. Travis Rudolph (59 catches last year) is the clear No. 1, while Kermit Whitfield (57) and Jesus Wilson (58) also return as key weapons. All three players are listed at 6-foot-1 and under, so there’s room for a bigger receiver to emerge. That list includes junior Ermon Lane (6-foot-3), George Campbell (6-foot-4) and Auden Tate (6-foot-5). Ja’Vonn Harrison, Da’Vante Phillips and Nyqwan Murray are also names expected to factor into the receiving corps this season. Talent isn’t an issue, but Fisher needs more overall production and big plays from this group.
3. Finding the Right Five on the Offensive Line
Last season was a rebuilding year in the trenches for the Seminoles. Four new starters took the field in last year's opener, with left tackle Roderick Johnson entrenched as this group’s leader and one of the top linemen in the ACC. As expected, this group had its share of ups and downs. Florida State surrendered 26 sacks and lacked overall consistency. The good news? Plenty of talent and experience returns to vie for snaps this offseason, and a strong incoming class of freshmen will bolster the depth for the fall. Johnson is back to anchor the group on the left side, and guard Wilson Bell returns after starting all 13 games last season. Brock Ruble (RT), Alec Eberle (center) and Kareem Are (left guard) finished the year as starters. Can they hold onto their spots this offseason? Chad Mavety, Derrick Kelly, Abdul Bello and Ryan Hoefield won’t practice this spring due to injury, so this group is likely to head into fall workouts with uncertainty and starting jobs up for grabs.
4. Concerns at Linebacker
This is the position likely giving Fisher and coordinator Charles Kelly the most concerns during spring workouts. Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup expired their eligibility, leaving Ro’Derrick Hoskins (52 tackles last year) as the top returner for this unit. Hoskins will be counted on for an even bigger role in 2016, and the Seminoles are hoping for a huge season from Matthew Thomas after sitting out the 2015 due to a violation of NCAA rules. Outside of Hoskins and Thomas, the development of Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane and Delvin Purifoy and recovery of Tyrell Lyons from a knee injury is worth watching this spring. True freshman Josh Brown – a four-star recruit – enrolled in time to compete in spring practice and is expected to push for snaps. There’s not a ton of proven depth here, but if Thomas develops into an impact player and Brown contributes as a freshman, most of the concerns about this group will dissipate.
5. Finding the Next Jalen Ramsey
Make no mistake: Jalen Ramsey will be missed in Florida State’s secondary next season. Sure, there is a lot of talent and potential for this group, but Ramsey was one of the nation’s top all-around defensive backs, and his versatility was a huge asset for the defensive staff. Senior Marquez White returns at cornerback after an underrated 2015 campaign and is expected to be the top cover option in the secondary. Sophomores Tarvarus McFadden, Calvin Brewton and Marcus Lewis will be vying for more playing time this season, while fellow sophomore Derwin James is poised to build off an impressive freshman campaign. Safety Trey Marshall returns after missing the final seven games due to injury last season, while incoming freshman Levonta Taylor ranked as a top 10 prospect in the 2016 247Sports Composite. Overall, this unit is in good shape with the talent and depth in place. Ramsey is a big loss, but if McFadden or Lewis emerges with a strong sophomore season, the drop off should be minimal.
Pre-Spring Florida State Outlook in the ACC
One of the toughest preseason debates for any prognosticator is the ACC Atlantic. Will Clemson claim the division title for the second year in a row behind quarterback Deshaun Watson? Or will the Seminoles return to top? All of the pieces are in place for Florida State to win the ACC, but how quickly will this team find an answer at quarterback? Is Sean Maguire ready to build off his 2015 performance? Or is redshirt freshman Deondre Francois the answer? Cook is the offense’s top playmaker, but this team needs more consistency from its passing game. The return of end DeMarcus Walker to Tallahassee and a talented group of defensive backs should alleviate the concerns about the linebackers. Hosting Clemson is a huge schedule advantage, but Florida State still has road trips to Louisville and Miami, along with a neutral site matchup against Ole Miss on the schedule.