It’s a new day in Tallahassee. Florida State head coach Willie Taggart now embarks on his first spring as the top guy for the Seminoles and looks to make his mark.
Despite a 7-6 finish to 2017, FSU does enter the spring with a bit of momentum on its side. The Seminoles not only closed the campaign on a four-game winning streak, but the addition of Taggart has struck a chord with the fan base.
As the start of spring ball is upon us, FSU looks to build upon a strong finish and return to national prominence. There are many questions for the Taggart era, but the spring season will help to answer many.
5 Storylines to Watch During Florida State’s Spring Practice
1. Quarterback competition
The single biggest question of the spring and ensuing offseason looks to be who will start at quarterback. Deondre Francois (above, right), a redshirt junior, was the ACC’s Rookie of the Year in 2016, leading the Seminoles to an Orange Bowl victory, 10-win season and No. 8 national ranking. However, Francois struggled in the 2017 opener against Alabama before going down with a season-ending patella tendon injury. Taggart said in his pre-spring press conference on Monday that Francois is still recovering and he will not be a full participant.
Francois' injury opened the door for James Blackman, who became the first true freshman to start a game for the Seminoles in 32 years. Blackman had his highs and lows, but came on strong late in the year. Blackman has put on needed pounds this offseason and is the more prototypical passer. Bailey Hockman, a redshirt freshman, shouldn’t be slept on either.
2. Veteran buy-in
The youngsters for the Seminoles seemed to have embraced the changes brought with Willie Taggart, but it will be interesting to see how willing some of the older players, who saw significant playing time with former head coach Jimbo Fisher, will be to buy in. Players like center Alec Eberle, running back Jacques Patrick, defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas and others have all been contributing or starting for some time.
With perhaps a slipping sense of security, it will be worth watching to see if the veterans are willing to adapt. If not, the Seminoles could boast a young lineup across the board in 2018.
3. New-look defense
Not only is Florida State bringing in a new head coach, but a new defensive coordinator as well. Harlon Barnett comes over from Michigan State, where his Spartans ranked ninth a season ago in total defense and 23rd in scoring defense. With the change, FSU is expected to play a lot of Cover 4, just as Michigan State did a season ago.
As far as the defense goes, the Seminoles will have to replace six starters, including Josh Sweat, Derrick Nnadi, Matthew Thomas and Derwin James. The good news is that there are a lot of promising players returning such as Christmas, defensive end Brian Burns and cornerback Levonta Taylor. That’s on top of a recruiting class loaded with defensive talent, which includes early enrollees Amari Gainer, a linebacker, and safety Jaiden Woodbey.
4. “Lethal simplicity”
That’s how Taggart described his offense when asked during his opening press conference. Taggart’s offense is a run-heavy scheme that will mix in the zone read and jet sweep while featuring wide splits for offensive linemen. The passing game features a lot of screens as well as deep shots down the field.
In general, the offense tends to go up-tempo, which will be a new look for the Seminoles after playing at a snail’s pace last season. The offense tends to feature a number of bodies as well. Youngsters like running back Khalan Laborn and wide receiver DJ Matthews could take on larger roles.
5. Youngsters in first spring
The Seminoles have three freshmen enrolled early, but for a number of young players, this will be their first spring in garnet and gold. That includes Blackman, Laborn, defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and safety Hamsah Nasirildeen among others.
With a year under their belts, the spring should afford fans to get a chance to see just how far along some of the youngsters have come and how well they might fit in the schemes of Taggart and Barnett. With a number of spots being wide open, this spring will provide an opportunity for a number of players to show they’re ready to take the next step toward meaningful playing time or perhaps even a starting job.