By: Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Spring practice is widely considered a proving ground for young players that are itching for their chance to impress the coaches. Although that remains the case for the Seminoles after losing four defensive starters to the NFL, this spring is also a chance for defensive coordinator to prove that his first season was a fluke. Last season, Charles Kelly’s defense saw a dramatic decline in production from a unit that was ranked No.2 in overall defense under Jeremy Pruitt just one season prior. Kelly will need a handful of young players to step up in place of the departed starters in order to hold on to his position. Here is a look at the most enticing position battles on defense this spring.
The Noles are losing experienced cornerback Ronald Darby to the NFL draft, leaving the field cornerback position up for grabs. Although the secondary endured a dramatic decrease in success last season, the loss of Darby and boundary cornerback, P.J. Williams, will have the coaches searching for answers at this position. Jalen Ramsey is moving to cornerback, a position he excelled in his freshman season before moving to safety. Ramsey’s move to the boundary solidifies this side of the field, but who will replace Darby on the wide side of the field?
Marquez White: White, a former point guard on the basketball team, possesses all the skills to be an All-American at corner. His tremendous length, speed and ball skills have given him the early lead in spring ball. With a big performance in this weekend’s spring game, the 6’1 cornerback could lock up the starting spot.
Ryan Green: What this former running back lacks in experience at the position he certainly doesn’t lack in athleticism. Green made the move to cornerback after a slew of injuries buried him in the depth chart. When healthy we saw Green flash his incredible speed and quickness, something that should translate well to the defensive backfield. A good performance in the spring game could narrow the gap between him and White. While it will take a lot for Green to surpass White, his spring performance will directly translate to the amount of playing time he receives this fall.
Malique Jackson: The redshirt freshman has been pegged as one of the best athletes on the team. Jackson, a high school quarterback, earned an offer from Jeremy Pruitt after a promising performance at Jimbo Fisher’s summer camp. His athleticism is clear, and with the lack of depth at the position, a strong spring game will help his chances to get on the field.
This wasn’t much of a position battle until it was announced that starting safety Tyler Hunter would miss six weeks with a knee injury. This wasn’t much of a position battle until it was announced that starting safety Tyler Hunter would miss six weeks with a knee injury. An impressive string of practices could give players the opportunity to take over Hunter’s spot when the season rolls around.
Lamarcus Brutus: While undersized, Brutus made the most of his opportunities last year when he was on the field. With two interceptions and consistent play, he is sure to get plenty of playing time this season. The injury to Hunter gives him a chance to show the coaches why he should be the starter during the season. I called him “ole reliable” when he came off of the bench last season because he was always in the right place at the right time. An impressive spring game from “ole reliable” could shake things up at this safety spot.
Derwin James: James, and early enrollee, comes in with all of the hype. He was the highest ranked safety in the nation, and had the film to back it up. It’s rumored that James is having a very strong spring, making it difficult to keep him off of the field. If this freshman plays close to his potential in the spring game, he is going to be difficult to keep off of the field.
Defensive Tackle: I believe that this is the position in desperate need of someone to burst onto the scene. With projected first rounder, Eddie Goldman gone, the Seminoles need a dominating force in the middle that can affect the run and the pass. Great defenses start with a strong defensive tackle clogging up the middle, allowing the linebackers to run free while they occupy the blockers. Let’s take a look at the players that will throw their hat in the ring.
Derrick Mitchell: Mitchell, who is constantly battling injuries, played well in fill-in duty for Nile Lawerence-Stample last season. He was very proficient in the passing game, but struggled to generate a push in run defense. If Mitchell doesn’t prove that he can dominate in run defense, one of the young hogs might push him into a reserve role.
Derrick Nnadi: When Nnadi made his way onto the field last season, you noticed it. He is very quick off of the line, and shows exceptional strength fighting off blocks. A big spring from this rising sophomore could push Mitchell out of his starting spot.
This spring is going to give us an opportunity to see if Charles Kelly is cut out for this job. Not only is he going to have to improve dramatically from last season, but he will have to do it without four NFL-bound players. The departures from these starters will make for better competition and hopefully those battles will lead to better play of the field. Bring your pen and paper to this Saturday’s spring game because there are going to be a lot of new faces out there fighting for a spot.
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.