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Florida State Football: Seminoles Who Could Surprise People This Spring

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

Florida State Football: Seminoles Who Could Surprise People This Spring

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Florida State opened spring camp this week, taking the field for the first time since beating Auburn in the national title, 34-31, and completing their perfect season.

    Having won the last championship of the BCS era, the Seminoles' focus now turns to winning the inaugural College Football Playoff. In the process, they plan to supplant Alabama as the foremost "dynasty" in FBS football—to plant their own flag.

    Enough talent returns from last year's team for that to be a realistic goal, but enough talent leaves to cause concern. As long as head coach Jimbo Fisher and Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston are in Tallahassee, this team must be considered a serious national title threat, but the defense must also be rebuilt.

    Spring practice is a good time to fill some holes on the roster. It's also a good chance for lesser-known players to emerge and make a name for themselves—if not for this year, then for next. It's the foundation of college football, the time the most actual coaching takes place.

    Here are some guys that could benefit.

QB John Franklin III

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Florida State's once-bountiful quarterback depth chart has been ravaged by transfers. Last year's backup, Jacob Coker, is gone to Alabama, following the lead of fellow former Seminole Clint Trickett, who saw some playing time at West Virginia last year.

    The battle behind Jameis Winston will be waged this spring between Kevin Maguire and John Franklin III. Freshman J.J. Cosentino joins the fray in the fall, so the reps Maguire and Franklin take this next month will be important in earning a leg up.

    Only 6'0'', Franklin is a fantastic athlete. Because of his speed and lack of height, there has been speculation that he might not be long for the quarterback position. But he performed well on the scout team last season—something Winston himself thinks is great for a young quarterback's development.

    "When you have our defense, running scout team offense really helps you," Winston said, per the team's official Twitter account. "John Franklin III benefits from doing that last year."

    According to Brandon Mellor of Seminoles.com, Fisher praised Franklin's athleticism and said he's "going to get as many reps as anyone else" at quarterback this spring. Now is his chance to prove he belongs under center and fits into the team's long-term plans.

    Let's see what he can do with it.

RB Mario Pender

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Mario Pender wouldn't shock anybody with a strong camp. According to the 247Sports composite, he was the No. 37 overall recruit in the 2012 class and has all the physical tools to become a contributor.

    Thus far, however, none of that has mattered. He redshirted as a freshman in 2012 and was ruled academically ineligible in 2013, leaving Pender without a carry through two years as a Seminole.

    This past few months have been interesting, to say the least, for the redshirt sophomore running back. The petty theft of his debit card by teammate Ira Denson led to an eventual shooting incident, although Pender was not the guilty party. (The full story of the ugly episode can be read here, via Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat.)

    Hopefully Pender has seen some sort of light, and the next set of stories with his name will be about on-field conduct instead of academic issues or anything else not related to football. He has the talent to help fill the void left by Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., and the injury to Dalvin Cook Jr.'s shoulder—which will keep the 5-star freshman out all spring—gives him even more opportunity to make a splash in camp.

    Ryan Green looked decent when he saw the field last year, but Pender, now that Cook won't be playing, is the one FSU fans want to see step up and claim the No. 2 job behind Karlos Williams this spring. His improvement might make this backfield as scary as it was in 2013.

    We'll see if he can finally put it together.

WR Isaiah Jones

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Isaiah Jones saw sparing reps as a freshman last season, finishing the year with two catches for 31 yards. But on what was the best receiving corps in college football, a small role is nothing to be ashamed of.

    This spring, Jones will stick out as the receiver with the closest physical resemblance to Kelvin Benjamin, who declared for the NFL draft after a breakout season and is expected to go in the first round. Jones isn't as thick as Benjamin, but he's 6'4'' with long arms and a good catch radius. He can do some of the same sorts of things.

    The Seminoles' depth chart is fluid this spring, as thee team looks to replace Benjamin and Kenny Shaw with mostly reserves and players returning from injury. With blue-chip newcomers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph not joining the team until fall, this whole group will need to perform well in spring.

    Lane, in particular, is of concern for Jones' purposes. He is also a bigger (6'3''), more physical target and was a 5-star recruit on the 247Sports composite. Unless Jones acquits himself well in spring camp, Lane is whom most fans will be rooting for to play.

    But don't rule out that healthy acquittal so fast.

    According to WCTV, Jimbo Fisher said Jones had a good offseason and that he looks forward to watching him play this coming month.

    Fisher won't be the only one.

DT Desmond Hollin

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    Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

    Desmond Hollin came to Florida State as a 3-star JUCO defensive end last season, which is to say that not much was expected of him.

    After playing sparing reps in his first year with the program, the needle on that expectation didn't change. Fans are still not sure what, if anything, Hollin can bring.

    The coaches see it another way.

    Having added weight and kicked inside to defensive tackle, Hollin is someone Jimbo Fisher thinks fans should keep an eye on. "I tell you what, Hollin has been off the charts," Fisher said, according to Brendan Mellor of Seminoles.com. And off the charts sounds pretty darn good.

    It's important to keep in mind that this is the start of spring practice. Praise from coaches can sometimes be empty; it seems like everyone had a terrific offseason. Neither coach nor player nor team stands to gain from someone getting panned in the media.

    Still, the position change and Fisher's comments make Holllin a name worth watching. With Timmy Jernigan departed, he could work his way into a rotation behind Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample.

    Why not?

S Trey Marshall

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The secondary provokes more questions than any position on Florida State's roster—but they are the good type of questions. It's not "how on Earth" will FSU replace LaMarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks?; it's "with what combination of whom?"

    One name to keep an eye on is early enrollee Trey Marshall, a 4-star prospect from Lake City, Fla., whom 247Sports rated the No. 6 safety and No. 85 overall player in the class. 

    With Tyler Hunter practicing but not cleared for contact after last year's scary neck injury, Marshall might have a shot to steal a spot in the starting secondary. Even if he doesn't, a good month of practice will make him part of the early rotation.

    Marshall doesn't enter with quite as much hype as Jalen Ramsey, the 5-star recruit who started at cornerback in Week 1 and played safety for much of last season, but he does have some of the same skills.

    Most notably with his speed, Marshall already looks like an FBS-level contributor. If he, Hunter and Nate Andrews all play well this spring, Ramsey might even get a look at the Star position—an effort to get as many talented players on the field at one time as possible.

    This is why recruiting depth matters. Man, what a luxury.

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