With great success comes great expectations, and with great expectations come unrealistic demands; and after last year's 14-0 season and BCS national championship, that is the exact position Florida State fans find themselves in before the annual Garnet & Gold Game this weekend.
With Jameis Winston, Karlos Williams, Nick O'Leary, Rashad Greene and four of five offensive linemen returning, as well as an influx of blue-chip skill players coming in, the offense is expected to pick up right where it left off in 2014. Starting with the spring game on Saturday afternoon, nothing other than a similar mode of success will be accepted.
This is both fair and unfair. Fair because, realistically, there is no reason the offense should be worse than last season, despite the losses of Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, Devonta Freeman and Bryan Stork. FSU fans are right to expect another dominant unit in the fall.
It's unfair to expect such quick cohesion, however, especially in the passing game. Having lost probably his two favorite targets from a season ago, Winston can (but won't) be forgiven if he struggles with things such as timing and rhythm on Saturday.
What Jimbo Fisher and the staff need to see from Winston is simple: that he cares. If he misses a couple of throws he would have made last season, there will be stories written about baseball screwing up his mechanics—but stories like that would be farcical.
We know that his arm will be fine.
All that really matters is that he comes out and plays with his normal joie de vivre. He needs to play hard but have fun; he needs to basically be...well, Jameis.
Elsewhere on the offense, it's fair to say Mario Pender needs to play well. Williams will be the starter and the closest thing to a workhorse next season, but Fisher likes to split his tailback touches evenly, as noted in this mid-February piece by David Hale of ESPN.com.
It's a shame, for the larger body of Seminoles, that sophomore Ryan Green and early enrollee Dalvin Cook Jr. suffered injuries this spring and will have to miss the scrimmage. But for Pender, a former blue-chipper himself who has the potential to contribute if he ever screws his head on straight, Saturday will be an opportune moment.
At receiver, Fisher needs to see at least one player not named "Greene" step up and prove he will contribute in 2014.
It's not the end of the world if the spring roster isn't deep at the position, as freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph will enter the mix this fall—which should yield at least one (and maybe even two) instant-impact players. It would be a problem, however, if those guys needed to contribute in year one, instead of it being a luxury.
Names to watch on Saturday include Christian Green and Isaiah Jones on the outside, and Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield, Jesus "Bobo" Wilson and Jarred "Scooter" Haggins in the slot.
On defense, Fisher can expect to see a changing of the guard, of sorts, with respect to leadership roles.
Starting at the top with new coordinator Charles Kelly, who replaces Jeremy Pruitt, and continuing through the roster now that guys such as Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones are departed, FSU's defense is looking for a new voice of command.
One candidate for the role might be sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who last year became the first Seminole since Deion Sanders to start as a true freshman at cornerback (before eventually making the switch to safety and continuing to play well).
He's been moved all around the defense during camp and should continue to be in the spring game and even come fall, but it's his leadership that Fisher wants to see improve. After the Seminoles' second scrimmage, Ramsey spoke with reporters about those skills, saying he's a quiet guy by nature—a leader by example—but he knows he must improve as an oral force if this team wants to get better:
I feel like I need to step up in (the leadership) area. I'm not really a vocal person, I just go out there and do it myself. I first have to make sure I do my job—and then lead by example more than I do vocally.
But after that, yeah, I feel like I should step up a little more vocally. And I feel like I do at times.
Beyond that, Fisher needs to see a group of former blue-chip recruits take the next step. That process starts on the defensive line with Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman, who played well in spots last season but are now being counted on as every-down, high-motor anchors.
The same thing goes at linebacker, actually. Terrance Smith returns, but Ukeme Eligwe and Matthew Thomas—the latter of whom was the No. 8 overall player on the 247Sports composite in 2013—must eventually, by the start of next season, turn athletic potential into consistent production to alleviate the losses of Jones and Smith.
Do they have to show that in earnest by Saturday's spring game? No. Not really. There is still time for Fisher and Kelly to drill them.
But, at the very least, Eligwe and Thomas must show some flashes.
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