Florida State Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2014

Florida State Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

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    Florida State will finish up spring camp with its annual Garnet and Gold Game on Saturday afternoon. The intrasquad exhibition will broadcast live at 3:00 p.m. ET on ESPN's flagship channel because...well, this is college football in the year 2014.

    Fresh off a BCS National Championship—the last BCS National Championship—in 2013-14, Seminoles stars such as Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving, Mario Edwards, Nate Andrews and Jalen Ramsey will take the field before public eyes for the first time since beating Auburn on a last-minute touchdown, 34-31.

    However, the long list of players absent from last year's team is just as troubling as the list of returnees is encouraging. FSU dealt with a similar NFL exodus after 2012, which is reassuring, but there are still questions to answer up and down the depth chart.

    Will Saturday provide an answer to all those questions? Of course not. Injuries to key young players and the impending arrival of 247Sports' No. 4 recruiting class make fall camp a pivotal exercise; the spring game is more about digging for clues than actually solving problems.

    But it should still be a whole mess of fun.


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    Official Title: Garnet and Gold Game

    When: Saturday, April 12 at 3:00 p.m. ET

    Where: Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.

    TV: ESPN



    Whereas some teams run a variant-scrimmage format in the spring game—things ranging from open practice and position drills to a game between the offense and the defense—Florida State splits its squad into two halves and plays a full, 60-minute exhibition.

    For obvious reasons, the quarterbacks are not allowed to be hit, so the play is blown dead when a defender gets his hands on him.

Position Battles to Watch

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    Wide Receiver

    Rashad Greene returns after leading the team with 76 catches and 1,128 yards, but the loss of Kelvin Benjamin on the outside and Kenny Shaw in the slot vacates, essentially, two starting spots at receiver, as all three had more than 53 catches and 930 yards in 2013.

    On the outside, senior Christian Green (6'2'') and sophomore Isaiah Jones (6'4'') have the size to force some of the same matchup problems that Benjamin did, and their battle on Saturday should provide insight on who leaves spring camp atop the depth chart.

    In the slot, three nicknamed speedsters—senior Jarred "Scooter" Haggins and sophomores Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield and Jesus "Bobo" Wilson—will compete for the first crack at replacing Shaw in fall camp.

    According to The News Herald, Wilson has drawn the praise of head coach Jimbo Fisher and appears to be coming on strong as of late. 



    Florida State loses Christian Jones and Telvin Smith from last year's linebacking corps, but it returns one starter in Terrance Smith and has probably done the best job in the country of recruiting the position these past three seasons.

    Ukeme Eligwe, Matthew Thomas, Reggie Northrup and E.J. Levenberry should all figure into the rotation next season, but the spring game and fall practice will dictate where and how often they see the field.

Top Storylines

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    Leadership on Defense

    Who is the leader of this defense?

    The absence of Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan, Christian Jones, Terrence Brooks and Telvin Smith leaves a swirling void where once a group of vocal, experienced leaders once stood. Who will assume the same role during the spring game?

    The job may fall onto do-it-all defensive back Jalen Ramsey, simply by virtue of talent. He is tough and willing to do anything to help the team win, including switching to nearly every position in the secondary.

    Even though he's a true sophomore and not the type to get in a teammate's face, Ramsey is being counted on, at the very least, to lead by example with his play.

    But will someone else—someone like, say, defensive end Mario Edwards—make the leap on the field and in the huddle this season?


    Summer Arrivals Loom Over Passing Game

    The receivers who were discussed earlier on the "Position Battles" slide are aware of their situation.

    Two incoming players at the position were top-45 overall prospects on the 247Sports Composite—Ermon Lane (24) and Travis Rudolph (43)—and if the receivers' performances are not up to snuff on Saturday, it's all the more likely they will be beaten out by true freshmen.

    Because of their height—Lane is 6'3'', Rudolph is 6'1''—and style of play, this goes more for Christian Green and Isaiah Jones on the outside than the guys who are competing for time in the slot. But Jimbo Fisher is going to put the best players on the field no matter what.

    No one will back into a starting role.


    Jameis Winston's Mechanics

    According to Jared Shanker of ESPN.com, reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston is not content with some of his (perceived) mechanic flaws and has been tweaking his throwing motion this spring:

    Winston is alternating between throwing from the quarterback's pocket and the pitcher’s mound this spring, limiting his time to focus on mechanics. Two weeks ago, Winston laid out his spring goals; to hold the football higher and generate more power with his hips during his delivery. Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders proposed the tweaks to Winston following the national championship game. 

    Through nine practices, Fisher said Winston’s adjusted well to the tinkering “at times” but that it’s still a work in progress. That isn’t unexpected, however, as Winston toys with his mechanics, which are never easy for a quarterback to alter, while also splitting his time between football and baseball.

    How will Winston's motion look on Saturday? There is, after all, that famous old expression—something about not fixing what ain't broke.

    This is at least worth keeping an eye on. 


    New Logo Outrage

    In an effort to be cool and hip, I guess, Florida State is updating its subtle, classic logo with a caricature version of the same image, which has drawn the (rightful) scorn of many.

    Warchant.com tweeted a picture of the new logo being plastered on the walls at Doak Campbell Stadium, so Saturday is almost definitely the first time we will see it live.

    Rabble loud enough and maybe—just maybe—it might go away.

What the Experts Are Saying

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    Pass Protection Is Key to Spring

    As he's want to do, B/R's Michael Felder wrote in March about pass protection being the Seminoles' No. 1 goal for the spring. That might sound absurd on the surface—FSU does, after all, return four offensive linemen from one of the nation's top units—but Felder sees the loss of center Bryan Stork and running back Devonta Freeman as important because of the positions and roles they played:

    [R]eplacing the 2013 Rimington Trophy winner is no easy task. Stork played a lot of football, and his experience in recognizing defensive fronts and pressure packages is a resource that is far more difficult to replace than his actual physical talents.

    ...As Freeman heads to the NFL, the Seminoles are losing a player who seemed to be the rare running back who appeared to relish the opportunity to step into the hole and stone a charging linebacker. More importantly than enjoying it, he did it well so consistently. He maintained a good base, did not get overextended and never guessed on whom to block.

    Most importantly, he did not get his quarterback killed by an added rusher.

    Austin Barron is a senior and expected to plug right in at Stork's old position, keeping the rest of the line intact around him. However, according to Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat, All-ACC left tackle Cameron Erving has been seeing time at center, too.

    Jimbo Fisher places great value on the center position, likening it to playing quarterback. He wants to take every precaution possible.


    What Will the LB Rotation Look Like?

    In a video for ESPN.com, Jared Shanker alluded to the battle to replace Christian Jones and Telvin Smith at linebacker as one of the things he is most looking forward to on Saturday—or at least one of the biggest questions he has.

    In Shanker's own words:

    I want to see what the rotations are gonna be. They're banged up there a little with Reggie Northrup, Terrance Smith and Ukeme Eligwe, but it'll be interesting to see how some of those younger guys do and how [Fisher] pairs them.

    It's unclear if or in what capacity Northrup, Smith and Eligwe will play on Saturday. Hopefully all will be cleared to give it a go, as it would shed some much-needed light on where things stand at a muddled position for the 'Noles.

Important Injuries

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    Dustin Hackett at Tomahawk Nation has done a good job keeping tabs on minor injuries all spring, noting most recently which players have not dressed for practice on April 7 and April 9.

    However, the following list concerns only the players with pivotal injuries—potential starters we know will be out on Saturday:


    RB Dalvin Cook, Freshman

    Injury: Shoulder

    The No. 13 overall player on the 247Sports Composite, Dalvin Cook enrolled early and enjoyed a good start to spring workouts before injuring his shoulder in a freak weight-room accident, per Brandon Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.

    Cook is expected to be a full-go for fall camp.


    RB Ryan Green, Sophomore

    Injury: Shoulder

    Ryan Green injured his shoulder in an undisclosed fashion and had surgery that will keep him out for the rest of spring practice, per Jared Shanker of ESPN.com.

    Head coach Jimbo Fisher did not comment on Green's status for fall camp as he did with Cook, so we'll play wait-and-see for an update on his health during the summer months.


    DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, Junior

    Injury: Shoulder

    Nile Lawrence-Stample, who is projected to replace Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle, practiced with a bum shoulder throughout spring camp so he could get work in before having surgery that will keep him out of the spring game, per Brandon Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.

    He is expected to recover for two months before coming back, which would have him playing by mid-June.


    TE Nick O'Leary, Senior

    Injury: Cuts to Skin

    For the second time in as many spring camps, Nick O'Leary is out after hurting himself in a motorcycle accident, per Brandon Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.

    Fisher said O'Leary is "fine"—last year's crash sounded much scarier—and he should be ready to go by fall practice.