Florida State Football: Recapping the Biggest 2014 Offseason News so Far
Hard to believe it's been five months since Florida State raised the crystal football after a see-saw finish at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
To say this has been a busy offseason would be an understatement. There was a national championship celebration, a top-five class on signing day (in the 247Sports rankings), a successful spring on the practice fields and seven players were drafted by NFL teams. There was also Jameis Winston playing football and baseball (as well as a citation you may have heard about).
Let's take a look back at the past five months for FSU.
Some Stars Leave for NFL, but Nucleus Remains for 2014
FSU lost plenty of talent to the NFL, but it could have been far worse. The Seminoles lost four players who opted to enter the draft early, including wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan and tailbacks Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.
The 2014 offense could have been decimated, but FSU coach Jimbo Fisher was able to convince a large group of juniors to stay in Tallahassee. Wide receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary will be Winston's top two passing targets. Left tackle Cameron Erving, who won the ACC's Jacobs Trophy as the top blocker, is back to protect Winston's blind side. Karlos Williams also decided to return after a breakout season at tailback.
Unexpected Defensive Coordinator Shuffle: Pruitt Departs, Kelly Promoted
Just a week after winning the title, FSU fans were stunned to hear that defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was leaving Tallahassee to take over as Georgia's defensive coordinator.
Pruitt has won three straight national titles, earning rings in 2012 and '13 as Alabama's defensive backs coach.
"This is an outstanding professional and personal opportunity," Pruitt told reporters in Athens, Georgia. "I'm looking forward to meeting the current players and getting on the road to visit with recruits."
A Top-Five Signing Class
Even with Pruitt's departure, FSU still reeled in the nation's No. 4 class according to 247Sports.
FSU's staff landed Florida's Mr. Football, Miami Central tailback Dalvin Cook, a 247Sports 5-star prospect who was among five student-athletes that enrolled early. The class also includes a 247Sports 5-star receiver in Ermon Lane and a pair of 4-star receivers in Travis Rudolph and Javon Harrison.
But this class was focused on replenishing the offensive line and defensive line. FSU will likely start five seniors on the offensive line in 2014 if Austin Barron wins the job at center, so the Seminoles signed seven offensive linemen. On the defensive line, where tackle Eddie Goldman and end Mario Edwards Jr. are both juniors, Fisher signed five tackles and two ends.
"The guys who put their hand in the dirt on the offense and defensive lines that controls the game," Fisher said on signing day. "You can have all the skills in the world you want. We saw that in the Super Bowl. You got to win those battles up front."
FSU Holds Championship Celebration
About 30,000 fans showed up to Doak Campbell Stadium on Feb. 1 for a celebration of the national championship team. Fans were able to get photos taken with the crystal football or Jameis Winston's Heisman Trophy.
"I don't know who the best teams are," Fisher said. "We're one of the great teams in Florida State history. But in my mind, we're one of the great teams in college football history."
Fisher gave special thanks to the senior class for signing with FSU as he took over following a 7-6 season in 2009 that was the end of Bobby Bowden's coaching career.
When you had the faith in us and our coaching staff four years ago to buy in to what we were trying to tell you, when we didn't have much to sell. The legacy that you have left at Florida State . . . it's unbelievable. This senior class is something special. We didn't just develop a team, folks. We developed a program. We plan on being here for a long time.
Winston Plays Two Sports in Spring
March and April were busy for Winston, who often didn't get a day off as he practiced with the football team and played baseball.
In the spring football game on April 12, Winston completed 27 of 56 passes for 396 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. While he completed just 48.2 percent of his passes that day, Fisher wanted to give Winston plenty of opportunities to throw to a large group of young receivers so that they could build chemistry going into the summer.
On the baseball diamond, Winston earned the closer's job at the start of the season and had a team-low 1.08 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. But in May he was at his best, appearing in eight games (9.1 innings total) and not allowing an earned run. He struggled at the plate, hitting just .128 in 39 at-bats.
Fisher Pleased with Spring Practice
There were a number of injuries this spring, but none that Fisher considers serious enough to keep an FSU player from missing the start of camp in early August. And, for the most part, Fisher was happy with the Seminoles' spring practices.
"Very pleased," Fisher said. "We've got a lot of work to do. But I can picture where we're going to be."
FSU learned a great deal about how the 2014 team will look. Two areas of concern for the fall are at running back (where they lost James Wilder Jr. and 1,000-yard rusher Devonta Freeman) and linebacker (which lost Christian Jones and leading tackler Telvin Smith)
There is depth at receiver, as sophomores Jesus Wilson, Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield saw extensive practice time this spring. At linebacker, Matthew Thomas, Reggie Northrup, Ukeme Eligwe, E.J. Levenberry and Ro'Derrick Hoskins were all praised by Fisher. The defensive backfield will again be one of the nation's best. And Winston, despite at times being mentally and physically tired while juggling two sports, handled his hectic schedule well.
The FSU spring football game was the first played with the new logo. FSU will take the field with redesigned football uniforms on Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State.
Seven 'Noles Were Picked in 2014 NFL Draft
Benjamin left FSU after his redshirt sophomore season. And while he had a long wait in the first round on May 8, he was picked at No. 28 by the Carolina Panthers. Benjamin will get a chance to play for a team that reached the playoffs in 2013 and will catch passes from another Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton.
Two Seminoles were taken in the second round: defensive back Lamarcus Joyner by the Rams and defensive end Timmy Jernigan by the Ravens. Safety Terrence Brooks was picked up in the third round by the Ravens. Devonta Freeman (fourth round, Falcons), Bryan Stork (fourth round, Patriots) and Telvin Smith (fifth round, Jaguars) completed the draft class.
FSU's seven picks were fourth nationally. LSU had nine, followed by Alabama and Notre Dame with eight apiece.
And the Seminoles have had 18 draft picks over the last two years after leading the nation with 11 draft picks in 2013.
Winston Cited for Failing to Pay for Seafood
Winston was cited—but not arrested—for leaving a Tallahassee grocery store without paying $32.72 for crab legs and crawfish on April 29. He took part in a civil citation program and did 20 hours of community service.
He was suspended until the community service was complete, and Winston missed a three-game series with Minnesota on the first weekend of May.
Building the 2015 Recruiting Class
FSU has 12 commitments for the class of 2015, per 247Sports. The group is led by 247Sports 5-star safety Derwin James but also includes 4-star linebacker Sh'mar Kilby-Lane and 4-star defensive backs Tyrek Cole and Calvin Brewton.
The summer could be a busy one for FSU recruiting. Fisher also opens up the first of two summer camps on Wednesday, and a large group of uncommitted prospects are expected to attend either the June or July camp in Tallahassee.
FSU coaches have set their sights on a number of prospects, most notably 247Sports 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat.