The push for starting jobs is underway—that much is clear from the second week of Florida State's preseason camp.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has praised the competitiveness of practices, and the Seminoles' depth at every position is what makes the team a preseason No. 1.
E.J. Levenberry has been "playing the best" of the candidates at middle linebacker, Fisher said. Derrick Nnadi has only been on campus a few weeks and has already given an indication that he will see playing time at defensive tackle. And John Franklin III hasn't completely given up playing quarterback but has spent a considerable amount of time at receiver.
Let's take a look at five storylines from the second week of FSU's preseason camp:
Levenberry Likely Wins Starting LB Job
Levenberry has emerged as the front-runner to claim the starting job at middle linebacker. The 6'3", 245-pound Levenberry had 39 tackles and an interception last season as a backup. He is competing for playing time along with Reggie Northrup and Matthew Thomas.
"[He's] playing more consistent in alignments and assignments, making plays, calls and checks," Fisher said of Levenberry.
After losing Telvin Smith and Christian Jones to graduation, the linebacker position is an area where FSU needs to establish who can start, who can be a capable backup and who can be used in a variety of situations based on the down and distance.
Levenberry has the size, speed and athleticism to play linebacker in FSU's 4-3 defense but is versatile enough to stay on the field when the Seminoles employ their nickel package. FSU frequently utilizes five defensive backs, and Levenberry would be used alongside Terrance Smith at linebacker.
Nnadi in Line for Playing Time
Fisher has frequently made a fishing reference when talking about members of the 2014 signing class, smiling and saying, "I wouldn't throw any of them back." It's clear that group is already impressing Fisher and could see significant playing time.
One spot where FSU needs to find production is at Timmy Jernigan's old defensive tackle spot. Jernigan's energy and leadership will be missed as the junior entered the NFL draft early and was a second-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens.
While FSU was expected to take a long look at juniors Nile Lawrence-Stample and Giorgio Newberry, and sophomores Justin Shanks and Keith Bryant, the coaches are willing to give a true freshman the opportunity to start.
Nnadi, a 4-star defensive tackle, has put himself in position to start alongside junior Eddie Goldman.
"He's very natural, very strong, very athletic," Fisher said of Nnadi.
And Mario Edwards Jr., who is known for his strength, quickness and athleticism, has been impressed with Nnadi.
"He is really, really strong," Edwards Jr. said. "He can come in and definitely play for us with the ones. He's been showing up a lot on film."
Franklin Transitioning to WR
The move perhaps isn't official yet, but it's clear that Franklin III, a reserve quarterback, is focusing on playing wide receiver. Fisher said that Sean Maguire is the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback and that true freshman J.J. Cosentino is the No. 3.
Franklin's speed, no doubt, is one of the reasons for the trial period at receiver. He helped FSU's 4x100-meter relay team win the ACC outdoor title this spring. While Franklin likely would have found success playing quarterback at another Football Bowl Subdivision program, he opted for FSU and made progress during his redshirt freshman season.
But Franklin isn't likely to see the field anytime soon as a quarterback. He's firmly behind Jameis Winston and Maguire. And Franklin's talents are too significant to leave on the sideline.
A move to receiver makes sense, as Franklin can use his speed and elusiveness to frustrate defenses.
Franklin's move also gives Fisher another option at wideout. Fisher said after Saturday's practice that sophomore Isaiah Jones is academically ineligible. Jones will stay in school and can practice with the Seminoles.
Fisher has also not announced a punishment for sophomore receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson, who reached a plea deal after initially facing a felony charge of grand theft of a motor vehicle after he allegedly stole a scooter on campus in June.
Wilson could be facing a suspension. And Jones could be gone academically. Fisher is making sure that FSU isn't down two receivers by transitioning Franklin to receiver.
The Injuries Haven't Been Significant
Fisher said that linebacker Ukeme Eligwe will likely miss the first two games (Aug. 30 vs. Oklahoma State and Sept. 6 at home against The Citadel) as he recovers from Lisfranc surgery on his foot. But Fisher said Eligwe's recovery is going well and that he could return for the Clemson game on Sept. 20.
FSU lost cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams due to minor hamstring injuries on Monday, and they will miss between four days and a week, Fisher said. Coaches are keeping both out as a precaution, and it's given more playing time to senior Nick Waisome, sophomore Marquez White and early enrollee Trey Marshall.
Travis Rudolph, a 5-star receiver who had surgery on his left foot early in the summer, missed a practice Tuesday. After the team took Wednesday off, he returned to practice Thursday morning. Fisher said Rudolph's foot is still irritated but is improving.
While Eligwe will be missed at the start of the year, FSU has been able to escape any major injuries and should be healthy when the season starts in two weeks.
So Far, Beatty Winning Punting Battle
FSU's Cason Beatty had an up-and-down 2013 season, averaging 41.1 yards per punt but struggling with his consistency and hang time. Fisher has been taking a long look at walk-on Jonathan Hernandez this preseason.
"He's not kicking better than Beatty right now," Fisher said. "[Hernandez] hits long, but he's not consistent enough. But he's got talent, and he's getting better each day. Beatty has had a good camp."
While FSU had the luxury of dominating teams in 2013, winning 12 of 14 games by 30 or more points, that may not be the case again in 2014.
Fisher is adamant about winning the field-position battle, and he places a high priority on hang time for punters and kickers. If Beatty has improved, he will retain the punting job. But this will be an ongoing storyline as Hernandez will push Beatty throughout 2014.
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