- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Let’s start by prefacing with this: Any team that loses its starting quarterback is in a considerable amount of trouble. Fear of relying on a backup quarterback for an extended period of time is not a problem exclusive to Florida State.
But this time a year ago, the Seminoles had three potential starting quarterbacks on its spring roster. West Virginia’s Clint Trickett and Alabama’s Jacob Coker, who will enroll following the spring, will now headline the Florida State Quarterback Transfer Bowl on college football’s opening weekend.
Which means Sean Maguire, who finished fourth in Florida State’s quarterback competition last spring, is Jameis Winston's backup. Could Florida State get by with Maguire against Oklahoma State, Clemson or Notre Dame? For those wearing garnet and gold, it’s a sobering question they would prefer tabling for another day … or year.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher, though, saw what that might be like Saturday. With 400 miles and a baseball game separating his Heisman-winning quarterback from the Noles’ third spring practice, the 6-foot-3 Maguire played the role of starting quarterback. The redshirt sophomore’s game experience is limited to a few risk-free throws and bleeding off the final few minutes of blowout wins in 2013.
“I thought [Saturday’s spring practice] was a chance for our guys to step up, be with the [first-team offense] when Jameis wasn’t here,” Fisher said. “Early I thought they were a little nervous but as the team got going on I was kind of pleased. I think later in practice they started feeling more comfortable. It was a solid day. I saw some very encouraging things but still got a lot to work on.”
Kind of pleased. Solid. One practice was never going to fully assuage those concerns, but gauging from Fisher’s tone and body language, he is not feeling any more comfortable about life without Winston.
Maguire has the support of teammates, and Fisher noted his performance picked up as the morning went on and he grew more comfortable in his most extensive time with the starting offense. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound signal-caller is not short on talent. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and Fisher believed in him before any other college coach. He was first to offer Maguire, and Fisher’s track record with quarterbacks is one that does not warrant even a hint of second-guessing.
Maybe Maguire’s biggest hurdle is his name. He’s not Coker, who Florida State fans envisioned would follow the Seminoles succession plan and replace Winston in 2015. Waiting your turn was the Florida State way in the 1990s, as Florida State fans were spoiled by the run of Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell, Thad Busby and Chris Weinke, who all sat at least one season before the reins were passed. But the strong-armed Coker became a hot commodity during the winter, and the former No. 2 quarterback is enrolling at Alabama this summer.
Florida State still has 12 spring practices left for Maguire. He said his offensive line and receivers were encouraging following any mistakes, and the opportunity to work exclusively as a starter was an invaluable experience. And with Winston possibly playing baseball until late June, Maguire can throw to the No. 1 receivers in any player-organized sessions once practice ends.
“Getting reps with the ones is huge ... getting an opportunity to be able to show the team if Jameis is not here and something happens, we’re not going to miss a beat,” Maguire said.
Winston potentially not being on the field is a realization Florida State fans are not ready to entertain yet, but it’s something that will wear on Fisher until Maguire makes it clear the Noles are in good hands in an emergency situation. Maybe that happens in the coming days during the Noles’ first scrimmage. Fisher is eager to find out.
“Next week will be very interesting to see in that first scrimmage how he’s adapted,” Fisher said.
6dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon