- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
Now that the dust has settled from a prolonged coaching search and the departures of a few key juniors, the attention of Florida State fans will no doubt turn to what promises to be the dominant storyline from now until -- well, really, there's no end in sight.
For Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles, the next few months (at least) will be all about the quarterback, and in what might be both a blessing and a curse, there is no shortage of contenders for the job.
When spring practice begins in March, it'll be junior Clint Trickett atop the depth chart, but that's as much a default position as anything.
Close behind will be sophomore Jacob Coker, who pushed Trickett for the No. 2 job last spring but has largely been overlooked thanks to the third man on the totem poll.
That would be Jameis Winston, the talented freshman ranked as the best QB recruit in the nation a year ago. He's got the arm and the athleticism but has yet to take a snap in a college game.
And for good measure, the trio accounted for exactly 39 passes thrown in 2012 -- by far the fewest by backup QBs at Florida State in more than a decade.
So yeah, there's a bit of mystery surrounding the biggest job opening on the FSU roster since Fisher became the head coach.
Each quarterback has his share of backers among the fan base, but the biggest line of demarcation seems have less to do with the arms than with the legs, insofar as Winston's athleticism (and pedigree) make him the most talked-about of the bunch.
This isn't much of a surprise. Throughout the 2012 season, one of the big knocks on both EJ Manuel and Fisher's handling of him was that he simply didn't run much, and as the college football landscape has been dominated by dual-threat QBs such Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel (and, to a lesser degree, Tajh Boyd in the ACC), that's a problem.
Certainly if Florida State wants to run the ball from the QB position more often in 2013, Trickett's not going to top the list of obvious successors to Manuel's throne, and that's one of the big knocks on the veteran of the group. But tabbing a quarterback for his legs isn't likely to be Fisher's top concern.
The fact of the matter is, whoever is playing quarterback in 2013, Fisher will still be the man calling the plays (or at least that's what we think). And in 2012, even with the big, strong and athletic Manuel manning the position, there weren't many QB runs.
Factoring out sacks, Manuel ran just 72 times in 2012, totaling 455 yards on the ground -- good for 6.3 yards per carry. That's well ahead of Boyd (4.68 yards per carry) or Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas (4.61 ypc), and yet Manuel still ran the ball half as often as his ACC counterparts.
Why would Fisher be so reluctant to use his quarterback's legs when the numbers suggested it was a successful means of moving the football?
The arguments from fans vary from ignorance to arrogance, but perhaps the best answer is that, in the big picture, it didn't seem to matter much.
Check out the numbers for Manuel and the FSU offense, divided by the six FBS games in which he ran the most compared to the six in which he ran the least (factoring sacks out of rush totals).
When Manuel ran more, he threw for fewer yards, had a dramatically worse TD-to-INT ratio, and Florida State offense mustered nearly 30 fewer yards per game.
Of course, there were outliers, too. Manuel's best game came against Clemson, when he ran the most. His worst game came against Florida, which was his second-best rushing performance of the season.
At the very least, however, it seems fairly clear that there's no way to draw a direct line from quarterback mobility and offensive performance -- at least for Manuel in 2012. Whether that's a function of Manuel's reluctance to run with the ball, Fisher's reticence to call QB runs or the overall scheme of the offense is a tougher call.
The bottom line is that while Winston's legs might add another dimension to the offense in 2013, there's little evidence here to show that's a priority for Fisher or that it would be enough to make up for limitations in other parts of Winston's game. This remains an offense that relies on decision-making as much as anything, and that's where Trickett -- and perhaps Coker -- would figure to have an advantage.
Of course, if breaking down the QB battle were that simple, this wouldn't be such an interesting story.
4dDavid M. Hale
4dDavid M. Hale
6dDavid M. Hale