Friday, August 16, 2013
Two weeks to go, Fisher still mum on QBs
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With a rash of injuries and off-field woes thinning the Florida State Seminoles' receiving corps, Rashad Greene played it safe during Florida State's first scrimmage this week, donning a green, non-contact jersey to avoid any significant hits.
The jersey was nabbed haphazardly from a pile set out by training staff, and as it happened, Greene's had a white No. 5 emblazoned across the front. It's a number worn by Jameis Winston, the top contender in Florida State's ongoing quarterback battle, but Greene was quick to assure he wasn't playing favorites.
Jameis Winston (left) and Jacob Coker are still neck and neck in the QB battle according to the Seminoles.
"Nah," he laughed, "it's just the jersey I grabbed."
Whether the jersey was selected by chance or design, it wouldn't have mattered much. The answer likely would've been the same from Greene or anyone else on the roster -- a bland denial of any established opinions, an avoidance at all costs of responses that could be interpreted as insight on the biggest story of the year at Florida State.
Who will be the quarterback? It's the question that's been asked since EJ Manuel's career officially came to an end on Jan. 1, and with just two weeks remaining before the season begins, Jimbo Fisher still isn't interested in providing any definitive answers.
Yes, the quarterback battle between Winston and Jacob Coker still rages on. No, Fisher doesn't have a favorite for the job yet. Yes, both quarterbacks are playing well. No, a decision on the starter for the Sept. 2 opener at Pittsburgh isn't coming soon.
That's the party line across the board at Florida State this fall and Fisher insists that there's no leader in the clubhouse and no answers for the hordes of gawkers desperate for confirmation of news they already believe to be true.
"You just have to feel the situation as it goes," Fisher said. "And [the QBs are] making it tough."
That's a big reason for the secrecy. As long as the two quarterbacks vying for the job believe that no decision has been made, there's incentive for both to keep pushing for it. And even if Fisher's not dealing in specifics, he's happy to regale reporters with news that both quarterbacks have looked sharp. Heck, Fisher raved about third-stringer Sean Maguire's fall camp this week, too, though he mercifully acknowledges the QB battle is currently a two-man race.
Winston certainly appeared to gain an upper hand this spring, when he wowed fans during the annual Garnet and Gold game, throwing two long touchdown passes while Coker struggled to keep pace with a gimpy foot. Whether the battle evened during the summer or early parts of fall camp remains a mystery, as Fisher and his players have offered only vague descriptions of each quarterback's performance. Reports rarely include one name without the other.
"Everybody talks about Jameis, but I think Jacob has [presence] too," Fisher said in response to an inquiry about Winston's gregarious personality. Similar responses have followed questions about Winston's arm, athleticism, instincts and leadership.
Greene insists the same equal-time laws apply to the locker room, where players aren't discussing who's ahead on the depth chart from day to day. Astonishingly, Greene insists there isn't any real curiosity -- a dubious claim, but one he's sticking with anyway.
"There's no discussion," Greene said. "We work with them, tell them what we feel like they can work on. There's no choosing one or the other."
Even the men battling for the job won't say much about the competition. It's fair to assume they're each rooting for themselves to win the job, but that doesn't mean they'll admit to it.
"I pull for him, and he pulls for me, and we try to do our best in practice to make the team better," Coker said. "We're playing hard and having fun."
Among fans, however, Winston has been the clear-cut choice for months. He arrived as a top recruit, endeared himself to Manuel throughout his redshirt season, impressed this spring while playing baseball at the same time, and has garnered magazine covers and gushing reviews from media ever since.
And yet, even that immense hype isn't seeping its way into Florida State's talking points.
"Everything's coming so fast, I don't have time to get on the blog and see what they're talking about," Winston said. "I don't have time to get big headed because I'm looking at the big picture."
Still, it's hard to ignore the impact all the off-field hoopla might have on the competition.
If Fisher's premise of an even battle is true, and Coker actually lands the starting job for the opener, just how patient will the fan base be with Winston waiting in the wings? And if Winston ends up the starter but struggles early, how easy would it be for Fisher to make a switch?
Those are big questions Fisher still doesn't have to answer just yet, and he's not going to tip his hand until he's forced to do so.
Winston or Coker? Coker or Winston? Fisher hasn't even ruled out playing both. And so the ambiguity continues at Florida State, and the timetable for a resolution is open to interpretation for the foreseeable future.