Florida State Seminoles: travis rudolph

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Jimbo Fisher is asked about his 2014 class -- and he’s been asked a lot -- he smiles and cracks a joke, one that has become part of the fifth-year Florida State coach’s preseason vernacular.

“I'll put it this way: We may get caught by the game warden for having our [fishing] live well too full,” he cracks, “but I'm not throwing any of them back.”

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY Sports"That's the kind of guys you want here, guys who want to get on the field quickly," Jimbo Fisher said.
Maybe he’s just happy this offseason he’s being asked about newcomers instead of a quarterback competition or whether the Seminoles are “back.” Or maybe it is possible Fisher really does expect greatness out of this 2014 class, which RecruitingNation ranked No. 3 in February.

Through summer workouts and the first two weeks of preseason camp, Fisher said this class is far along as physically as he has ever seen. That is due in large part to 13 linemen Fisher signed, seven of whom tip the scales at 290 pounds or more. While linemen are usually relegated to a redshirt season upon arrival, Fisher said he sees a use for several of the newcomers to play early. Over the course of the last three classes, nine freshman linemen have been letterwinners, and Fisher has played junior college transfers immediately, as well.

Mentally, however, this group of 28 is as far along as any of the five classes Fisher’s recruited. There wasn’t a single academic casualty among the signees, and the 2014 signees began studying the playbook as soon as possible. The coaching staff has commended the Seminoles’ upperclassmen throughout camp for tutoring the younger players, too.

“All of those guys have been very coachable and they’re willing to learn. That’s been huge,” first-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said. “The whole class in general, size speed and athleticism has been very impressive.

Expect some of the 2014 praise to subside as fall camp ends and preparations for Oklahoma State begin, but there should be more than a handful of freshmen who make significant contributions as freshmen. Receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were in the top six among receivers nationally in the 2014 class, and in practices freshman defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi has been “that dude,” according to end Mario Edwards Jr.

Over the last three seasons, 29 freshmen have earned letters and 14 were named to at least one freshmen All-America team. Those numbers should continue to grow in 2014. Sophomore Jalen Ramsey, a Thorpe Award watch list member in 2014, said Florida State embraces its freshmen like few programs, and there is rarely a grudge if a younger player earns a starting job from an upperclassman.

“As a team, we want the best people on the field beside us. When you have the best people on the field, you don’t have to worry about doing extra roles,” Ramsey said. “If they’re the best, then definitely play them.”

Ramsey said he entered his freshman season with a mindset that he was not going to be outworked and would secure at least a spot in the defensive backfield’s rotation. He ended up starting every game.

“It inspires [the freshmen],” Fisher said. “That’s the kind of guys you want here, guys who want to get on the field quickly.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s the double-edged sword of having a wildly talented team but with nearly a month's worth of practices still standing in the way of the season opener. There are not many question marks in the starting lineup for Florida State, which means the uncertainties at those few positions are squarely under the microscope.

[+] EnlargeDoak Campbell, Christian Green
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesSenior Christian Green is among a group of Florida State wide receivers looking to complement Rashad Greene.
That’s why Jimbo Fisher, Rashad Greene, the offensive line and even the Seminoles’ secondary are being asked about the inexperienced group of receivers. It’s understandable why the receiver corps has been a debated and scrutinized, and it is a legitimate question to ask which receivers will step up to complement the senior Greene, the team’s leading receiver. Especially when considering Fisher’s frustration with the receivers boiled over this spring.

A lack of consistency drew the ire of Fisher in March, but through three practices this fall, Fisher has been much more measured and complimentary of the receivers. However, consistency is still a concern during preseason practices for a unit that, outside of Greene, combined for 23 catches in 2013.

“Consistency, guys knowing what to do, where to be when that ball is thrown to you,” Fisher said when asked what will separate the jumble behind Greene. “I’ve been pleased with the younger and older receivers.”

The younger receivers, for only practicing three days and none with full pads on, have been the stars among the corps so far. At this point, though, that is more a product of the vast hype and media and fan intrigue rather than on-field performance.

Ermon Lane was the No. 2 receiver nationally in the ESPN 300 and stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 206 pounds. Travis Rudolph was not far off in the recruiting rankings, registering as the sixth-best receiver in the 2014 class. Four-star Ja'Vonn Harrison rounds out the highly regarded freshman trio.

“Travis and Ja’Vonn, those two really do have good routes. Ermon is more of a physical type guy, he can go up, get off the jam. That’s what separates those guys,” senior receiver Jarred Haggins said. “By the time they all take their role, they’re going to be awesome."

Haggins missed the entire 2013 season with a stress fracture in his knee but is healthy and competing for the No. 2 spot. With Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson -- who is still indefinitely suspended -- likely filling the slot receiver role, Haggins, Christian Green and Isaiah Jones are competing with the freshmen for the starting outside receiver position.

The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Green caught 13 passes last season, second most among returning receivers, but he caught more passes as a redshirt freshman (26) than he has the rest of his career combined. A member of the 2010 recruiting class, Green arrived in Tallahassee with the same national acclaim as the current freshmen, as he ranked No. 53 in the ESPN 150.

Despite the limited action and attention he has received the first four years of his career, Green is determined to make a senior jump similar to the departed Kenny Shaw, Green’s freshman roommate and a receiver who caught nearly as many passes a senior (54) as he did his first three seasons (70).

“It’s something I’ve been waiting for,” Green said. “I’ve been patient and playing my role and doing whatever they asked me to do. Now is the time.”

Green said he is doing his best balancing his own ambitions with mentoring the younger receivers, but this offseason they were all under the tutelage of Jameis Winston. Last summer, Winston was still embroiled in a quarterback competition. During summer 7-on-7 workouts and throwing sessions that coaches couldn’t watch, it was Winston who took the lead role of developing his young receivers.

“Jameis really understands what he wants and how he wants it,” Fisher said. “It’s something he picked up this summer from Peyton Manning. I always talk to him about taking two routes a day and running it 100 times. Make those guys understand how to do it.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Preseason camp begins with five days of heat acclimation, but that doesn't mean there is a nearly week-long grace period for Florida State. Not when the Seminoles are in pursuit of consecutive national championships.

New linebackers coach Bill Miller was already adjusted to head coach Jimbo Fisher's "attitude of domination" standard at the onset of the Seminoles' first practice of fall camp. When a freshman linebacker didn't perform a warm-up drill correctly, Miller sent him back to the front of a line with a not-so-subtle message to do it better next time.

"I liked the intensity of practice. It was very good competition, guys getting after each other, competing with each other, for the most part knowing what to do," Fisher said.

Although players were not in pads Monday, Fisher was encouraged by what he saw. With the mandated restriction on pads -- Florida State's first two-a-day will be Saturday -- the first day of practice was an opportunity for the Seminoles to work on alignments, assignments and execution.

Fisher expressed a little disappointment in how the passing game performed -- he called the quarterbacks' execution "very average" -- but he acknowledged it was the first time the group had a defensive line charging at them in four months. And when you return Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, there is little reason for long-term concern.

Once baseball season ended, Fisher forced Winston to take a couple of weeks off to ease the demands on his star player's body. The result was a Winston who is much fresher than he was entering the 2013 season and a smarter player under center. When Winston was kept from the field, he used it as an opportunity to fine-tune his mechanics.

"He was very anxious to get better fundamentally. He did a lot of film study with his footwork and working on his release and quickening things up," Fisher said.

Coupled with an energized Winston, the first few days of practice should go smoother this season because of the lack of roster turnover on the offense line and a defensive scheme that remains largely unchanged. The offensive line has five seniors and more than 100 starts among them, and new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is executing the same defensive scheme as predecessor Jeremy Pruitt. Kelly was the Seminoles' linebackers coach in 2013. While Florida State has to replace defensive leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith, there is a knowledge that should allow the new starters to transition quickly to their roles.

"It's the second year on defense of exactly the [same] system we're running, so I think the knowledge is increased," Fisher said. "The young guys will know more because the older guys can help them. Last year early, the older guys couldn't help them because they were learning it for the first time, too."

There is a belief those younger players will crack the rotation and make an impact at some point in 2014, possibly for the Aug. 30 opener against Oklahoma State. Freshman receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, recovered from offseason foot surgery, look physically impressive, and there is an opportunity for playing time on the defensive line; the Seminoles have seven freshmen defensive linemen, and Fisher said "there's not one you'd throw back."

Linebacker Terrance Smith smiled when asked about the big bodies accompanying their new faces.

"This is probably the biggest group of freshmen we've had in a long time," he said. "Me as a linebacker, I'm not complaining because we got some big D-Linemen in front of me."

Notes: Sophomore receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson remains indefinitely suspended following a Monday meeting with Fisher. Wilson is practicing and should return during the season, but Fisher sounded as if Wilson will not play in the opener. ... Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe (Lisfranc injury) is not practicing, but Fisher said Eligwe is ahead of schedule. Nile Lawrence-Stample (shoulder surgery) is practicing but will be eased back into contact. ... A few players wrote on Twitter that Sunday would be their last day tweeting until the season ends. Fisher said it was a team initiative and he did not ask his team to quit social media until the season ended. However, Fisher did say Florida State does monitor what its players and the athletes it is recruiting say on social media.
Players reported to Florida State for the beginning of preseason camp on Sunday. On Monday, the Seminoles take the practice field for the first time this season.

Whether 2014 is a title defense or a title chase is entirely exclusive from the 2013 season, and the fact remains Florida State enters the fall as the preseason No. 1 and with the best odds to win the inaugural College Football Playoff.

While it returns a Heisman quarterback, senior-laden offensive line and a talented secondary, coach Jimbo Fisher says he has concerns just like he does every year.

Here are three things to keep an eye on in fall camp during August that will impact the Seminoles’ season.

 1. How the defense jells over the course of camp. Elite players such as Ronald Darby, Mario Edwards Jr., Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams return, but the Seminoles also lost the cornerstones of a defense that ranked No. 1 nationally last season. The defensive leader at every level of the defense has moved on, including defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Talent is not the issue, but how the defense meshes over the next few weeks could be. The vocal presence brought by the likes of Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner are no longer on the field. Fisher has praised Ramsey throughout the spring and summer for stepping up as a leader, so will he be the one to make sure the defense is aligned correctly pre snap? Rather than the defense being gashed and giving up a significant amount of yards, the bigger concern could be miscommunications and defensive breakdowns that lead to big plays.

2. The emergence of a No. 2 receiver. That did not happen during the spring, but now the Seminoles have added three freshman receivers, including blue-chip prospects Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph. Fisher knows what he is getting out of Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, but the offense is going to need a second threat opposite of Greene on the outside. Jesus “Bobo” Wilson has the look of a player built for the slot, and he is subject to team discipline after pleading no contest to two misdemeanors. Isaiah Jones is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, but he has two career catches. Christian Green needs a bounce-back season after a junior season in which he caught only 13 passes. Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield is a terror with the ball in his hands, but is he consistent enough to be an every-down option? Rudolph had offseason foot surgery, but Fisher said July 11 that he should be ready for camp. Lane, the No. 2 receiver nationally in the 2014 class, could exit camp in the best position for a starting job. He has the size (6-3, 206) to physically compete with college cornerbacks right now. He’ll also wear No. 1 this season, taking over for Kelvin Benjamin. There’s a certain level of expectation when donning the No. 1.

3. Will the punting improve? It’s no secret the punting at Florida State has not been very good recently. It’s about the only facet of the team that has lagged. The good news is Florida State rarely punted the ball last season -- the Seminoles led the country in fewest punts per game -- as they set an NCAA record for points scored. In 2013, Florida State was 59th nationally in punting with a 41.1 average, a number Fisher would like to see increase. In July, Fisher said punter Cason Beatty was punting the ball better but still has to find better consistency. If he does not, Fisher isn’t averse to making a change, saying the competition is “open” and “the best player will play.” Jonathan Hernandez and Larry Lawson III are also listed as punters on the roster.
There were practices last year when Florida State’s secondary would surrender so many big plays that then-defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would slump into Jimbo Fisher’s office and wonder whether he had a group ready to compete at a championship level.

The concerns lasted only as long as it took to put the film together, however. Once coaches got a second look at the busted plays and blown coverages, it became clear: It wasn’t about the secondary’s struggles. It was about how good Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and the offense were.

“You go look at film and there’s nobody going to make that throw but Jameis,” Fisher said. “Nobody’s going to make that catch but KB, Rashad.”

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Kermit Whitfield is a candidate to get the starting nod as Florida State's slot receiver.
As it turned out, Florida State had the nation’s best secondary last season. It also had arguably the country’s top passing attack, with a Heisman winner and two 1,000-yard receivers. The spring struggles on either side of the ball were a matter of that double-edged sword that comes from practicing against each other.

This spring, the situation was the same, but the struggles tended to appear more often on offense. Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are gone, taking 108 catches and 21 touchdowns with them, and it’s a relatively inexperienced group now taking the first-team reps. There’s a learning curve, but on the other side of the ball, FSU’s defensive backs haven’t pulled their punches.

Fisher raved about Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams, who have both developed into dominant DBs and core leaders of FSU’s 2014 defense. Tyler Hunter’s return from a neck injury has added a spark to summer drills, which began this week. Add in Nate Andrews, Ronald Darby, Marquez White -- Fisher said the depth of talent in the secondary is immense -- and it makes it that much tougher for the receivers to strut their stuff.

“Those guys came out and threw and caught the ball in the spring going against as good people as there is out there, consistently, daily,” Fisher said. “That’s the thing I’ve got to remember when I don’t think we’re doing as well.”

Still, it won’t be easy for Florida State to replace its departed offensive stars.

Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield each developed nicely this spring, Fisher said. They’ll likely jockey for reps in the slot, where Shaw was so consistently good a year ago.

On the outside, the Seminoles are in search of a physical presence that can pick up the slack left by the 6-foot-5 Benjamin. The top options are likely the two newest faces. Ermon Lane (6-2) and Travis Rudolph (6-0) took their first reps in seven-on-seven drills this week, showcasing an already advanced skill set. It was in the weight room, however, that Fisher said they’ve really shined. Both arrived on campus bigger and stronger than Fisher had expected, and he’s optimistic both can play a role on offense for FSU immediately.

And before the Seminoles’ passing game is knocked for having too much youth complementing Greene, Fisher is quick to point out that seniors Jarred Haggins and Christian Green return, along with tight end Nick O'Leary, who is back to 100 percent after an offseason motorcycle accident.

It’s true, the passing game is more of a work in progress than it was a year ago, according to Fisher. But even as his receivers were crushing the spirits of an equally talented defense last spring, there was still more growth to come. Greg Dent was last spring’s MVP, and he never took a snap in the fall thanks to off-field issues. Benjamin was inconsistent and hadn’t approached his potential. By season’s end, he was a star and Winston’s favorite weapon.

Things change, Fisher said. Players learn and develop and get better, and he’s got a group he believes will do all those things. And just as importantly, he has a Heisman quarterback to push them along.

“Skill guys can get much better over a summer if they really apply themselves because they can throw and catch and do things,” Fisher said. “And [Winston] knows what he’s doing, and he sets the tone in what goes on without a doubt.”
Russell A. Griffin in Sea Girt, N.J., sent this note into the mailbag: Hi, Andrea. In 2012, when FSU lost so many to the NFL draft, sports analysts we're saying that 2013 would be the year FSU would step back a bit and that 2014 would be its year. Clemson was the team to beat in 2013. I realize no one would have thought about how good Jameis [Winston] was going to be. The analysts said 2014 would be FSU's year to step up. With all that in mind, well, it’s 2014. If last year was the year to step back, imagine what this year should be like. Granted, 2014 is going to be tougher since the schedule is tougher. I know, it is always harder to repeat. I will be at the games against Oklahoma State and later at Louisville. Go Noles.

Griffin brings up a terrific point. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but Florida State blew the doors off that notion. Are the Seminoles going to go unbeaten again? ACC reporter Andrea Adelson and Florida State reporter Jared Shanker debate the odds.

AA gives Florida State a 25 percent chance of going undefeated.

SportsNation

What are the chances Florida State goes unbeaten this year?

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    17%
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    21%
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    22%
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    28%
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    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,027)

Florida State is good enough to go undefeated. But being good enough to win all your games and actually winning all your games are two different matters entirely (see: Crimson Tide, Alabama). There are a few reasons why I think the Seminoles won’t run the table.

First, strength of schedule. Florida State trades in Nevada and Idaho (combined 5-19 last season) for Oklahoma State and Notre Dame (combined 19-7 a year ago). Not to mention trading Atlantic Division teams Maryland (7-6) for Louisville (12-1). Not only are the teams better, but there will be a cumulative effect of playing much tougher competition.

With the exception of the BC game, Florida State never had reason to play its starters for a full game during the regular season last fall. But that is not going to be the case in 2014. More playing time means more wear and tear on the starters, and more wear and tear on the starters means you need to rely on your backups to play many more meaningful minutes.

This leads to my second point. Florida State lacks depth on its offensive and defensive lines, and that could be a problem. The biggest concern should rest with the defensive front, where the Seminoles lost a ton of talent early to the NFL and was therefore low on players in the spring. Depth is vital, most especially late in games, when the big guys up front start to get gassed. What happens against high-tempo teams such as Oklahoma State and Louisville if the depth is lacking and the game is on the line?

Finally, what will Winston do for an encore with the spotlight shining even brighter than last season? Florida State needs a much more mature, much more focused Winston in 2014. He doesn’t have a Kelvin Benjamin to bail him out in the end zone. He has no 1,000-yard back returning. There are terrific players around him, and Winston has to learn how to trust them all from the outset while the media dissects every move he makes.

We saw what a focused Winston can do under that glare of the end of the BCS national championship game. But we also saw what do-it-all-myself Winston can do under that glare in the first three quarters of that game, too.

I still believe Florida State has as good a shot as any team in America to make the College Football Playoff. I just don’t think the Seminoles make it there unscathed.

Jared Shanker gives Florida State a 35 percent chance of going undefeated.

Florida State is looking to become the first team in college football history to go 15-0 and to win the inaugural College Football Playoff. The good news for the Seminoles is, unlike in previous seasons, going undefeated is not required to win the 2014 national championship.

The Noles, as a potentially unanimous preseason No. 1, will have the most leeway when it comes to suffering a loss and still being in the discussion for one of the four playoff seeds. Looking at the 2014 schedule, its roster and trying to account for the multitude of unknowns every season presents, it is hard to see Florida State going through another season undefeated.

As AA pointed out first, the schedule is tougher this fall. While Oklahoma State is rebuilding, coach Mike Gundy has that program in good enough shape that an upset of the defending champions in Week 1 would not be a total shock. The Fighting Irish are on the schedule, and whether it is Everett Golson or Malik Zaire taking snaps, both look capable of leading an offense and the Irish into a playoff berth. Bobby Petrino is tearing Louisville down and rebuilding it in his own image, but any Thursday night road game presents unique challenges.

Injuries are also the great unknown for every team, and Florida State remained relatively healthy throughout the 2013 season. Winston avoided significant injury last season, and with arguably the country’s best starting offensive line in front of him, he again could go the entire season without any major bumps. However, the nature of the position often leaves quarterbacks vulnerable, and there is no telling how FSU would fare if it is without Winston for any amount of time.

Even a healthy Winston could see a decline in production this fall with new faces throughout his receiver corps. Rashad Greene returns, but no longer is Benjamin or Kenny Shaw around to redirect double teams. The revamped unit showed some flashes during the spring game, but there is reason to worry about whether the receivers will step up in the fall. Several talented freshmen enter the fold this summer, and while freshmen across the country are making earlier impacts than ever before, it is still premature to expect Ermon Lane, Ja’Von Harrison or Travis Rudolph to replicate Benjamin’s or Shaw’s numbers immediately.

What Florida State does have is as much talent as just about any team in the country. Only Alabama has recruited better the past few years, and the Noles are loaded with talent from top to bottom. However, a decent portion of that talent is inexperienced. Certainly those new faces could exceed their predecessors' production, but it will not happen overnight. Defensively, breaking in coordinator Charles Kelly could add to the early-season learning curve as that side of the ball adjusts to a handful of new starters and is without vocal leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith.

The odds of going undefeated being at 35 percent are still the highest in the country potentially, but that is not where I would put my money if I was a betting man. I’m much more inclined to believe Florida State enters the playoff as a one-loss team.

Florida State spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
9:30
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Florida State Seminoles:

1. Jalen Ramsey is a star in the making. Last season, Ramsey was overshadowed on his own defense with the likes of Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith demanding the headlines, but Ramsey was only a freshman. As a sophomore, several players point to Ramsey as being the defense’s leader, and he could be the best player on a defense that could have a half-dozen first-round picks in the next few seasons. He will move around to several positions in the secondary this fall.

2. Florida State’s secondary might be the best in the country. While FSU’s talent in the defensive backfield begins with Ramsey it certainly does not end there. P.J. Williams was dominant in the spring game against No. 1 receiver Rashad Greene and is an elite college corner. Opposite him are Ramsey and Ronald Darby, who missed the entire spring. All three could be first-round picks. Nate Andrew is a up-and-coming star and also just a sophomore, and Tyler Hunter returns after a neck injury in 2013.

3. Sean Maguire is a capable backup for the Noles. The disclaimer certainly is that it came against the No. 2 defense in the spring game, but Maguire showed the type of tools to be an efficient quarterback should he be called upon this fall. As the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback for the first time in his college career, Maguire said he made his biggest strides to date this spring.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Will the wide receivers step up? Coach Jimbo Fisher is not leaving spring practice with a great feeling about his receivers. He expressed his frustration in the unit on multiple occasions, and the receivers struggled in the spring game. Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are off to the NFL, and Greene will need some help from the younger receivers. Elite high school talents Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison will enroll in the summer.

2. Can the running backs stay on the field? It was a similar feeling last spring for Fisher as he did not have any healthy running backs for the Garnet and Gold game in 2013 either. Karlos Williams was held for precautionary reasons, but backups Dalvin Cook, Ryan Green and Mario Pender all suffered injuries. Cook and Green are out until fall camp with shoulder injuries, and Pender missed his first two seasons with injury and academic issues.

3. What will the linebacker rotation look like? It will be very interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly pairs his linebackers with a fairly inexperienced group. Terrance Smith is a given as a starter, but who will flank him? Matthew Thomas might be too good to keep off the field, which could leave one remaining spot for a very talented unit.

One way-too-early prediction:

The Noles were an offensive juggernaut in 2013, but the offense will sputter some against quality defenses. The issue at receiver is one that will not be settled in the near future, and it could cost Florida State a game.
Florida State opens spring practice next week, and there are plenty of big questions waiting to be answered. Before Jimbo Fisher gets his chance to weigh in on those discussions, however, we’re taking a crack at finding the answers.

So far, we’ve looked at Jameis Winston’s second act, Karlos Williams’ emergence, transitions on the defensive front and the spring’s breakout stars.

Last up: What will be the biggest question mark still lingering for Florida State once spring practice ends?

Jared Shanker says the potential for complacency could haunt FSU throughout the summer.

JS: There is no question Florida State has the talent to repeat. Barring anything unforeseen, the Seminoles will be the preseason No. 1 team, and quite possibly a unanimous selection. The Heisman winner returns and is in his third year in the program, and outside of mentor Nick Saban no coach has recruited better than Jimbo Fisher since 2010.

Sure the Noles lose key skill players on offense and arguably their best player at every level of the defense, but Florida State has established itself as a reload-not-rebuild type of program. Questions at receiver, defensive tackle and linebacker are not going to be completely settled by the end of spring practice, but the biggest question mark will be whether the Noles carry that same hunger into 2014 as they did a season ago.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's Jimbo Fisher
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe talent is there for an FSU repeat, but can Jimbo Fisher keep his team pointed in the right direction?
Fisher coached under Saban while at LSU, and Saban has spent the last few seasons guarding his Alabama teams against complacency. Coming off an Orange Bowl win and an undefeated national championship season the last two years, there could be a tendency for younger players to take their foot off the proverbial pedal. When spring practice ends next month, Fisher will not be able to work with his players again until fall camp. He has to count on his leaders to keep the team motivated, but outside of Winston -- who's spending equal amount of time on the diamond -- the Noles have lost their most influential locker room presences.

Florida State has the talent to go 12-0, win another ACC title and go wire-to-wire as No. 1 through the regular season and playoffs. For the next nine months, the Noles will need to look in the mirror and honestly assess their effort, because what ultimately could derail FSU’s chances at a repeat is itself.

David Hale wonders how the receiving corps will fill out in fall camp.

DH: Entering spring practice, the biggest question in my mind is on the defensive line, where the absence of Timmy Jernigan means a major hole for Florida State to fill. But there are solid options in Nile Lawrence-Stample, Desmond Hollin, Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks and Derrick Mitchell -- all of whom will be competing for reps this spring. We may not have a definitive answer there when it’s all over, but we’ll have a better idea of what the Seminoles have to work with.

The second biggest question I have entering the spring is at receiver, where Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin are moving on to the NFL, taking 43 percent of Winston’s 2013 targets with them. Who’s going to fill that void? Unlike at defensive tackle, there’s virtually no chance we’ll have a definitive answer to that question by the time FSU wraps up its Garnet and Gold game.

Yes, we’ll get a better look at last year’s new arrivals. Kermit Whitfield has the speed to be a star (and after his kick return in the title game, he might already be one), but can he be as reliable in the slot as Shaw? Will Jesus Wilson or Isaiah Jones (five combined catches last season) step up as a reliable option on the outside? Can Christian Green or Jarred Haggins break through as seniors? Will Nick O'Leary play more of a role as a receiver as FSU employs more two-tight end sets? (For what it’s worth, Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary get 40 to 50 catches in 2014.)

Even if Florida State finds answers to all those questions this spring, the most intriguing options in the receiving corps don’t arrive until the fall. FSU inked three ESPN 300 receivers on national signing day -- Ja'Von Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph -- who will bring a massive talent influx to the depth chart. All are in the 6-foot-1 to 6-2 range, adding some height to a receiving corps that, for the first time since Fisher arrived, lacks a true big man. All have ample ability to blossom quickly, though receivers tend to have among the hardest times adjusting from high school to college. In other words, the big mystery at the position is tabled until the fall, which is why I expect it will be one of the hottest talking points among FSU fans throughout the summer.
It is officially time for Florida State to put its 2013 championship season behind it and begin pursuit of a second consecutive national title as spring practice is just two weeks away.

While many of the Seminoles’ top players will return to Doak Campbell Stadium this fall, graduation, early departures and transfers have left coach Jimbo Fisher searching for answers at a handful of positions. There is talent and depth across the board, but the FSU staff is hoping key replacements emerge this spring before being thrust into pivotal roles in the fall.

[+] EnlargeDoak Campbell, Christian Green
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesSeminoles wideout Christian Green caught 13 passes for 157 yards in 2013.
This week we look at five key position battles for the Seminoles this spring, and Wednesday we break down the competition to replace Kelvin Benjamin at receiver. The backup quarterback battle was dissected Monday, and Tuesday we examined the depth chart at running back.

Position: Receiver (Z)
Replacing: Kelvin Benjamin
Candidates: Jesus Wilson, Christian Green, Jarred Haggins and Isaiah Jones

A potential first-round pick, it will be tough for Florida State to replace the size and speed combination of Benjamin. While the Noles have a few playmakers at receiver, they lack another option with similar physical tools (6-foot-5, 234 pounds) coupled with the consistent production (54 receptions, 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns) of Benjamin. When Florida State needed a play late in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, it looked to Benjamin to outmuscle and outjump the Auburn defense in the red zone.

Green, at 6-2, and 200 pounds, has a physical presence about him, but the senior took a step back in 2013. If there is a player on the roster this spring who could be the next Benjamin, it could be the sophomore Jones. The 6-4, 200-pound receiver played sparingly as a freshman but was a top-20 receiver nationally coming out of high school. Like Benjamin, Jones is not a burner but is a “big guy who has a noticeable second gear,” his RecruitingNation scouting report states.

The “Z” receiver in the offense is usually not a player with the type of physical gifts Benjamin possesses, however, which could make it somewhat easier to replace him. The Z receiver, or flanker, is generally lined up off the line of scrimmage, which makes for an easier release off the line of scrimmage by avoiding a jam from the cornerback. Benjamin’s backup in 2013 was Wilson, a 5-9, 177-pound freshman. Haggins is 6-0 and 193 pounds, and he is coming off a knee injury that cost him all of 2013.

In all likelihood, Fisher will have a player at the top of the depth chart by the end of the spring, but the receiver position opposite Rashad Greene will not be settled until August. No program might have signed a better receiver class this past February than Florida State, which landed three ESPN 300 prospects at the position.

Among them is Ermon Lane, the No. 2 receiver in the country. When the 6-2, 196-pound Lane enrolls this summer, he will immediately become one of the names to watch in preseason camp. Fellow ESPN 300 receivers Travis Rudolph (6-1, 188) and Ja'Von Harrison (6-1, 190) have similar builds and high school credentials.

FSU instant impacts: The receivers

February, 18, 2014
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This week, we’ll dig into the Class of 2014 to project which of the newest group of Seminoles project to make an instant impact on the field this season.

We’ve already looked at DT Demarcus Christmas.

Next up: Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison.

[+] EnlargeErmon Lane
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsErmon Lane, the nation's No. 2 receiver, leads a trio of ESPN 300 pass catchers who signed with FSU.
The players: Florida State’s haul at wide receiver on signing day was a boon for Jameis Winston and the offense. Lane, Rudolph and Harrison are all ESPN 300 players, all with good speed, size and high school pedigree. Lane was the No. 2 receiver in the nation this year, and while he’s already big (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) he has room to grow. Rudolph was ESPN’s No. 6 receiver after racking up 1,237 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman. FSU swiped Harrison from Virginia Tech on signing day to complete the trifecta. At 6-2, 190, Harrison could benefit from some added bulk, but his versatility (he played defensive back and returned punts in high school) make him a good candidate to get on the field early at FSU.

The need: Winston benefited from a small but veteran group of receivers in 2013, connecting routinely with Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw -- all of whom finished with at least 930 yards and 50 catches. In 2014, however, Greene is the only holdover of the group. Shaw was a wizard in the slot, averaging better than 17 yards per catch. Benjamin was a rare mix of size (6-5) and speed who was adept at grabbing jump balls and turning them into big plays.

The competition: FSU has two returning veteran receivers, but neither has done much in the past two seasons. Redshirt senior Jarred Haggins missed all of 2013 with a knee injury, and it remains to be seen how much he’ll participate in spring drills. Christian Green showed plenty of promise with 26 catches as a redshirt freshman in 2011, but he has just 16 receptions in the past two years combined. The real depth might come from last year’s signing class, led by speedster Kermit Whitfield. Tight end Nick O'Leary also figures to carry a larger load in the passing game in 2014.

The prediction: The expectations are immense for all three new members of FSU’s receiving corps, but it’s worth remembering that receivers often take time to develop, and there will be only so many balls to go around. Odds are at least one member of the trio finds a sizable role this season, while the others get their feet wet and, ideally, show good progress as the season continues. That’s how Fisher played it with last season's trio of receivers, but the needs figure to be bigger and the talent level better for this year’s incoming freshmen. None project to match Benjamin’s big-play ability, but if Lane, Rudolph and Harrison can combine to offer something close in Year 1, FSU will be pleased.

FSU room to improve: Wide receiver

February, 12, 2014
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The celebration of a BCS championship victory is in the rearview mirror for Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and Co. have already turned their attention toward adding another trophy in 2014. So as Florida State preps for spring practice, we’re digging into the biggest questions, position battles and storylines facing the defending national champs.

This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield will be called upon to be more than a dynamic kick returner in 2014.
Previously, we reviewed the running backs and linebackers.

Next up: Receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.).

Greene’s decision to return for his senior season was crucial for Florida State. He has led the Seminoles in receiving each of his three years in Tallahassee, and he was Winston’s most reliable target in 2013, catching 76 passes (second most in school history) for 1,128 yards. The problem is, there’s not much in the way of established talent surrounding Greene. Whitfield figures to be a suitable replacement for Kenny Shaw in the slot, and he showed ample gamebreaking ability in the return game in 2013. Finding someone to step in for the departed Kelvin Benjamin, however, remains a far bigger question mark.

Strength in numbers: Jarred Haggins (RS Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.), Isaiah Jones (So.).

Haggins’ return at least provides some veteran depth for a group that has little in the way of experience, but coming off a season-ending knee injury, Haggins hasn’t caught a pass since the 2012 ACC title game. Wilson and Jones each got a taste of action last season, but both have plenty of growing still to do.

New on the scene: Travis Rudolph (Fr.), Ermon Lane (Fr.), Ja'Von Harrison (Fr.).

Florida State might have landed the best recruiting class at wide receiver in the nation, with Rudolph, Lane and Harrison all making the ESPN 300. It wouldn’t be a shock if all three freshmen make an instant impact, and given the lack of depth at the position currently on the roster, all will surely get a chance to prove they deserve playing time.

What to watch: FSU fans won’t get a glimpse of the super trio of freshmen until fall camp, which puts the spring focus squarely on last year’s class. It’s not uncommon for a receiver to make a big leap developmentally from Year 1 to Year 2, and Wilson and Jones certainly have the talent to do so. Whitfield is electric, but it remains to be seen if he can use his world-class speed as well at receiver as he did in the return game. Green is an intriguing figure this spring, too. After a solid 2011 season, he’s all but disappeared from the offense the past two years, and he could find himself behind the youngsters on the depth chart in 2014, too, if he doesn’t turn in a solid spring.
It was an off-hand comment from Jimbo Fisher on national signing day that first drew the attention of Florida State fans, but Jameis Winston added validity to the notion on Thursday, saying he planned to play two more years in Tallahassee before heading to the NFL.

The plan comes as a surprise to many outsiders, given Winston’s status as a likely first round pick in the 2015 draft -- and, perhaps, the first selection overall. But for Winston, it’s not entirely unreasonable.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIf Jameis Winston sticks to his plan to play two more years at FSU, the ramification could be far-reaching.
The Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t mind going against conventional wisdom, with his return to the baseball team this spring providing the perfect context. Since his recruitment, Winston has insisted he wants to be a two-sport star, playing both football and baseball professionally before his career is over. That’s part of what brought him to Florida State in the first place. After his exceptional 2013 football season, it seemed reasonable he’d shift his focus entirely toward football and avoid the risk of injury on the baseball field. For Winston, however, that was never a consideration.

Winston will take a similar approach toward his decision regarding the NFL draft. Baseball remains a priority for him, and if staying through the 2015 football season allows him to continue to develop on the diamond, it’s entirely possible he’ll stick around. And for now, that appears to be the plan.

But what would it mean for FSU to have Winston in garnet and gold for an extra year? A few key points to keep in mind:

The depth chart

If Winston planned to leave for the NFL as soon as he’s eligible, that would’ve meant a chance for Jacob Coker to start for Florida State in 2015, but clearly that possibility wasn’t enough to keep him in Tallahassee. Coker plans to transfer to Alabama at the end of this semester, and given Winston’s plans to stick around for two more years, Fisher understood Coker’s rationale.

"He wants to graduate and he wants to play. He's got two years left and he's a year behind Jameis. Could he battle again? Yes. But I understand,” Fisher said. “I’m very supportive of it. I think the guy is a good player. I think he's going to be a good quarterback and we had a great conversation about it.”

Should Winston stay, it also makes FSU’s one-quarterback haul on signing day a little easier to tolerate. Treon Harris, a longtime FSU commit, flipped to Florida on Wednesday, leaving J.J. Cosentino as Florida State’s lone QB signing. That might be a concern if Winston departs following the 2014 season, but another year for the Heisman winner allows FSU to pad its QB depth with next year’s recruiting class, too.

While Sean Maguire likely will be the No. 2 for Florida State in 2014 and 2015, Cosentino also gets an extra year to develop his skills, too, and Fisher said the QB from Western Pennsylvania has ample upside when his time finally arrives.

The recruiting buzz

Winston’s plans to stay through 2015 actually might have hurt Florida State’s hopes of inking two quarterbacks in this year’s signing class, but just the notion that the star QB will be in Tallahassee for two more seasons is certainly a big selling point for other offensive talent.

FSU already inked three top receivers this year in Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison, along with highly touted running back Dalvin Cook. The opportunity to spend two years playing with Winston was certainly alluring.

But even the notion that Winston might be back for 2015 provides Fisher with another selling point on the recruiting trail this coming year. If Class of 2015 recruits believe he’ll be around for their freshman season, it’s one more reason to think FSU is a great landing spot.

“I also think getting them here and getting them to play with him is tremendous, especially when we have a need at that position,” Fisher said of his wide receiver recruiting. “Those guys have a chance to make an impact and be able to play with him.”

The 2015 season

Winston’s return for his redshirt junior campaign would mean a lot to a Florida State offense that figures to endure a massive overhaul in 2015. Of the 10 other projected offensive starters this season, as many as nine figure to be gone in 2015, including the entirety of the offensive line.

That’s perhaps a reason for Winston to reconsider his plan moving forward. While his talent and football acumen certainly won’t diminish with an extra year in college, the risk of injury is a real concern, and with five new starters on the offensive line in 2015, the potential for an injury diminishing his draft stock becomes all the more likely.

But if Winston does come back in 2015, it allows for some stability for an offense that will be saying goodbye to Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, among others.

The reality

The problem with all this supposition about Winston’s future is that he’s still 11 months away from having to commit to any definitive decision, and a lot can happen in that time. While Winston might be completely sincere in his plan to stay through 2015 now, the lure of first round money in the NFL and the risk of spending another year playing two sports in college could certainly change his mind. If he does, FSU is still in good shape with Maguire and Cosentino. If he doesn't, the Seminoles fans get an extra year with a once-in-a-lifetime player.

At this point, there’s no reason for Winston to offer any possibility other than his stated commitment to remain at Florida State. But what Winston and Fisher believe today doesn’t matter all that much. If his plans haven’t changed by January 2015, however, it’s an enormous boon for Florida State.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The words were likely the same as the ones spoken by every other coach in the country, Jimbo Fisher was quick to admit Wednesday, but that didn’t make them any less true.

[+] EnlargeErmon Lane
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsErmon Lane, the No. 2 WR in the nation and No. 22 prospect overall, was a nice late addition for FSU.
Florida State’s 2014 signing class had a little bit of everything, and that made it easy to love. There were the high-profile stars, including receiver Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) and defensive end Lorenzo Featherston (Greensboro, N.C./Page). There were the late additions, from receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Senior) to tackle Roderick Johnson (Florissant, Mo./Hazelwood Central). There was strength in numbers, including huge hauls on both sides of the line, and there were unique talents such as defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee), who Fisher raved might be one of the five best players in the country.

The Seminoles inked at least one player in every position group -- and a long snapper to boot -- with Fisher heaping praise on each one.

“The first thing is you need the ingredients to bake the cake,” Fisher said. “We have the ingredients.”

The class wasn’t the most high-profile. While Florida State did nab 13 ESPN 300 prospects and two more top junior-college transfers, it didn’t rack up a heaping quantity of five-star studs like Alabama did. The Seminoles grabbed some prized late additions, too, but also lost QB Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) and defensive lineman Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda), both longtime commits. But it was the grunt work on players such as Christmas that had Fisher so excited about the future Wednesday.

“If Christmas would have gone to [more] camps, he would be been the No. 1 or 2 player in the whole country,” Fisher said. “Everybody we asked, the first guy to come out of their mouth was [Christmas]. ‘That's the best football player we've played against in 10 years.’ Everybody. I never had so many coaches tell me he was the best player. Even coaches from Miami and the players in Miami. When guys in Miami give you credit, they don't give nobody credit.”

The same was true at quarterback, where Fisher spent his time raving about J.J. Cosentino (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic) rather than lament the loss of Harris. The 6-foot-4 QB from western Pennsylvania could wind up the heir apparent to Jameis Winston in a year -- or two years, as Fisher optimistically projected Wednesday -- and might already have the best arm of anyone on Florida State’s roster.

Highly touted running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) is already enrolled, but Fisher raved Wednesday about the versatility of three-star prospect Jonathan Vickers (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian). Rudolph and Lane were two of the top six receivers in the nation, but Fisher heaped praise on Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), too.

“He has a ton of juice,” Fisher said. “He can accelerate. He can make you miss. He can punt return, play defense, blocks very well. He has great length, size. I think Ja’Von has a big-time future.”

Florida State wrapped up the day with the No. 3 class in the country, the fifth time in as many years Fisher has nabbed a top-10 class. But Fisher wasn’t concerned with the final ranking.

“There's not a guy in here, even from a size standpoint, I don’t think will have a great future,” Fisher said. “Tremendous."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the speech he delivered to some 30,000 Florida State fans at the team’s championship celebration at Doak Campbell Stadium last weekend, Jimbo Fisher touched on two primary themes.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher says the benefits of winning a national title is only beginning for Florida State on the recruiting trail.
First, he was grateful. He thanked the fans and the players and the coaches, but most importantly, the senior class. Those were the kids who believed in a recruiting pitch four years ago that was little more than grandiose promises designed to overshadow a 7-6 record and a rookie coaching staff. It was a tough sell, but Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, Kenny Shaw and others bought in anyway.

Beyond that, however, Fisher talked about the promise of the future. Four years after Joyner and Smith and Shaw inked their names to a letter of intent at Florida State, the Seminoles now have a national championship trophy, and Fisher has a recruiting pitch that can both underscore the present and showcase a far more vivid plan for the future.

“We want to build a program,” Fisher said. “We’re not worried about a team; we’re building a program. And I think we can be very good again.”

Fisher did an exceptional job selling Florida State to recruits even when there wasn’t much to sell. His 2010 class was ranked sixth by ESPN. In 2011, FSU was tops, and in 2012, the Seminoles ranked second. Last year’s class was ranked No. 9, but immediately produced a trio of impact players on a national championship team.

Now, with that trophy providing an easy sales tool, Florida State heads into national signing day with the No. 3 class in the country and a chance to snag a few more big names before it’s over.

The wins aren’t the only catalyst for such strong classes. When Fisher took over in 2010, the Seminoles had a dearth of NFL talent, but last year, a record 11 Seminoles were drafted. As many as a dozen more could be selected this year. That has allowed recruits to see a clear path to the NFL, but it also has opened up opportunities for immediate playing time.

Last year, 14 of FSU’s 21 signees saw action, with three getting starting nods throughout the season. There figures to be even more room for new recruits this season.

With Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin departing, FSU’s receiving corps lacks much experience, but Florida State remains in on four receivers in the ESPN 300, including Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla.) and Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman).

The same is true on the offensive line, where all five projected 2014 starters are set to graduate at year’s end. The line has been one of the few areas FSU has struggled to land top recruits in past seasons, but the Seminoles already have commitments from six linemen heading into signing day.

But even in areas with ample competition, FSU is making headway. Fisher has commitments from two ESPN 300 quarterbacks, despite having the Heisman winner at the position already. He has been able to land that talent with a far different sales pitch today than the one he offered five years ago.

Florida State is no longer a place where recruits can come to rebuild a once-mighty program. It’s a place where the program can build recruits into stars.

“It’s way different,” Shaw said. “This year, it’s like, if you don’t want to be a part of this organization, it’s either you don’t want to compete or you don’t want to be a champion. We’ve set the bar to the limit.”

Of course, with the 2014 class waiting only for its finishing touches, Fisher isn’t easing up on his sales pitch.

The benefits of a national championship on the recruiting trail, he said, are only beginning.

“A lot of these relationships were built before the championship was won,” Fisher said. “It definitely helped cement where we’re going, where the program is going. But you’ll see this even more in the future.”

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2014
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Less than two weeks remain until national signing day, and this was the second-to-last official visit weekend before Feb. 5. There were a couple of big decommitments, a few commitments and several key official visits. Here’s a closer look at all the latest recruiting news around the SEC.

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