Winston has a chance to be special
Assuming he doesn't get taken away by Major League Baseball, which is a remote possibility when the draft arrives in June, Hueytown (AL) High School quarterback Jameis Winston is arguably the most-heralded recruit in Florida State history at the game's most important position -- Dan Kendra in 1995 is his only competition. Winston is everything that coach Jimbo Fisher looks for in a signal caller, as he can make all the throws in the pocket, buy extra time with his legs and master what is a somewhat sophisticated offense, as evidenced by his 4.05 grade point average. Additionally, the 6-4, 190-pounder is overflowing with off-the-field intangibles, as he committed to the Seminoles quite some time ago, ignored the pressure to stay inside the football-crazy state of Alabama and then made his reservation for Tallahassee shortly after National Signing Day, just like he said he would all along.
FSU shouldn't need any help at QB this coming season, not with E.J. Manuel ready to be a fifth-year senior, Clint Trickett having a good deal of experience and Jacob Coker coming off a redshirt, but Winston is going to challenge for the starting job in 2013, whether Trickett and Coker like it or not.
Expect position changes this Spring
The 'Noles were nothing short of loaded at defensive tackle in 2011, and now three more are on their way in Washington (DC) Edison-Friendship Public Charter School's Eddie Goldman, Prattville (AL) High School's Justin Shanks and Defuniak Springs (FL) Walton Senior High School's Dalvon Stuckey -- Stuckey, however, could be an academic casualty and end up at junior college. Goldman was arguably the top recruit in the nation at his position and might be another Timmy Jernigan in terms of immediate impact, and while Shanks had a down senior year for a loaded Prattville squad, he was the best player on the field at a few camps he attended. Alongside Jernigan, Everett Dawkins, Anthony McCloud and Cameron Erving all return in 2012, so there are some pretty talented D-tackles behind them that won't sniff the rotation.
Derrick Mitchell and Nile Lawrence-Stample were both considered quality additions one February ago but may have to consider flipping over to the offensive line now, plus veterans like Darious Cummings and Demonte McAllister appear to be on the outside looking in from a depth-chart perspective.
Pender an important early enrollee
Anybody following college football during the 2011 campaign knows Florida State's Achilles' heel from start to finish was along the offensive line, as an ineffective quintet of contributors -- some very experienced, some awfully green -- never truly jelled and slowed down both the running and passing games. The ground attack in particular never truly got on track, but it wasn't entirely a product of unacceptable blocking since Chris Thompson's back prohibited him from being himself, Ty Jones' dearth of pure talent finally caught up to him and Jermaine Thomas' inconsistent production was maddening for Fisher. Eventually, freshman Devonta Freeman proved to be the best option in the backfield, helped by being an early enrollee and benefitting from a full Spring to learn Fisher's scheme backward and forward.
Cape Coral (FL) Island Coast High School tailback Mario Pender is already taking classes this semester and will also have a Spring under his belt before his freshman season arrives, and with an upside exceeding that of Freeman and fellow 2011 recruit James Wilder, he should see a healthy dose of carries right out of the gate.
No need to worry about Fowler loss
While the Seminoles didn't have to swallow too many bitter pills on signing day, as they landed the majority of the premier prospects they had targeted, they looked like chumps when long-time commitment Dante Fowler, a four-star defensive end from St. Petersburg (FL) Lakewood High School, turned down garnet and gold in favor of orange and blue. FSU fans never want to lose a player to the Gators, especially one with obvious pass-rushing gifts like Fowler, but this episode was especially troubling since it's possible he was playing Fisher and Co. all along and had no intention of heading to Tallahassee in the first place. An argument can be made that the coaching staff should have seen this coming, as Fowler kept making trip after trip to Gainesville and never turned down an interview request because he obviously loved attention -- maybe his offer should have been pulled and instead given to Leonard Williams, who ended up at USC.
However, Fisher stated in his press conference that Fowler expressed some concerns about playing time, most likely because he was the No. 3 D-end in the class behind five-star studs Mario Edwards and Chris Casher, and a recruit worried about PT is subconsciously admitting he isn't good enough to compete.
Quality over quantity was apparent
FSU only signed 19 players, which is a much smaller number when compared to other programs across the country that seemed to do very well with this recruiting cycle, but nobody attracted more high-hanging fruit to the fax machine than the 'Noles did. Scout.com gives five-star status to just 50 recruits from coast to coast, and Fisher managed to reel in six of them -- no other school got more than five. On top of that, eight of the top 100 are on their way to Tallahassee, while the higher-ranked classes from Texas (No. 1) and Florida (5) did no better than seven, plus Fisher's average star rating of 3.95 was far and away the best in the nation.
The key to building a winning program year after year is the ability to sign top-notch recruiting classes one February after another, which affords the opportunity to pound people with depth at each and every position, so now it's time to see if Fisher's hard work in the living room can finally translate to the football field.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
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