Spring QB Preview: Put Winston in Bubble Wrap

The starting quarterback position at FSU is not in doubt, but with the departure of Jacob Coker, Florida State needs its backup quarterbacks to get lots of reps this spring. Given Winston's baseball load, how many snaps should Winston take in the spring?

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the battle for the starting quarterback position was the central question for Florida State going into spring practice. Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker, and a redshirt freshman named Jameis Winston would battle for the starting role all spring, with the final decision still remaining somewhat in doubt through the summer.

Fourteen wins, one Heisman Trophy, and one national championship later, FSU's starting quarterback for the 2014 season is not in doubt. But that doesn't mean the quarterback position isn't again an intriguing aspect of spring practice.

This time it's the backup quarterbacks who will be front and center, as this will likely be a crucial spring for grooming Winston's successor. Given Coker's transfer to Alabama, redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire and redshirt freshman John Franklin will now get additional snaps behind Winston, as they—along with highly-regarded recruit J.J. Cosentino, who will arrive in the summer—will eventually battle to succeed Winston.

Maguire arrived fairly raw, having come from a Wing-T offense in high school, but saw mop-up duty in several games in the fall and generally made good decisions in his limited opportunities. Maguire does have good feet and excellent size (6'3, 220) for the position to go with a very strong arm. He does have a bit of a hitch in his delivery, as he pulls the ball down below the shoulder before cocking the arm. The spring typically offers more opportunity to work on mechanics, so I expect to see Jimbo Fisher and QB coach Randy Sanders spend extra time working on shortening Maguire's release over the next month.

Maguire looks to be a potentially solid option for the future, but Franklin is the more intriguing prospect. Franklin lacks Maguire's size as he's listed at 6'0, 171 (though he has looked closer to 6'1 when I have stood next to him), but there is no questioning the elite speed he brings to the table, as he is fresh off a 12th place finish with a scorching 6.92 in the 60m at the ACC Championships. To put that in perspective, Clemson WR Sammy Watkins' best 60m time was a 6.91 in 2011.

Most evaluators expected Franklin to transition to receiver or defensive back at Florida State because of his elite athleticism. I was an exception to this at that time, as Franklin showed the ability to make every throw and flashed good anticipation and instincts as a passer on his high school tape.

When I was in Pasadena, the coaches and players raved about Franklin's scout team performance, as his dual-threat ability presented huge difficulties for the starting defense preparing to face Auburn's Nick Marshall. Defensive coaches told anecdotes about 70 and 80-yard runs against the starting defense and how they hoped Marshall didn't have the same level of success Franklin had managed. Without a doubt, having an athlete at that level taking snaps would be different than anything else we've seen from Fisher's offense.

In the few opportunities I've had to see Franklin throw in person, he showed above-average arm strength but didn't yet spin it at the level of the other QBs on the roster. The jury is therefore still out on how well he will transition to the demands of Fisher's passing offense, and this spring will be the first step toward answering that question.

Put Winston in Bubble Wrap

Winston, of course, will be focusing primarily on baseball during the spring, though he will participate in spring practice. The question is, how many reps should he take during the spring?

Winston still does have things he can improve upon, most notably polishing his footwork in the pocket, shortening his release somewhat, improving his ball-handling, and committing more to taking his check-downs when downfield options are covered. Nevertheless, my view is that, unlike last spring when he needed to compete for the job, there is little to gain from having Winston take many reps in the spring.

The relative benefit of giving Maguire and Franklin as many reps as possible, both for their own benefit and to get a better sense of what they have to offer for the future, is higher than having Winston take the bulk of the snaps with the first team.

Given the typical line situation in the spring, quarterbacks almost always get more out of playing with the first-team line, and both Franklin and Maguire could benefit immensely by getting those first-team reps.

Were I in Fisher's shoes, Winston would obviously attend every meeting and practice, but his on-field workload would be half or less. He would participate in the warm-up drills and mechanical work at the beginning of each practice along with individual period work (footwork/play fakes), but he would cut to half the usual number of reps (or less) once practice progressed to WR/DB one-on-ones and 7-on-7 pass skeleton.

In skeleton and scrimmage periods (as well as full scrimmages), Winston would only take about half the reps with the ones (or less), while Maguire and Franklin would take the other half, both reducing Winston's overall workload while giving the young players as much quality time as possible. By the final scrimmage of the spring, I might give Winston a series or two with the young QBs getting the rest.

I know I'll be interested to see how the staff handles the situation this spring, but don't be surprised if Winston is basically put in bubble wrap during the spring while Fisher gets a better sense of what the young QBs have to offer.


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