Spring Game Primer: What to Watch

FSU returns a loaded roster for the 2014 season, but a few questions remain. The spring game should give some indication of how some of these questions may be answered in the fall.

Florida State will enter the 2014 season with sky-high expectations as the Seminoles return a loaded roster, including Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at quarterback. Nevertheless, several questions loom for the defending champs, with Saturday's spring game the first opportunity for fans and media to get a sense of how well the Noles will fill some of the holes left by departures from the 2014 season. Below, we look at five things (and players) to watch in tomorrow's spring game.

1. The Nose Tackle Position: Keith Bryant

It remains our view that while Florida State could conceivably make it to the College Football Playoff without great play at the nose tackle position, the Seminoles will need to find a solid replacement for the departed Timmy Jernigan if they are to win a second consecutive title.

Nile Lawrence-Stample is the natural replacement for Jernigan, as he was the backup last year, but the dropoff between Jernigan and Lawrence-Stample was massive last year, as evidenced in the fourth quarter against Auburn. Early reports from the spring had Lawrence-Stample looking better than ever, as he had shed some of the bad weight he had carried in 2013 and was consistently beating FSU's outstanding interior linemen in practice.

He is, however, out for two months with a shoulder injury, leaving the primary first-team repetitions to redshirt freshman Keith Bryant over the past week. Provided NLS returns full-strength and in shape, this is just as well, as Bryant is in my view one of the most important players on the FSU roster for 2014, as it is important for FSU not only to replace Jernigan but to have solid depth at the position to ensure that Lawrence-Stample doesn't get worn down over the course of the season or in any single game; one dependable nose tackle is not enough to contend with the Alabama offensive line, for example.

Physically speaking, Bryant is the closest to Jernigan of anyone on the FSU roster. He's naturally explosive and carries his 315 pounds very well, and has displayed the ability to get penetration on the interior. He still needs to get more consistent with his assignments and get better at anchoring against double teams to occupy blockers, which has been a major emphasis in the spring. Keep your eye on Bryant in this scrimmage, as his development is critical to FSU's success in the fall.

2. The #2 Wide Receiver Position: Christian Green and Isaiah Jones

Florida State returns two of the nation's top pass-catchers at their positions in receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary. But the rest of the receiving corps from 2013 will be replaced, with the departure of Kelvin Benjamin leaving the largest void, both literally and figuratively.

The slot position looks to be in terrific hands, as the departed Kenny Shaw will be replaced by fifth-year senior Scooter Haggins, senior Christian Green, and sophomores Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.

Haggins has bulked up his upper body considerably during his rehab year and should be both a terrific blocker and a dependable receiver between the numbers next year. He's likely to get a few reps at the #2 receiver when FSU is not in 3WR formations, though he's more natural in the slot.

Whitfield is already well-known for his world-class speed (one of the true football players about whom one can actually say this, given his 10.15 100m time); giving him more at-bats can only be a positive thing for the Seminoles.

Wilson is my favorite of the young receivers, as he is the most natural receiver of the four slots. He makes everything from route-running to catching the football look effortless and possesses outstanding explosiveness and surprising strength. I expect to see a good bit of Wilson at the #2 spot as well, as he is strong enough to handle the outside.

Green remains an enigma, a tremendous athlete with great natural hands who simply hasn't been able to put it together so far at FSU. At 6'2, 207, Green has the size to play outside and has gotten more reps there during the spring, so he'll be a key figure to watch for progress, especially when lined up outside.

The guy I'm most interested to see in this one, though, is sophomore Isaiah Jones, who at 6'4 gives FSU the kind of big outside target Jimbo Fisher always likes to have in his offense. Jones is a smooth glider but came into Tallahassee a bit raw as a freshman. As good as the rest of the receiving corps looks, that #2 receiver needs to be a dependable downfield threat, and Jones looks to have the initial inside track at that spot. I'll be watching to see how his game has grown since his arrival.

3. The Safety Position: Trey Marshall

In my view, the most underrated player on the 2013 team was safety Terrence Brooks, who was the glue in one of the most talented secondaries I've ever seen at the college level. Regardless of where he is chosen, I believe Brooks is one of the top defensive back prospects in the NFL draft and may well turn into an Pro Bowl performer at that level.

Because Jalen Ramsey is moving to the Star (nickelback) position to replace Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State not only has to replace Brooks but both safeties. Nate Andrews and Tyler Hunter are the natural replacements at those positions, but given the multiple-DB packages FSU likes to use and Hunter's injury past, I expect to see a lot of freshman Trey Marshall next year.

Fisher has raved about Marshall all spring, and I'm looking forward to seeing the debut of the guy who just might be the next great FSU safety. Pay attention to Marshall in the defensive backfield whenever the ball is in his area.

4. The Linebacker Position

With Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, the linebacker position will feature a young new crew. I'm looking forward to seeing how the new staff uses Matthew Thomas and E.J. Levenberry in particular.

5. The Backup-backup QB Position: John Franklin

I've been quite open about my curiosity about redshirt freshman John Franklin at the quarterback position, as he doesn't fit the stereotypical Jimbo Fisher quarterback mold but has all the tools to be a dynamic player in the FSU offense. I'm looking forward to our first chance to see Franklin throw in quasi-live action against FSU's defense. Will he show development indicating he could compete for the job after Winston leaves for the professional ranks?

Franklin's development matters less for 2014 than the more distant future, but I'm more interested to see FSU's third string quarterback than anyone else on the field. I suppose that's yet another sign of just how loaded FSU's roster is headed into 2014. It's quite a luxury to be able to focus on the third-string quarterback.


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