Instant Observations from the FSU Spring Game

A few initial observations from Florida State's spring game.

Florida State fans got their first look at life after Jameis Winston and the remaining veteran stars from the 2013 and 2014 seasons as the Seminoles wrapped up spring practice with the Garnet and Gold Game on Saturday. Given FSU’s youth and the fact that over twenty players were held out due to injury, the results were predictably mixed.

The Good

Hello, Derwin James. The five star early enrollee clearly learned how to make an entrance from Jameis Winston. James intercepted a Sean Maguire pass on the second play of the game and returned it 41 yards for a score. James was outstanding throughout the scrimmage, showing discipline and good instincts in coverage and run support. James is every bit as good as advertised and should be in the starting lineup right away.

Hello, George Campbell. Another five star early enrollee has been reading from the same crib sheet as James, as Campbell ended his first spring game drive with a 65-yard catch-and-run for a score. Campbell dropped another catchable deep ball (admittedly a difficult grab) but finished with 2 catches for 99 yards and a score, albeit against lesser secondary talent, including a couple walk-ons. Campbell’s size and explosiveness will bring a different dimension to this offense from day one.

Hello, Jacques Patrick. Yet another five star early enrollee had a splash entrance, as Patrick ran for a long score on his first carry, although it did not count as it was called back for a penalty. Patrick appears to be the big back Florida State hoped it would have with James Wilder, Jr. and Karlos Williams and is a third early enrollee who showed he’s ready to make a meaningful contribution from day one.

Greetings to you, too, De’Andre Johnson. The less highly-touted of the Seminoles’ two quarterback signees in this class had arguably the best performance of the FSU signal callers, displaying a natural feel for the position and the ability to make quality throws downfield from both inside and outside the pocket. We had gotten reports that Johnson had been the most impressive quarterback the last couple weeks of practice, and he did nothing to question that in the spring game.

The offensive line played outstanding. Obviously left tackle Rod Johnson is a known entity, but the new unit didn’t miss a beat. Right tackle Brock Ruble especially stood out with his natural bend and quickness. For the first time in recent memory, FSU will have two natural tackles on the field at the same time, whether it’s Ruble or Chad Mavety, who missed with further concussion symptoms. The guard play was also very good; if FSU can find competent center play (potentially Notre Dame transfer Matt Hegarty), this offensive line may (amazingly) wind up being better than last year’s group. It’s certainly a more athletic bunch overall.

The FSU defensive front has improved on the edge. Jacob Pugh was the headliner on the edge through most of the spring, but Ricky Leonard and Demarcus Walker both appeared to have solid days (we’ll have to look more closely at the tape to be sure). Leonard’s athleticism jumped out on several occasions, and his development is a very encouraging sign for a defense that struggled on the edge last season.

The first team secondary was better than anticipated. The starting wide receivers generally had trouble getting separation downfield, and the first unit gave up no big plays while harrying Maguire into a subpar performance. Jalen Ramsey is as good as expected at the boundary corner, Trey Marshall repeatedly flashed from the star position and led the defense with 10 tackles, and Marquez White was solid at the field corner spot.

Ja’Vonn “Pigg” Harrison also showed why he has passed Ermon Lane on the depth chart, getting the best separation among the first-team receivers and flashing explosive burst with the football after the catch. He had further to go when he arrived, but Harrison has the highest ceiling of the receivers who signed in 2015 and showed that he’s worked to get close to that ceiling.

Bobo Wilson also played well on his way to leading the team in receptions and receiving yardage, including a couple wins against Ramsey.

Improvement from the defensive tackles. Derrick Nnadi appears ready to take the next step forward on the interior, and Fred Jones was much better than expected (I was higher on him than most coming out of high school and he was better than even I anticipated).

Mavin Saunders had an outstanding day from the tight end position, finishing with 6 catches for 91 yards and a score, including a Gronkowski-style high pointing of the football for a first down toward the end of the scrimmage. Saunders remains one of my players to watch in the fall.

The Bad

The center position remains a major question mark. Shotgun snaps were completely unpredictable, including one that zipped well over Maguire’s head. Neither center is especially physical at this stage, either.

The lack of depth at linebacker was apparent with walk-ons getting most of the snaps, though Ro’Derrick Hoskins flashed excellent athleticism in pass coverage for the ones.

The injury situation made evaluating the defense especially difficult.

The Ugly

Maguire had a day to forget, and the quarterback position generally served as a reminder of just how good Winston was. Maguire had a poor start with a pick-six on his first drive and didn’t do much to alleviate concerns afterwards. Yes, that interception was partly the result of a receiver running the wrong route, but throwing late over the middle into a crowd of four defenders is inexcusable.

Most concerning is that Maguire’s propensity to double-clutch and throw late reared its ugly head on numerous occasions today, leading to the two interceptions and at least two others that should have been intercepted. Fisher’s offense rewards the ability to make quick decisions and throw into space, and Maguire has still not shown the ability to do that to this point.

J.J. Cosentino showed a few encouraging signs but was similarly late on some throws, and he lacked the natural feel one hopes to see from a QB at this stage.

The FSU quarterback position remains quite unsettled going into the fall, and there were few encouraging signs that one of the older players will take a step forward and play at a reasonable level.

Preliminary Conclusions

Florida State has as much talent on the roster as anyone in the country, but there are definite holes right now, including at the most important spot. Fortunately, this team looks like it will be able to run the football and stop the run better than last year’s group. Either way, next year’s style of play is unlikely to look much like the brand of football that has been played the last two seasons.

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