"The first thing we want to accomplish is to find out who is going to replace what you lost," said Bowden who will be coaching his 28th spring practice beginning Tuesday.
"Who's going to move up to starting positions?The thing about spring training is you give everybody a pretty good shot to show where they belong. That's the starting place every spring is to get our depth chart in order. This is the first team,this is second team, this is third team. So that 's our first goal."
Accomplishing that first goal should be fairly easy for the coaches on the defensive side of the ball and much more difficult for those on offense. The Seminoles return all but one starter from last year's defensive unit, which played its best football over the second half of the season. Offensively, the FSU staff will be pushing hard to see what they have to work with since just four starters return to the lineup.
Complicating the effort to develop a solid first and second team coming out of spring is the fact that the Seminoles will be missing a number of their key players due to injury.
"This is going to be what I call a very thin spring because we'll have a lot of guys out with injuries," Bowden said.
"It's a very common problem in college football now days. Many schools have cancelled their spring game because they simply cannot put two teams on the field and that's gotten to be normal. We're nearly in that boat with our defensive linemen. We've got them coming back, but they've all had operations. Our No.1, our No.2 and our No.3 defensive tackles have had operations and probably won't be able to participate in the spring. Then you move (Donnie)Carter over to offense. We've also got some defensive ends that have had operations.That will enable us to work more on fundamentals. We'll do more on pass skeleton scrimmaging and stuff like that to overcome it. Again, this is the thinnest we've been in a while."
The Florida State defense will be counted on to start the 2003 season in top form as it appears on paper that they would need to carry the early load while a young offensive unit finds it rhythm. The unit will be led by a pair of All-America candidates in linebackers Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware. While those two should compete for a number of preseason honors, experience abounds on the unit. The unfortunate part of the equation is that a large percentage of those returning starters will miss spring practice.
"We return 10 guys on defense and the good thing about that is most of them are guys that have been starting since they were sophomores," Bowden said.
"Again, we'll have some miss time as they recover from operations, so we'll have to establish some depth behind them this spring while they're out. It's good to look on the depth chart and see veterans like Boulware and Pope and guys like that, who have been there before."
The defense returns starters at every position except right defensive end, where All-ACC standout Alonzo Jackson played. However, there is a great deal of talent and experience at both defensive ends which means there should be quite a battle at that position this spring. Sophomore Eric Moore will head into spring as the first teamer at right defensive end, but Charles Howard, who missed all of last season with a knee injury is anxious to get back onto the field.
Missing from the defense this spring for either the entire 15-practice session or most of it will be Moore and Willie Jones at defensive end, Travis Johnson and Jeff Womble at noseguard, Pope from the linebacking corps and Stanford Samuels, B.J.Ward, Jerome Carter and Claudius Osei from the secondary.
However,the defense returns 25 players who earned a letter last season giving coaches confidence in the backups as well as the starters.
A look at the offense heading into spring reveals big challenges up front for the Seminoles. Four starting offensive linemen are gone along with Patrick Hughes at tight end. Not only did FSU lose quantity on the line they lost tremendous quality including All-American tackle Brett Williams who held his position for most of the past four years.
"The biggest thing on offense is replacing those linemen and the tight end that we lost," said Bowden. "We graduated four very good linemen last year along with a starting tight end so we'll see who steps up in those positions. Of course, we've got Paul Irons back at tight end and Matt Henshaw, and Donnie Carter is moving over there too from defense. That's the most urgent thing. We're also trying to find some depth at wideout."
Returning to the offense will be tailback Greg Jones who should be an All-America candidate after leading the ACC in rushing yards per game last year even after a knee injury at Wake Forest caused him to miss the last five games. Jones underwent reconstructive surgery, but should be on schedule to start the season. One thing is certain on offense, the Seminoles will have plenty of talent at the position. Willie Reid, who could be moved to wide receiver, returns along with Leon Washington and coaches are excited about what both players bring to runningback. In addition, recruiting legend Lorenzo Booker will see his first action after redshirting last year as a true freshman.
Another position with a returning starter facing some questions is quarterback. Junior Chris Rix will enter fall drills as the No.1 signal caller, but that is partly because his chief competition will be limited in spring workouts. Fabian Walker started the Sugar Bowl against Georgia, but underwent surgery after the season on his throwing shoulder and coaches will not know how much he will be able to throw until practice begins. Once healthy,W alker will battle it out for the starting job.
Also in the mix at quarterback will be promising redshirt freshman Wyatt Sexton and converted wide receiver Lorne Sam. Coaches will get their first look at sophomore walk-on David Koral this spring as well.
B.J. Dean returns to his starting fullback position where he shook off injuries to have an excellent freshman season. He joins junior offensive tackle Ray Willis who is the fourth returning starter. And while offensive line is where graduation hit hardest, there is starting experience returning threre with tackle Alex Barron, David Castillo at center and Bobby Meeks at guard, all of whom started a significant number of games in 2002.
The spring will be extremely important at wide receiver as well.
Anquan Boldin's early departure for the NFL is surprisingly rare for a program that produced the most NFL players in the league last year. He leaves a big hole in the big play category,but coaches will use the spring to sift through a very talented crop and find playmakers. Juniors Craphonso Thorpe and Dominic Robinson showed they could get the job done last year at flanker. Junior P.K. Sam could not shake a pulled hamstring last season, but will go into spring at the man to beat at split end. Redshirt junior Chauncy Stovall looks like he is ready to compete for playing time right away and coaches are anxious to put redshirt freshman Chris Davis through the routes after he missed all last season recovering from a knee injury. Joey Kaliekini will also see a lot of passes this spring.
With outstanding place kicker Xavier Beitia returning for his junior year,the marching orders for special teams will be to find a punter to replace two-year starter Chance Gwaltney. Sophomore Chris Hall will get his chance in the spring.
FSU 's schedule next year is sure to garner attention as the Seminoles will open at North Carolina and over the course of the season play Colorado and Miami at home,Notre Dame and Florida on the road, in addition to the full ACC slate.
Asked to peak ahead at the 2003 season, Bowden pointed to injuries as a key. "The main thing for us this year will be the injuries.
"Like I've said the last couple of years,it always seems like the teams playing for the national championship have gone through the season relatively injury-free. We have not had that the last couple of years. We've got to get guys healthy who are missing the spring and hope we can get through the full workout without any significant injuries."
This prospectus was provided by FSU's sports information department.