Florida State Football: 5 players to watch in 2017 spring game

Sep 24, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Jacques Patrick (9) dives forward in the second half as South Florida Bulls linebacker Cecil Cherry (33) defends in the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Florida State Seminoles won 55-35. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 24, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Jacques Patrick (9) dives forward in the second half as South Florida Bulls linebacker Cecil Cherry (33) defends in the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Florida State Seminoles won 55-35. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

With a stellar recruiting class and some formidable veterans returning, Florida State football has its eyes on the CFP this year. Here’s who to watch in the spring game.

The Florida State football spring practice sessions are well underway. The annual Garnet and Gold game, coming up this Saturday, April 8, is a great way for fans to check out some of the new recruits and see how the veteran players will perform in the fall season.

Unfortunately, we won’t get the chance to see Marvin Wilson, as the behemoth No. 1 defensive tackle won’t be in Tallahassee until fall. In addition, the ‘Noles have two starters sidelined with injury. Center Alec Eberle and guard Landon Dickerson will not be playing in the spring game as they recover from injuries.

Left tackle Roderick Johnson and left guard Kareem have departed for the NFL, as did insanely talented back Dalvin Cook. But the ‘Noles aren’t without their share of weapons. Quarterback Deondre Francois is back in the starting position, and if he shows even a fraction of the promise he did last year, expect a Heisman candidate in the redshirt sophomore. Some of the Noles most promising recruits will not be playing in Saturday’s match–safety Hamsah Nasirildeen among them.

Can the ‘Noles still be a contender without Cook? Who will pick up the pressure? Here are some things to watch on Saturday.

. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

5

Deondre Francois

QB, Florida State

Duh. Everyone’s eyes will be on Deondre Francois, the young quarterback with the golden arm. The ACC Freshman of the Year for 2016, Francois showed enviable poise all last season. Now that he is a veteran we should see even more from him.

Earlier this year, Francois threw a football three-and-a-half stories over the Pi Kappa Alpha house on the FSU campus. This stunt shows without doubt that Francois’ talent is undeniable–only one other quarterback, Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston, has ever managed to perform the same feat.

While this is an exhibition game, it also is a great means for assessing players. Francois finished 4-2 against ranked teams in 2016, but I think that number is going to be even better this year.

Red-zone offense was strong for the Seminoles in 2016. Francois threw 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone last season. Athlon Sports has Francois ranked in the top 15 quarterbacks in the country this season.

Sep 5, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles defensive back Derwin James (3) during the second half at Camping World Stadium. Florida State Seminoles defeated the Mississippi Rebels 45-34. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4

Derwin James

S, Florida State

Safety Derwin James was considered one of the best players in the country last year before an injury in the 2016 season put him on the sidelines.  He is back this year, and if he stays healthy could be one of the most dangerous defenders in the country. He is already receiving Heisman buzz, which would make him one of the only defensive players on that list.

With the loss of DeMarcus Walker from the Seminoles’ roster, James is a welcome boost to the team’s secondary. James spent much of 2016 on the sidelines; however, during his freshman year in 2015, James was a talented jack-of-all-trades for the Seminoles, ranking first or second on the team in solo tackles, total tackles, tackles for a loss, sacks and forced fumbles.

James is physical against the run, handles the blitz with finesse, and excels at pass protection. If the ‘Noles can keep James healthy, he may be one of the best players on an already loaded defensive line.

But James isn’t done yet. According to insiders who have been watching the Seminoles at spring practice, James has been playing kick returner, defensive end, linebacker, and cornerback. This versatility is something that the Seminoles have been missing since their national title season in 2013. Flexibility is something that the ‘Noles will need from their players, particularly with Alabama coming up as their first game of the 2017 season.

Nov 11, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Jacques Patrick (9) picks up a first down against the Boston College Eagles at Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida State won 45-7. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

3

Jacques Patrick Jr.

RB, Florida State

Patrick may be the most likely candidate to fill the big shoes of Dalvin Cook. He is an all-purpose back, with speed and size. The ‘Noles are looking like national title contenders with this much depth in their running game.

The up-and-coming running back averaged 62 carries in his first two seasons with the Seminoles and rushed for 664 yards. With Dalvin Cook out of the picture, those numbers should get even higher. Patrick’s size means that he is tailor-made for brutal, short-yard runs.

Patrick finished all 13 games last season and finished 2016 as the number 2 rusher for the Seminoles. Patrick is a power back at 230 pounds–he isn’t Dalvin Cook, though. Patrick should have some help in the form of five-star freshmen Cam Akers and Khalan Laborn.

The ‘Noles struggled with pass protection all last season and their offense lacked cohesiveness. Their biggest rival for the ACC crown–Clemson–will also be trying to fill some massive holes in their offensive line after the departure of Deshaun Watson.

Dec 31, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detailed view of Florida State Seminoles helmet on the sidelines before a game against the Houston Cougars in the 2015 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

2

Joshua Kaindoh

DE, Florida State

A native of Bradenton, Florida, Joshua Kaindoh was the No. 20 recruit in the country for the 2017 class. His size is impressive — Kaindoh is 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds. His massive size belies his outstanding athleticism.

Kaindoh has speed, which will be useful in the rush as well as in pass coverage. But his size will also mean that players that try to contain him will taste grass.

The ‘Noles will most likely play Kaindoh at strong-side defensive end, but his size and speed should make him an asset to the team in any case. Kaindoh was one of the top 10 players nationally. He was also a top-five defensive end and second-best player in the state of Florida, which is saying something.

The incoming freshman from IMG Academy was part of the All-USA Today first-team defense after he racked up impressive stats his senior season. Kaindoh chose FSU over Maryland, Penn State, Georgia, and Alabama.

Dec 31, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detailed view of Florida State Seminoles helmet on the sidelines before a game against the Houston Cougars in the 2015 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

1

Cam Akers

RB, Florida State

Florida State has always been in venerated company when it comes to talented running backs. Often dubbed ‘Running Back U’ for its plethora of talented backs, Cam Akers adds intensity and natural talent to return the ball.

At 5-foot-11 and 199 pounds, Akers’ smaller size equals advantage. His speed is undeniable — he was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Mississippi. He could bring an extra weapon to the Seminoles’ already impressive offense.

How good is Akers, really? We will find out as the early enrollee will push for starting reps as a true freshman. The spring game will be the first true test for him and the first real look for fans as they witness the guy who could potentially replace Cook.

Akers was widely recruited — at the time of his commitment to FSU he had over 20 offers from different schools. Akers chose Florida State over Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU. He had initially committed to Alabama but changed his mind in March. He was the No. 2 running back in the country and No. 4 overall recruit in the country. Moreover, he also played quarterback for his high school team in Mississippi.

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