TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State opened up spring practice in 2013 with a high-profile, wide-open quarterback battle.
There are no such concerns, of course, as the Seminoles open this spring. The only competition this time is for the role of backup to Heisman-Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
Florida State will hold the first of 15 practices on Wednesday afternoon. The defending national champions will tentatively go with a Monday-Wednesday-Thursday-Saturday practice schedule after this week and wrap up with the spring game on April 12 at 3 p.m.
Here’s a look at five key position battles this spring:
Gone are Kenny Shaw (graduated after 933-yard, six-touchdown season) and redshirt sophomore Kelvin Benjamin (1,011 yards, 15 touchdowns). If there’s one priority this spring, it’s for Florida State to find some receivers that can complement rising senior and playmaker Rashad Greene.
After Greene, who led the team with 76 catches and 1,128 receiving yards, there is plenty of talent. The question remains who will break out. Senior Scooter Haggins, who is coming off season-ending knee surgery, could fill Shaw’s slot receiver role if he can stay healthy. Florida State will also use Kermit Whitfield, who had a kickoff return for a touchdown in the national championship game, in the slot.
Coaches will also get a chance to look at Isaiah Jones, a 6-foot-4 receiver who was considered one of the nation’s top receivers in the class of 2013. Jones had two catches last season before suffering a season-ending injury.
Even with all of Winston’s success through the air in 2013, Florida State still had 505 carries and 42 rushing touchdowns. Gone are leading rusher Devonta Freeman (1,045 yards, 14 TDs) and James Wilder (579 yards, eight TDs), a pair of juniors that have entered the NFL draft a year early.
There’s an abundance of wealth at tailback for coach Jimbo Fisher to choose from. Converted safety Karlos Williams flourished after a move to offense, running for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns. He appears to be the No. 1 back, and coaches will spend the spring evaluating Mario Pender, Ryan Green and early enrollee Dalvin Cook.
Coaches are excited about Cook, who was the biggest star in a talented 2014 class. But he will have shoulder surgery that will keep him out this spring, Fisher said. Pender and Green are both fast, elusive runners and should earn plenty of carries this spring as they battle for the backup spot behind Williams.
While not nearly as significant as choosing a starting quarterback, Florida State needs to confirm who its No. 2 will be. With Jacob Coker’s transfer to Alabama, the likely winner is Sean Maguire.
At one point Maguire was the No. 4 quarterback last spring, behind Winston, Coker and Clint Trickett. But then Trickett transferred to West Virginia in May and Coker hurt his knee in November. Maguire has a strong, accurate arm and had two touchdowns and two interceptions late in games last season.
But coaches say John Franklin also did well in leading the scout team in 2013, including his impersonation of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in the weeks leading up to the BCS title game. J.J. Cosentino, one of the top quarterbacks of the 2014 class, will arrive in the fall.
Florida State loses one of its top interior linemen in Timmy Jernigan, a quick and high-energy defensive tackle who had 63 tackles and 11 tackles for loss as a junior in 2013. He is projected as a top 15 pick in May’s NFL Draft.
Eddie Goldman will start at one defensive tackle spot after making 19 tackles and recording two sacks as a sophomore last season. The other position is up for grabs, but Nile Lawrence-Stample and Desmond Hollin are the top contenders with Justin Shanks and Derrick Mitchell trailing them.
With the graduation of Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, there are plenty of chances for their backups to earn playing time. Florida State has a deep group of linebackers that have gained some experience the past few years.
When Jones moved into more of a rush-end role at midseason, Terrance Smith was able to earn more playing time and finished fourth on the team with 59 tackles (and he’s also Florida State’s returning tackles leader in 2014). Smith weighs just 215 pounds but has shown his ability to wrap up receivers and running backs in the open field.
Reggie Northrup (46 tackles), E.J. Levenberry (39 tackles) and Ukeme Eligwe (28 tackles) all are competing for starting jobs alongside Terrance Smith. And Matthew Thomas, a five-star linebacker from the 2013 class, returns after having midseason shoulder surgery.