TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State had few major position battles the past few seasons.
The Seminoles were starting so many younger players and gaining experience. Or had smooth transitions from a graduating starter to elevating a backup who had received some playing time.
This year is very different. Florida State is replacing four starters on offense and six starters on defense. A few positions will feature natural replacements, such as freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo for Florida State and Atlantic Coast Conference career scoring leader Dustin Hopkins. And Chad Abram will take over at fullback for the versatile Lonnie Pryor.
Here is a look at five key position battles for the Seminoles, who won the ACC and went 12-2 last season but are in the middle of a spring of change, with six new assistants and a number of starting jobs up for grabs.
Starter lost: EJ Manuel (threw for 3,392 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 68 percent of his passes in 2012).
Contenders: Clint Trickett (947 passing yards, seven TDs and four INTs in his career), Jacob Coker, Jameis Winston and Sean Maguire.
Analysis: The story of the spring will be the performance of the quarterbacks. It’s just too early and too difficult to figure which quarterback coach Jimbo Fisher will choose (or even whether he will pick a No. 1 by the end of the night on April 13, the Seminoles’ spring game).
If experience and leadership are two keys, Trickett has an edge. He is a career 62 percent passer and started road games in 2011 against Clemson and Wake Forest. Trickett has also organized the offense’s voluntary 7-on-7 workouts. And he knows the playbook inside and out.
But Trickett won’t give Fisher a running quarterback, something the coach did have with Christian Ponder and (at times) with EJ Manuel. If Fisher wants to open up the full playbook, he will look to Winston or Coker. Both are versatile, athletic and have strong arms. Maguire is considered a distant fourth in the competition.
Starter lost: Menelik Watson (started 12 games in 2012, allowed just one sack; left after junior season for NFL).
Contenders: Bobby Hart (nine starts in 2011) and Bryan Stork (started at center in 2012)
Analysis: Fisher joked that offensive line coach Rick Trickett did too good of a job with Watson. The hope was that the junior-college transfer would stay in Tallahassee for two years, but Watson decided to pursue his pro options.
Hart, who graduated from high school early and will turn 19 just weeks before his junior season begins, has experience at both tackle positions. A Scout.com five-star prospect, Hart started nine games as a true freshman in 2011 (including eight at right tackle). He is also 6-foot-4, 315 pounds and has the athleticism to play any spot on the line.
Stork will also get some work in at right tackle. He consistently grades well and has made all of the pre-snap reads and adjustments as a center. And he also has shown versatility, playing tight end in high school, guard early in his college career and also center.
Coaches would probably like to have Hart win the job and keep Stork at center. But if that doesn’t work, Stork can take on the right tackle spot and Austin Barron could step in at center.
Starters lost: Bjoern Werner (42 tackles, 13 sacks) and Tank Carradine (80 tackles, 11 sacks).
Contenders: Mario Edwards Jr. (17 tackles), Giorgio Newberry (13 tackles), Chris Casher (took redshirt in 2012), Dan Hicks (injured in 2012).
Analysis: Edwards was expected to redshirt, but that changed when Brandon Jenkins suffered a season-ending foot injury in the first game. He saw increased playing time as the season went on, and the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Edwards earned a start in the ACC championship game after Carradine was injured. Edwards had seven tackles in the win over Georgia Tech and added three tackles in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois.
Newberry, who is 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, has speed off the edge and could start at the other end spot opposite Edwards. Casher plays the pass and run well and will also challenge for playing time.
Hicks began his career at defensive end, recording 34 tackles as a reserve his first two seasons. Coaches opted to move him to tight end in 2012, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. Now, the athletic Hicks is back at end.
Starters lost: Everett Dawkins (26 tackles) and Anthony McCloud (24 tackles).
Contenders: Timmy Jernigan (46 tackles), Demonte McAllister (33 tackles), Jacobbi McDaniel (medical redshirt in 2012), Nile Lawrence-Stample (10 tackles), Eddie Goldman (eight tackles).
Analysis: This group has a good blend of veterans and underclassmen. Jernigan, a junior, is physical and has a motor. He had nine tackles and a sack in the win over Georgia Tech. He likely will win one of the starting jobs.
The other spot could eventually go to McAllister, a senior who will miss the spring with offseason shoulder surgery. This is the opportunity for Goldman, who was the top defensive tackle in the class of 2012, to impress coaches.
One wild card is McDaniel, who hasn’t played since October 2011 after suffering a broken ankle in a win at Duke. The senior is healthy again and he should have a significant impact even if he doesn’t start.
Starters lost: Vince Williams (59 tackles) and Nick Moody (20 tackles).
Contenders: Reggie Northrup (10 tackles), Terrance Smith (nine tackles), Ukeme Eligwe (redshirt in 2012).
Analysis: With weakside linebacker Christian Jones and middle linebacker Telvin Smith returning for their senior seasons, Florida State is set at two of the three spots. Jones and Smith combined for 159 tackles in 2012. So the only question mark is who will line up next to them at strongside linebacker.
Terrance Smith is undersized at 215 pounds, but he appears to be the frontrunner for the job after faring well on special teams. He could win it if he adds weight to his 6-foot-4 frame.
Northrup had six tackles in the win over Boston College a year ago and figures to challenge Smith for the starting job. Eligwe took a redshirt last year as a freshman because of a hand injury but was considered a top-10 linebacker in the class of 2012.