Florida State’s new faces make mark as they battle for spots on team
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Spring is a time for a new beginning.
Three months have passed since Florida State won a national title, and the Seminoles have plenty of shoes to fill for 2014. Florida State needs to replace five starters on offense and five on defense.
The holes don’t look as glaring when factoring in that Florida State returns a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (Jameis Winston) and 1,000-yard receiver (Rashad Greene). Or a tailback (Karlos Williams) with 11 rushing touchdowns. Or a defense that was No. 1 in the nation last season and returns three starters up front, led by tackle Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr., and three in the secondary in corners Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams along with safety Jalen Ramsey.
There are questions about who will be a No. 2 receiver. And who will win two of the three linebacker jobs.
Plenty of teams would love to have Florida State’s "worries." But this spring, it’s a time for the four-stars and five-stars of the last few recruiting classes to show that they could become college stars.
Some of those players have begun to emerge this spring and stood out in Florida State’s spring game on Saturday as the Garnet defeated the Gold 31-14.
Freddie Stevenson was a linebacker after enrolling early last spring. After converting to fullback in August, he showed this spring how well he could not just block but also run and catch.
While not blessed with sprinter speed, Stevenson played tailback exclusively on Saturday as Florida State was without its top four tailbacks. Williams, Ryan Green, Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender were injured, so Stevenson ran 18 times for 85 yards and a 6-yard touchdown for the first-team offense.
"A lot of people said I was just a fullback. But a lot of fullbacks can’t do what I do," Stevenson said. "I think it gives me a lot of confidence knowing that I’m adjusting well to this and I’m having success at it."
Without many healthy rushers, it was a good day to be a quarterback or receiver. While Winston threw for 396 yards, backups Sean Maguire and John Franklin III combined to complete 20 of 38 passes for 306 yards. And it was clear that, despite some jitters early, all three showed the rhythm they had developed with receivers.
Kermit Whitfield made his mark with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown late in the national championship game, but on Saturday he caught four passes for 79 yards and showed how difficult he is to tackle in the open field. Isaiah Jones, at 6-foot-4, grabbed five passes for 81 yards and gave an indication that he might be the next tall, tough-to-bring-down receivers. And Jesus Wilson, at 5-9, showed elusiveness in grabbing four passes for 101 yards.
The biggest question on defense in 2014 will be at linebacker. And on Saturday, fans saw a glimpse at a few players that could step into starting roles. E.J. Levenberry had eight tackles, Reggie Northrup had six tackles and a sack, while Ro’Derrick Hoskins had two sacks and intercepted a Maguire pass, returning it 63 yards for a touchdown.
Florida State knows what it has in Winston, who completed 27 of 56 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. He’s now wrapped up the football portion of what’s been a hectic spring for the two-sport star. Winston will focus much of the next few months on baseball, but he will find time to meet receivers to run routes.
Winston said he hasn’t thrown 56 passes or pitches in a game since high school. It was far more snaps than most expected from him in a spring game. But it was a chance to continue working with the young receivers and help them develop chemistry.
"I don’t care about me being comfortable because I know I have a great offensive line and I’ve got great players around me," Winston said. "It’s about everybody else being comfortable."
That’s what this spring — and then the summer and preseason camp — will be about for Florida State. The Seminoles are a team with plenty of known quantities. It’s just a matter of filling in the gaps as they make another title run.