TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Just a little over three months after winning a national title, Florida State will hold its annual spring game on Saturday afternoon.
Fans will arrive at Doak Campbell Stadium to get a glimpse of the 2014 team. But even as far as spring games go, there will be very little drama.
The 2013 spring game featured a first look at the quarterback competition between Jameis Winston, Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Sean Maguire. Winston put on a show, completing 12 of 15 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. It was clear a few days later, when Trickett transferred to West Virginia, that Winston would be Florida State’s starter in the fall — and he went on to rewrite the school’s record books, win a Heisman Trophy and help his team win a national title.
But on Saturday, there are few major positions up for grabs. It’s been a spring with a considerable number of injuries, meaning coach Jimbo Fisher and the assistant coaches will get a good look at a number of backups.
Here’s a look at five things to watch on Saturday when the Garnet and Gold teams take the field at 3 p.m.:
Winston juggles schedule, works in new WRs
Winston will have a busy travel schedule this weekend, wrapping up what’s been a fast-paced spring for the two-sport standout.
He will play baseball Friday night as Florida State visits Georgia Tech. Winston will then return to Tallahassee for the spring football game on Saturday and then go back to Atlanta for the finale of the three-game baseball series Sunday.
"He likes baseball and he likes football," Fisher said. "Whatever he has to do for his team. Just like he did last year. That’s the part of being a two-sport guy. Very few are capable of it. And he’s one of them."
One of Winston’s challenges this spring has been developing a rapport with Florida State’s younger receivers. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw both turning pro, the Seminoles need receivers to emerge after playmaker Rashad Greene. The spring game could be an indicator of who Winston is comfortable throwing the ball. Will it be seniors like Scooter Haggins and Christian Green or sophomores Levonte Whitfield, Jesus Wilson or Isaiah Jones?
The running backs
Florida State’s deep running back corps has been thinned by injuries as Ryan Green and Dalvin Cook both suffered shoulder injuries. Neither will play on Saturday but should have their rehabilitation complete in time for the start of preseason practice in August.
Fisher also announced that rising senior Karlos Williams, who ran for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns, will not play in the spring game for precautionary reasons. "We know what we got there," Fisher said. "No reason to bang and bruise him up."
The only other scholarship tailback is Mario Pender, who took a hard hit to the head in Monday’s practice and it’s not certain that he can play on Saturday. That would leave fullback Freddie Stevenson as the only rushing option. Stevenson has impressed in goal-line drills, as a blocker and as a pass-catcher this spring. But he’s far from the likes of Williams, Green, Cook and Pender.
Florida State lost a considerable amount of talent on defense: tackle Timmy Jernigan, cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, safety Terrence Brooks and linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones. The spring game presents a chance for freshmen and sophomores to show what they can do.
At linebacker, Fisher has praised Matthew Thomas, Ukeme Eligwe and E.J. Levenberry for having strong spring practices. Early enrollee Trey Marshall has emerged as a versatile talent in the secondary. And Keith Bryant could see significant snaps at defensive tackle with injuries to veterans.
The backups at quarterback
A year ago, Maguire was the forgotten man, the presumed No. 4 quarterback on the roster. Now, he is Winston’s backup and saw playing time in November after Coker hurt his knee (and later opted to transfer to Alabama).
Maguire has a strong, accurate arm and he completed 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions last season. On Saturday, Maguire has a chance to lead one of the teams and show how much progress he’s made.
It will also be the first time John Franklin has taken part in a game-like situation. The redshirt freshman has sprinter speed and athleticism, and he played the role of Auburn dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall on Florida State’s scout team as the Seminoles prepared for the title game. The question now is if Franklin has the arm strength and makes the right reads.
Has punter Cason Beatty improved?
Florida State won 12 of 14 games by 30 or more points last season, so inconsistent punting was rarely an issue. But at times, Cason Beatty struggled.
Fisher said on National Signing day that quarterback J.J. Cosentino had a strong leg and was his high school team’s punter. It’s unlikely that Cosentino would be a big challenge to Beatty in the fall, but it’s clear that Fisher wants to see improvement from Beatty.