By Bob Thomas, Associate Sports Information Director
One of the strengths of the Florida State program under Jimbo Fisher is the quality of depth across the board, which makes for a tremendous practice environment. There are a number of ongoing position battles still being waged as the ‘Noles head into their second preseason scrimmage. With a nod to the guy who has made this number famous, here are “5 Position Battles” worthy of your attention:
1. Middle Linebacker: Reggie Northrup vs. E.J. Levenberry
An ongoing duel since the spring, neither have given an inch, earning virtually an equal share of reps with the first team throughout the preseason. A junior, Northrup’s lateral quickness and nose for the football make him a productive run stuffer. Levenberry, a sophomore who also hawks the ball well, is a bit taller and potentially more disruptive on pass defense. Regardless which gets the first snap against Oklahoma State, two productive players have emerged from the competition.
2. Y-Receiver: Scooter Haggins vs. Kermit Whitfield/Bobo Wilson
Call it the all-nickname battle between the elder statesmen – fifth-year senior Haggins – and a pair of second-year speedsters. It’s an interesting contrast in skill sets. Haggins’ veteran experience, solid hands and conceptual understanding of the offense from the slot position is invaluable (think Kenny Shaw vs. zone defenses). On the flip side, Fisher likes to dial up big plays from the slot, exploiting mismatches. Whitfield’s national-class speed fits the bill, and Wilson isn’t far behind.
3. Tailback: Dalvin Cook vs. Johnathan Vickers/Mario Pender/Ryan Green
Senior Karlos Williams has firmly established himself as the starter with strong performances in the spring and preseason. The real battle is between the trio of Cook, Vickers, Green and Pender, each of whom has been limited by injuries. Cook, one of the most heralded prospects coming out of the Class of ’14, appears to be emerging even though he is still relegated to a blue non-contact jersey, thanks to great vision and the ability to shift and accelerate through holes. Under Fisher, the ‘Noles have split carries among three backs for four seasons. Vickers could make a move in the final two weeks of camp as Pender and Green have been limited.
4. Punter: Cason Beatty vs. Jonathan Hernandez
A two-year incumbent, Beatty made measurable improvement between his freshman and sophomore seasons (38.3-41.1) in terms of average, though he saw his punts downed inside-the-20 dip from 23 to 12. Three years in, he is still being compared (unfavorably and perhaps unfairly) to 2011 consensus All-American Shawn Powell. Hernandez, a second-year player with a powerful left leg, continues to push for his shot. The coaching staff is looking for consistency and Beatty’s 89 career attempts will be hard to overcome.
5. Noseguard: Nile Lawrence-Stample vs. Keith Bryant
A redshirt junior with six starts under his belt last season, Lawrence-Stample appears to have an early leg up on Bryant, a redshirt freshman. At a position where visible productivity isn’t nearly as important as holding the point of attack so others can make plays, Lawrence-Stample’s experience is big. Bryant, however, is coming on strong after patiently working hard on his craft while patiently waiting his turn behind last season’s veteran crop.