TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jimbo Fisher ushered in the start of spring practice with a press conference in Florida State’s newly christened players’ lounge on Wednesday afternoon.
Fisher revealed some roster news and touched on several topics facing the team in a session that lasted nearly 30 minutes. The Seminoles later took part in their first of 15 practices, the last of which will take place at the Garnet and Gold Game in the Orlando Citrus Bowl on April 9.
Here are five things you need to know from Fisher’s press conference.
1) Familiar faces in new places
Fisher confirmed Wednesday that two defensive ends – junior Rick Leonard and fifth-year senior Chris Casher – are on the move. Leonard is switching to right offensive tackle while Casher will play tight end.
Leonard earned defensive co-MVP honors last spring, but found himself in a bit of a logjam at his position and finished the 2015 season with five tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
At 6-foot-7, 287 pounds, Leonard has what Fisher believes is the prototypical size to succeed on the offensive line.
“I think he’s built for it,” Fisher said. “He has the mentality for it and the athleticism for it.”
Fisher confirmed that Brock Ruble will still start as the first-team right tackle, but Leonard will be in the mix immediately.
As for Casher, Fisher cited a natural route-running ability and good ball skills as reasons for the change.
He also recalled that Casher played some receiver in high school, so the position is not completely foreign to him.
“He has a lot of natural offensive skill,” Fisher said. “And our guys say he runs great routes.”
Leonard and Casher are the latest in a long line of players to change positions and under Fisher, and they’re hoping to continue what has been a tradition of success. Among several others, Xavier Rhodes (WR to CB), Cam Erving (DT to LT) and Karlos Williams changed positions before finding success in college, and each is now playing his new position in the NFL.
2) Spring QB derby begins
Fisher declined to say which quarterback – J.J. Cosentino, Deondre Francois or Malik Henry – would start with the first team, but he insisted that all three would take equal reps at the start of camp.
He did, however, acknowledge that while Sean Maguire is out with an ankle injury, those three have a unique chance over the next several weeks.
“J.J., Deondre and Malik all have great opportunities in front of them to get a lot of reps,” Fisher said. “…We’ll rotate them the first couple days, see how it goes, see who is doing the best and we’ll go off of that.”
Maguire, meanwhile, continues his recovery and is on track to return this summer. Fisher said that he wished the fifth-year senior could practice this spring and that he “deserves to be out there.”
3) High praise for Travis Rudolph
When discussing this year’s emerging leaders, Fisher named usual suspects Dalvin Cook and DeMarcus Walker, and also mentioned that Derwin James is asserting himself despite only being a sophomore.
But he also singled out junior receiver Travis Rudolph for the way he has set an example for the younger players in his group.
FSU has four sophomore receivers this spring, and another freshman is on the way this summer.
“Travis (leads) by example,” Fisher said. “ You can lead by your mouth or by your ability. And Travis has been a guy who has jumped out at me.”
Rudolph had a breakout season as a sophomore, leading the team in catches (59), receiving yards (916) and touchdown catches (7). Fisher said Wednesday that Rudolph could be a “dominant” player.
4) No worries at linebacker
With Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup having graduated, Florida State once again looks set to enter a season with a seemingly thin group of linebackers.
Fisher, though, isn’t concerned.
“Everybody’s worried about our linebackers. I’m not,” Fisher said. “I like our linebacker crew.”
That’s due in large part to the emergence of Ro’Derrick Hoskins, the redshirt junior who might have been FSU’s best linebacker at the end of last season.
But Fisher is also excited to welcome Matthew Thomas back into the fold after a year-long suspension, and he said that early-enrollee freshman Josh Brown has made a quick impact as well.
“He jumped in there like he’s been here three years,” Fisher said.
Fisher also mentioned Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane, a sophomore looking to work his way into the defensive rotation after contributing mostly on special teams a year ago.
“I’m very excited about that whole group,” Fisher said.
5) Trey Marshall back in action
Florida State heads into spring with a lengthy injury list, but the Seminoles will also get back one key piece of their secondary.
Trey Marshall, the versatile defensive back who missed the second half of last season with a torn biceps muscle, is healthy and, according to Fisher, a “full go” for practice.
Marshall was off to a great start last season, recording 21 tackles and a sack before suffering his injury against Louisville.
Fisher said that Marshall would likely return to his role as the “star” nickel back, but that he can also be an effective safety if needed.
Either way, Marshall’s return is a key part of the secondary’s efforts to cope with the losses of Jalen Ramsey and Lamarcus Brutus.
“I think he can be good at both positions,” Fisher said. “He’s a really good football player. … He was playing really, really good football when he got hurt.”