TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Each of Florida State’s would-be starting quarterbacks – Deondre Francois, James Blackman and Bailey Hockman – bring a little something different to the table. But each one, independently of the other, offered remarkably similar answers when asked for their thoughts on their pending race, which began in earnest with the start of fall camp on a hot Monday morning.
“Whatever the best is for the team, that’s what I want,” said Blackman, the sophomore who quarterbacked the Seminoles for 12 of their 13 games a year ago.
“I’m just trying to be the best quarterback I can for the team,” added Francois, the 2016 starter whose injury in last year’s season opener opened the door for Blackman to take the reins.
Finally, Hockman, the least experienced of the three, said he hopes he wins the job, but soon added that, “The best guy has got to be out there. Whatever is best for the team.”
WATCH: Sights and Sounds From Day 1 of Fall Camp
Since he arrived at Florida State, coach Willie Taggart has said repeatedly that the quarterback who wins the job will be the one who best leads his teammates.
Based on their comments Monday, all three of Taggart’s contenders seem to have gotten the message.
And with all three sporting positive attitudes and a fresh outlook as the Seminoles begin their campaign, it should make way for one of FSU’s more intriguing position battles in recent memory.
Typically, when quarterbacks begin a race on equal footing, it comes down to young or less-experienced players looking to replace a departed veteran.
Taggart, however, is blessed to have a pair of returning starters in the fold.
Florida State, in fact, is the only “Power 5” school in the country that boasts two quarterbacks with at least 10 starts at their current school.
Which makes it a unique situation for everybody involved.
“We’re going to compete,” Francois said. “The guys are going to follow all three of us. Whatever Coach (Walt) Bell and Coach Taggart decide to do, that’s what we’re going to do.”
And while Francois’ and Blackman’s experience might play a factor, it won’t be the only factor.
Just consider what Bell, Florida State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said Sunday:
“I don’t care what happened here before,” he said. “I really don’t. I care what happened the day I got hired and moving forward.
“I think all three of our quarterbacks possess different skills. All three of them have ways to win a football game.”
Which is good news for Hockman, a redshirt freshman who finds himself in the mix despite having yet to take his first collegiate snap.
Hockman didn’t mince words when asked about his intentions: He wants to win the job, and he believes he can lead the Seminoles to a national championship.
But he also knows that just having confidence won’t be enough to convince Taggart to hand over the keys to the offense.
“Just do your thing, make sure you’re always out there making plays,” Hockman said when asked what it would take to separate from the other quarterbacks. “That’s who the guys are going to follow – if you’re out there making plays.”
And Hockman might have a point. While Taggart and Bell will be intently monitoring each quarterback’s progress, the final decision, based on their criteria, will effectively come down to the players.
“There’s no depth chart, is what we’re told,” Hockman said. “We’re going to go out and compete every day, and the team is going to basically decide the job – who is leading the other 10 guys and making their light shine brighter.”
As for some other pressing questions facing the quarterbacks:
Freshman practices help newcomers get going: Taggart introduced a new wrinkle into his practice schedule Monday, bringing most of the Seminoles’ first-year players and a handful of others in for an early, separate session before the teams’ veterans arrived.
Doing this, he said, allows for the newcomers to get both extra reps and extra attention from coaches that they might not otherwise receive were they mixed in with the bigger group. They’ll do it again Tuesday and Wednesday before permanently joining the full team on Thursday.
“We want to give our guys some good instruction and for them to understand what they’re doing when they get with the older guys, so practice can go smoother once they’re there,” Taggart said. “And then those kids have a better chance of competing.
“I told every last one of them they’re going to have an opportunity to compete. We’ve got to give them that opportunity, and we provide that by giving them some reps and seeing what they can do.”
The rosters for each practice are fluid, too. Taggart said if a freshman outperforms expectations, he can be called up to practice with the veterans. And if a veteran slips up, he could find himself reporting earlier the next morning.
Familiar faces on healthy O-line: For the first time in a long time, Florida State had what might constitute its five, first-choice offensive linemen available to practice together. Coach Greg Frey’s group lined up, left to right, with Jauan Williams, Derrick Kelly, Alec Eberle, Cole Minshew and Landon Dickerson.
Williams, Eberle and Minshew missed the spring with injuries, while Kelly and Dickerson have each dealt with various ailments throughout their careers. While Frey will no doubt try several combinations throughout the next few weeks, the first-team line seemed to stay consistent throughout Monday’s practice. That could be a sign that Dickerson is on the move. The redshirt sophomore played guard in each of the last two seasons, as well as in the spring, but was also considered a top tackle prospect coming out of high school.
“I can’t wait to see some of these guys,” Taggart said when asked about his offensive line on Sunday. “Didn’t get a chance to see them in the spring. Really, really excited about that, and I’m really excited to see how much improvement the guys that practiced in the spring made.”
‘Bowden Dynasty’ helps Noles see bigger picture: The 2009 season might not seem so far away for longtime FSU fans, but Florida State’s current group of freshmen were just nine years old when Bobby Bowden last coached in Tallahassee. Which means that they didn’t grow up watching Bowden’s Seminoles run rampant through the ACC, and that their perspective when it comes to Florida State’s football legacy might be a bit limited.
Taggart aims to change that, and he took a big step toward it on Sunday night when he had the Seminoles gather to watch scenes from “The Bowden Dynasty” documentary that released last year.
The film covers the legendary coach’s life and career, and centers on the three things most important to him: faith, family and football.
“A lot of players don’t know too much about Florida State,” Blackman said. “(The film) helps us understand the careers, the history that’s here, the legacy that has been made. It helps us a lot, understanding the university that we’re at.”
Added Hockman: “I think it’s a really big deal. It kind of makes you see the bigger picture in what you’re playing for. Rather than just ‘Oh, I’m just out here playing football.’
“It’s, ‘No, I’m actually playing for something way bigger than me.’”
Clearing the notebook: Mickey Andrews was present for the first day of his new job. Andrews, recently named the special assistant to the head coach, was on the practice fields wearing a bucket hat along with his trademark white FSU t-shirt and garnet shorts. Andrews cannot serve as a coach, but took plenty of notes throughout the morning. … Receiver D.J. Matthews did not practice, but was in attendance. Taggart said he is “banged up” and should return shortly. … As expected, receiver Nyqwan Murray (knee) was limited, but did take a few punt-return reps along with Keith Gavin. … Speaking of punting, Taggart was seen alongside Logan Tyler, holding a stopwatch to gauge the junior punter’s hang time. … Tamorrion Terry seemed to continue his star turn from the spring. He made a handful of plays in individual, 7-on-7 and team drills, and at one point prompted Taggart to venture over, tell him “Nice job” and then continue to have an extended chat.
Next up? More speed: Taggart came away relatively pleased with Monday’s practice, but also had a clear and concise message regarding what lies ahead: The team’s practice tempo is due to increase. Significantly.
Which means that mental sharpness and physical conditioning will be put to the test even more so than they were Monday. And that’s especially true as temperatures in Tallahassee hover in the mid-90s as early as 10 a.m.
Like virtually every coach in America, Taggart didn’t see a perfect first practice. But the beautiful thing, he said, is that the Seminoles still have plenty of opportunities to get everything right.