April 12, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State will host the annual Garnet and Gold Game Saturday to officially conclude what head coach Jimbo Fisher has deemed an “old fashioned” spring practice period.
Nineteen wins into his tenure at FSU, Fisher will lead his team onto Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium one last time before organized practices shut down until August. The Seminoles will then report for fall camp Aug. 5 after a summer of involuntary work among just players.
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
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Saturday’s game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. and team rosters can be found by clicking the PDF links at the top of this article. The game will be simulcast on ESPN3.com and ESNPU.
“How we handle the competition,” Jimbo Fisher said, when asked what he wants to see Saturday. “How we handle the environment. How we handle the atmosphere and then how detail-oriented we can be playing … You have certain leaders on the team. They’ll get split up. Some of those leaders will be away from other guys. [Can] other guys step up in that situation and come out of their shell a little bit?”
To preview the game, which concludes a fun-filled weekend of events headlined by Lee Brice’s free concert at the Friday Night Block party and the 4th Annual BBQ Cook-Off Saturday on Langford Green, let’s take a look at the story lines from each position this spring and highlight specific players in each group that fans should keep a close eye on.
There wasn’t expected to be much depth-chart movement this spring with incumbent starter EJ Manuel back for one more season and underclassmen Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker the only other returners following Will Secord’s decision to leave the program.
While Trickett remains listed as the second-team quarterback and will likely stay in that position heading into the fall, the competition between the two youngsters is expected to carry over into two-a-day practices this August.
As for Manuel, FSU’s offensive leader will make his first appearance in front of fans after his gutsy effort in the Champs Sports Bowl last December — an outing that saw him play through a broken leg en route to victory.
What to watch Saturday: Manuel’s development in the pocket.
As a first-time starter in 2011, Manuel struggled with decision making when the offensive line gave way and the pocket collapsed. There were times when he simply held on to the football too long before taking a sack that he could have otherwise run away from or thrown out of quicker to avoid being taken down.
Developing better pocket awareness has been a point of emphasis for the Virginia Beach, Va. native this spring and that’s been aided by the quarterbacks going “live” in the two scrimmages, meaning the no-contact rules against hitting the passers were temporarily suspended.
This will be Manuel’s final Garnet and Gold Game as he gears up for his last opportunity to meet the lofty expectations bestowed upon him when he came to Tallahassee as one of the nation’s top high school quarterbacks in 2008.
“I’m excited about it and I’m proud of what I’m done so far,” Manuel said. “Obviously, through the good and the bad that builds character and I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned throughout college. I may not have won a National Championship or big-time awards or anything but I’ve built myself as a person. I think I’ve done that here on and off the field.
“I think I can be very proud and I’m looking forward to this year.”
Both Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders graduated and left in their wake open jobs at both left and right tackle — two critical spots in need of new personnel — and Glauser and Erving seemed like logical fits to fill those roles even if they were new additions.
After nearly four weeks of practices, half of that statement proved true. Erving will enter Saturday’s game as the likely starter at left tackle for the fall with Glauser a close second.
At right tackle fans can expect to see Bryan Stork, who slid into that role after playing both center and guard during his first two seasons. With Stork and Erving at the bookends, the same three starters on the interior of the line from the bowl game — Josue Matias, Austin Barron and Tre’ Jackson — are expected to remain the same.
What to watch Saturday: Erving’s performance at his new position.
Ask Fisher or any of his teammates and they’ll all tell you the same thing: the former defensive tackle has hit the ground running (or should it be blocking?) after making the notable offseason switch.
The fact that Erving claimed the top spot of the depth chart when spring practices began said a lot about what the coaches thought of his potential. That he stayed in that spot through the duration of spring camp says much more.
“I’m very anxious and I’m very ready to go out there and show [the fans] what I can do,” Erving said.
Chris Thompson can only do so much with the broken left hand he sustained early in the spring and Devonta Freeman has been out with an injured back so the majority of carries in the backfield have gone to early enrollee Mario Pender and fullbacks Lonnie Pryor and Debrale Smiley.
James Wilder, Jr. has also been added to the mix recently after clearing up some legal issues that had prevented him from practicing for the first 2 1/2 weeks of the spring.
What to watch Saturday: Watch Wilder.
The sophomore running back came to Florida State as a five-star phenom and with all the accompanying hype that typically occurs from being one of the nation’s top high school players. But the Tampa native only carried the football 35 times for 160 yards and one score as a rookie while fellow freshman Freeman captured the starting job.
If Wilder wants to make more of an impact in year No. 2, a big spring game could prove to be the spark that he needs to have and that the coaches need to see after he missed valuable time in late March and early April.
“Just [Wilder’s] presence, his enthusiasm on the field, and that big body running through there now is different,” Fisher said April 5, following Wilder’s first practice with the team.
Despite losing Bert Reed, Florida State entered spring practices with impressive depth at wide receiver.
In addition to those returning players, FSU also has Greg Dent, Jared Haggins and Christian Green on the outside as well as the return of a healthy Willie Haulstead and the emergence of popular redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin (more on him later).
Haulstead had a breakout season in 2010 with 587 yards on 38 catches and a team-high six touchdowns for then-quarterback Christian Ponder but a fall-camp concussion sidelined the 6-foot-3 pass catcher and ended his highly anticipated junior campaign before it ever began. A healthy Haulstead, who said this week that he’s “had a smile ear-to-ear” being back on the field, will get the chance this weekend to remind the fans what the ‘Noles were missing last year.
What to watch Saturday: While Greene is someone that you can never stop paying attention to (would it surprise anyone if the sophomore stole the show Saturday?), all eyes will be on Benjamin, who FSU fans have heard a lot about since the 6-foot-6, 242-pounder enrolled at FSU last summer.
Blessed with incredible size and ability, Benjamin needed to watch from the sidelines last year to mature, get acclimated to the playbook and better understand his responsibilities — tasks that seem to have been accomplished.
He won’t be hard to locate on Saturday. Just look for the wide receiver wearing No. 1 that looks like a defensive end.
“KB [Kelvin Benjamin] jumped out and made some nice plays,” Fisher said after FSU’s second scrimmage earlier this week.
FSU entered the spring with three scholarship tight ends on its roster and the depth chart remained the same over the course of the last four weeks with Nick O’Leary as the starter followed by former defensive end Dan Hicks and redshirt sophomore Will Tye.
There are high hopes that O’Leary will build off a solid freshman season when he became an offensive threat despite being behind senior Beau Reliford and Ja’Baris Little. Hicks also boasts enough athleticism and obvious understanding of what defenses do to scheme against the tight ends that it appears as though FSU developed a one-two punch at the position this spring.
What to watch Saturday: FSU’s use of the tight ends.
Florida State is not known as a school that produces all-star tight ends but combine O’Leary’s skill set and a concerted effort to get him the football and that may change. This spring, FSU has used more multiple tight-end sets than in recent years with O’Leary and Hicks in the ballgame at the same time. O’Leary, a highly touted signee last year, has also seen time in the backfield with the idea that freeing him up from blockers will help unleash his ability in the passing game.
Pay attention to the formations that FSU uses with its tight ends and the frequency at which the quarterbacks look for O’Leary, Hicks and Tye — specifically O’Leary, who has also taken on the role of leader at the position without Reliford and Little.
“I don’t really talk that much, I just [lead] by example,” O’Leary said. “On the field and off the field.”
With Hicks on the offensive side of the ball and Bjoern Werner out of spring practice with an injury, FSU doesn’t have much defensive-end depth to show off on Saturday. Star senior Brandon Jenkins and underrated playmaker Cornellius Carradine have had to carry the load at the position.
Everybody knows what those two final-year players can do but the lack of depth has also provided redshirt freshman Giorgio Newberry the opportunity to earn valuable snaps as he prepares to enter the rotation this season.
Redshirt senior Toshmon Stevens is also in the mix and there is talk that he has gotten opportunities this spring to use his athleticism as a pass-rusher from a hybrid defensive end-linebacker type position.
What to watch Saturday: Jenkins, for the last time.
Fisher didn’t have to think very long this week when asked who thought has had the best spring.
“You talk about a guy coming back [as a senior] … If everybody was playing like [Jenkins] right now — he’s playing like a man possessed. He’s had as good a spring in my opinion – now I hope he can carry it in the fall – as any one player since I’ve been at Florida State. He has really becoming a leader.”
Sporting a new number and focused on concluding his stellar career with a bang, Saturday will be Jenkins last time to compete for the home crowd before his farewell tour begins in the fall.
There were two notable injuries sustained by FSU players this spring and one of them was at defensive tackle where budding sophomore star Timmy Jernigan was sidelined with a tear to his MCL.
The Seminoles were already without senior Jaccobi McDaniel so a young player like Nile Lawrence-Stample has had the chance to get coveted snaps at a deep position.
This spring has seen a theme of senior leadership take over the position as the Seminoles boast four — including McDaniel — final-year players at defensive tackle. As he has done in the past and will do this fall, defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins is charged with developing a rotation among a roster full of capable pass rushers and run stuffers.
What to watch Saturday: Demonte McAllister has become a forgotten man of sorts at defensive tackle with Jernigan’s emergence and the steady play of Everette Dawkins, Anthony McCloud and McDaniel the last few years.
But the former four-star prospect is in the best shape of his collegiate career and poised for a big junior season. Where does he fit on the depth chart and just how good can he be? The spring game may provide the outlet necessary to answer that question.
“I’ve put on about 35 pounds and I feel great, even more explosive” McAllister said. “Every year more explosive.”
FSU had to replace Terrance Parks at safety this spring and it appears as though defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has done that with junior Terrence Brooks, who is in an ongoing battle with Karlos Williams for the starting job alongside Lamarcus Joyner.
FSU’s most consistent player in the secondary, Joyner has also taken on the new role of leader this spring — a job that appears ideal for the cerebral safety with a high football IQ.
Stoops also had to replace Mike Harris at the nickel cornerback position and, like safety, seems to have his man in rising sophomore Tyler Hunter. With Hunter guarding the slot receivers and senior Greg Reid controlling his side of the field, redshirt freshman Keelin Smith has worked with the first-team unit at the other defensive-back spot this spring in place of injured starter Xavier Rhodes.
Sophomore Nick Waisome has also provided another piece to the rotation.
What to watch Saturday: At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Smith is an intriguing but raw cornerback prospect.
He has been thrown into the fire as Rhodes’ replacement, charged with matching up with a bevy of talented FSU wide receivers. Rhodes job will still be his this fall but Smith has the chance to remain his backup and eventually take over for the star defender.
“I think he’s going to be — has a chance to be — a very good football player,” Fisher said about Smith.
The junior linebacker moved from his strong-side spot this spring to fill Bradham’s big shoes and appears to have adapted well to a change.
Jones’ switch was matched with another change; this one from Nick Moody, who slid down from safety to play Sam linebacker for his senior year in the garnet and gold.
At middle linebacker, FSU’s second noteworthy injury occurred when Vince Williams sustained a crack in his tibia last week. Due to his absence, junior Telvin Smith hasn’t had to share snaps in the heart of Stoops’ defense and will be the featured player at middle linebacker during the spring game.
What to watch Saturday: Telvin Smith’s performance as the primary Mike linebacker is worth watching but Jones appears to be on the verge of a significant bump in his stock.
His development on the strong side and ability to limit the negative effects of Bradham’s loss will be vital to a defense that relies heavily on its linebackers top not just make plays but to avoid missed assignments as well.
“He’s really becoming the player we all saw and thought he could be,” Fisher said about Jones.
Kicking will be the only thing that isn’t “live” on Saturday so the return game and the personnel in that group won’t play much of a role. But a newcomer certainly will be front and center — as he has been all spring — when early enrollee Cason Beatty makes his debut at punter.
What to watch Saturday: Beatty is charged with replacing Shawn Powell, who forever etched his name in the FSU record books with a memorable senior season in 2011.
Beatty has benefitted from getting an early jump on a Seminoles career that could see him punt all four years. His competition with walk-on Dillon Kidd will be critical Saturday and int the fall.